Thursday 23 May 2019

Turkey's back on the tee-time menu


Adhamhnan O Suilleabhain

IF the hustle and bustle of air travel raises anxiety levels, the promise of business class throws a warm blanket over any impending journey.

Think of the relative peace of a quality lounge, coffee and croissants with the newspapers, fast-track boarding and the knowledge that a most comfortable seat with ample leg room will guarantee snooze time, particularly after rising at 4.20am. What more could the traveller ask for?

Well, on this occasion it came in the person of Onur Gul, sales and marketing executive with Turkish Airlines, who was flying our small group to Belek in Antalya on Turkey's Mediterranean coast to sample the delights of our hosts, Gloria Hotels and Golf Resort.

Onur left his home in Ankara in 2007 for Ireland and today lives in Dublin with his wife and daughter. A bundle of ideas and energy, he suggests that he is now almost half Turkish/half Irish with a good knowledge of his new homeland, but he is somewhat disappointed that the majority of Irish people know little of his native land, its history and the rich heritage that awaits visitors.

Despite appreciating the numbers that flock to Kusadasi from Irish cities, he enthusiastically suggests that there is so much more to the home of 80m citizens, and few cities in the world with the cultural and historical riches of Istanbul. As he says, "don't go for the plastic, man-made cities, go for the culture, the food, the value for money, the quality service. Read about Turkey... and then visit us". It's not surprising he was the recipient of the gong 'A Pleasure to Work With' at the Irish Travel Media Awards 2017.

Antalya is in the process of breaking golfing records set in 2013 following the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final in October 2012 when Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy drew exceptional attendances to the Mediterranean coast. Figures for 2013 record 600,000 rounds, but since then serious disruption arrived with the Ankara Central Station deaths (2015), the Besiktas deaths (2016) and the Istanbul nightclub deaths (2017). Figures dropped to 400,000 last year, but the chairman of the Turkish Golf Federation, Ahmet Agaoglu, said earlier this year that "we will reach 620,000 in Antalya in 2018. Facilities will be 100pc full".

He went on to point out that "last year, Sky News reported in the UK that Turkey is not safe, so do not go there, while Sky Sports and other channels portrayed Antalya as a paradise on earth".

After a four-hour flight to Istanbul, and another of just under an hour to Antalya, we descended into 25 degrees of heat in mid-May before heading for Belek and our home for a few days, the Gloria Hotels and Golf Resort, a five-star complex that would sit comfortably with anything available on the Iberian peninsula.

Spread over thousands of acres, its centrepiece is a luxurious golf club surrounded by the Gloria Old Course (par 72, 6,529 metres), New Course (par 72, 6,523 metres) and the Verde Course (par 35, 2,967 metres).

These layouts can be as demanding or accommodating as the golfer wishes with the usual variety of tees to choose from. The Old Course presents a variety of challenging watery graves as there are seven lagoons, one of which comes close to replicating the 17th at TPC Sawgrass.

The New Course is equally testing, with a mixture of tree-lined fairways and water hazards coming into play on the 18 holes. Heading out on the Gloria Verde nine-hole track will demand total attention too as it also has two sizeable lakes.

The record for the Old Course is held by US superstar John Daly, who, local folklore suggests, after enjoying himself the previous night with good company and two bottles of Jack Daniels (and getting his head on the pillow at 3am) had to be dragged from his bed to the first tee. Undaunted, and to the surprise of many in a sizeable following, he shot an imperious 63, comprising nine pars and nine birdies.

What will comfort anyone with doubts that their 'A-game' will travel with them to Turkey is the Golf Academy - the largest purpose-built training facility in the country.

The sporting aspect of the Gloria set-up does not start and finish with golf. A short shuttle ride away is the world-class Gloria Sports Arena with indoor, outdoor and aquatic sports facilities on 10 hectares, the largest sports arena in the country with the most modern technological developments. Also included on the campus is a 200-room hotel.

Some of Europe's top individual sportsmen and women use the centre to train, as do national teams for squad preparation for major competitions; the Welsh Rugby Union have been making inquiries, possibly with the World Cup in mind.

Seldom one to turn down an opportunity, when offered an invitation to try out the Whole Body Cryotherapy Icelab I immediately signed the necessary disclaimer, disrobed and prepared for a climate that can be found neither on earth nor in space. With a protective hat, face mask, gloves, shorts and running shoes, I entered the first sealed room which was at freezing point, progressed to a second room after 20 seconds which was at -40°C, then stepped into a third room which was set at -100°C. One could indicate the need to exit at any time, but my group of four held out for the required two minutes. Three minutes at -100°C is the maximum time permitted in the Icelab.

The positive effects of sub-zero temperatures on health and performance have been the subject of numerous scientific studies and fully documented over the past 20 years. It is generally used for recovery after performance, particularly by athletes exposed to high muscular loads through power exercises. What I can guarantee is that it does little to help when standing over a five foot putt to win the money.

There is a strong Irish golfing connection with Antalya. The first course built to international standards on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey in 1994, the National Golf Club in Serik, was designed by two Bangor professionals, David Jones and David Feherty.

While the golf courses and Sports Arena were central to the few days in Belek, a full tour of the three hotels within the complex - all of which are just a brief stroll from the Mediterranean - was a revelation. Accommodation is comfortable and elegant, ranging from standard rooms to chic suites and beautiful villas. The sandy beach has private pavilions with staff who attend to all needs during the day.

If you are bringing family, there is a variety of clubs for children of all ages, attractive outdoor pools, a children's restaurant, sports hall, mini-cinema, outdoor covered theatre as well as an aquapark with daunting slides.

Guests of the Gloria Hotel have a choice of six restaurants with buffet and a la carte options, seafood and Turkish speciality restaurants, poolside and seaside bars, windsurfing, a massage at La Source Spa, or the opportunity to spend time in the most luxurious of Turkish baths.

You will be spoilt for choice, but do remember that mid-summer is exceptionally hot (think 35C plus), so April/May or September onwards are the most suitable months for our more delicate complexion.

If the golf and swimming haven't drained you of energy, take a taxi, or cycle, the few kilometres into Belek and shop to your heart's content, or until your wallet is empty: an unlikely scenario these days as the euro has considerable purchasing power.

Adhamhnan at Gloria Hotels and Golf Resort in Belek

Getting there

Adhamhnan flew Dublin-Istanbul-Antalya with Turkish Airlines, who have 14 flights a week to Istanbul and beyond to 302 domestic and international destinations. It was named best airline in Europe by Skytrax for six consecutive years.

Baggage allowance in economy class is 30kg; golf clubs are carried free of charge.

Round trip economy class

Dublin-Antalya costs from €342 (incl taxes); return business class from €1,112 (incl taxes). / 01-5251849

Early booking offer: Seven nights all inclusive (alcohol included) between January 1 and February 28, 2019 at Gloria Golf Resort with unlimited golf as a group of eight, €629 per person.

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