Antalya (PGA Sultan)
GOLF WORLD TOP 100 ASSESSES THE ANTALYA GOLF COURSE THAT GOT TIGER AND RORY’S SEAL OF APPROVAL WHEN THE STARS WERE FIRST LURED TO BELEK.
“Tiger gave me a great quote… he said it was ‘a shotmaker’s course’ and Rory, who I’ve known since he was nine, also had a chat and said he really liked it. It’s always gratifying to hear that from the best pros.”
Something of an understatement there from David Jones, a thoroughly unassuming and highly likeable Northern Irish Tour player turned golf course architect. The kind remarks were made to him by Woods and McIlroy during the 2012 Turkish Airlines World Golf Finals, which was held on the PGA Sultan course at Antalya Golf Club. The comments were of particular interest to Jones, because he designed it.
It was the first time the world’s elite had been lured to Belek and was the area’s final step into global golfing consciousness. That overarching development also had special resonance for Jones, given the long time Tour player and coach is effectively the Godfather of Belek Golf. Prior to creating the Sultan, he had already built the area’s first course, the National, with his good friend David Feherty.
Anyone who has been to Belek in the past decade will find it very difficult to imagine that back in 1991 the sites Jones and Feherty were casting their creative eyes over were little but swamp and eucalyptus forest.
Plots for six courses were initially leased with the Sultan marked ‘G3’. Yet, despite being built using fledgling construction teams as one of the area’s earliest developments, the Sultan has not been definitively surpassed in Belek.
Rory and Tiger’s seal of approval is as good as it gets, and to their star-studded recommendation we can add our own note of approval; the Sultan sits comfortably among our Top 100 Courses in Continental Europe.
Identifying the continent’s Top 100 golf courses is generally more difficult than doing so in GB&I because there is much less variation in the type of course under consideration. Separating similar looking courses of a very similar character which is by some majority, parklands is a finely-balanced task. We therefore look for something that sets a course apart. Sometimes it is a relentless challenge, such as at teak-tough Majorca venue Son Gual. Elsewhere it could be that rare feeling of class, as at exquisite Chantilly near Paris. Or it could be nothing more abstract than breathtaking views, such as at spellbinding Crans sur Sierre in the Swiss Alps.
In the case of the PGA Sultan, it is the conditioning that sets it apart. The continent’s better climate means its parkland courses are usually presented better than our own; thus, nothing other than pristine will get in the Golf World Top 100.
But even within those lofty standards, the Sultan stands out. Tee it up here on a blind test, and you would think you had just played a very private course that receives minimal traffic. In reality, this is one of the most popular golf courses in Belek. So popular in fact, that if you turn up in the golf resort for a week’s holiday without a pre-booked tee time, you might well be disappointed.
It’s easy to see why this is the case, given the outstandingly manicured nature, almost bewilderingly so, of this parkland-woodland hybrid. There must be an army of greenkeepers replacing every divot and ball mark in order to groom it to such perfection. The weather helps of course with well over 300 days of hot sun beating down on its tees, fairways and greens, there is no shortage of warmth and light to stimulate growth.
Yet other courses in the area demonstrate that the climate alone is not enough to guarantee perfection. And if you play here and aren’t impressed with the condition of the Sultan you must be used to playing your golf at Augusta National.
Greens that look as good as they putt and fairways blessed with tightly-knit, tightly-mown grass are routine here.
The paths, the flower beds, the trees and the water features are all neatly tended to too; these aspects don’t make a Golf World Top 100 course, but they do add to the feeling of being somewhere special, somewhere trying hard to make your experience a memorable one.
This aesthetic beauty is welcome, but to repeat, it is not nearly enough to gain entry to the Golf World Top 100 courses in Continental Europe. The Sultan is hardly just a well-tended country garden. Indeed, it has too much bite for most amateurs off its tips and even probably its 6,600-yard gold tees. This is proper championship golf, as witnessed by its comfortable staging of both amateur showpiece the Eisenhower Trophy as well as the Turkish Airlines World Golf Finals.
Despite the firepower lured to Antalya for the latter, the Sultan stood firm. None of the big names burnt it up.
Anyone with experience of the Sultan will not have been surprised, because off its 7,150-yard tips it is a beast. Most of us should eschew even the gold tees and head for the 6,100-yard whites.
The reason it is so exacting is that the fairways are not ‘resort golf’ wide. Off tees appropriate to your handicap, it is extremely pleasant though. You still can’t afford to spray it around, but you can afford to take less club off the tee yet still have a palatable club into the green. Be honest about your ability and you will love it here.
The opening trio sets a more gentle tone than follows later, a wide fairway on the 1st being followed by a cute short 2nd and then a birdie-able par 5 which is a superb driving hole.
At the next, the trees encroach and over-ambitious visitors will start to become a little bruised. The short par 4 that follows – played towards the stunning Kempinski Hotel – is a welcome reminder we are playing holiday golf for fun, and welcomes in arguably the strongest run of holes at the Sultan.
The 7th is another good-looking par 5 with drive bunkers that look back at you a la the Spectacles while the 8th is a beautiful par 3 over water with a wall of boulders neatly holding up the green as well as giving it definition.
That same style of wall does a similar job at the 9th green, and you can see it in the distance as you try to draw your tee shot out to the right to avoid the bunkers in the middle of the fairway and give yourself an approach ‘up’ the length of the green rather than flirt with the water.
Passing the stylish clubhouse reminds one of the newness of everything in Belek. A large glass of something cold can wait though, and your mind is soon concentrated by the task of hitting the S-shaped fairway and green of the 10th, both of which are lined by water to the left.
A little later, two stellar two shotters at 12th and 13th that run parallel in opposite directions hint at the Marquess at Woburn; narrow, tree-lined, with good bunkering and no water… this pair will have focused the minds of even Tiger and co. It is this change in pace that gives the Sultan an extra edge over other similar courses.
Comprising slender openings to angled greens that love to reject approaches, this is not standard ‘holiday’ fare. Some relief arrives on the 15th, the widest fairway on the course, before the extreme 16th leads us to a classy penultimate hole, a par 3 between a shute of pines.
Played close to the five star Sirene Hotel it is a hole that shuns fuss, extravagance or drama. It is another nod in the Sultan’s favour. The grandstand finish asks you to avoid water down the right then clear the boulder wall beyond the lake to leave a makeable putt on the pristine greens of one of the continent’s finest venues.
You survey the green with national flags fluttering at you from the top of tall poles around the clubhouse, just as they did when Tiger and Rory played the Sultan and were so impressed by her.
To view the Golf World Top 100 Golf Courses in Continental Europe, click here.
To read more reviews of Golf Courses in Turkey, click here.