rench writer Alphonse de Lamartine remarked that “if one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.” The sublime city spanning two continents, with its thousands of minarets piercing the sky, long has been known as the gateway between Europe and the East. For many travelers, it is also the gateway to Türkiye itself, a land as steeped in antiquity as it is gilded in modernity. Landing at Istanbul’s modern new airport, most easily (and comfortably) via Turkish Airlines, the country’s many treasures are easily accessed, including breathtaking landscapes, expressive culinary offerings and a deep well of both historical and ultra-modern attractions.
For golfers, many of those treasures will be found in Belek, a short flight to the south. But before one boards another plane, it’s worth taking a few days to explore the city beloved by Lord Byron, Yeats and countless other dreamers.
It’s roughly 40 minutes from the airport before one sees the ancient city walls then heads up the hill to the Sultanahmet District, where many of the city’s better-known attractions reside. Those include Hagia Sophia (also known as Ayasofya), the pinnacle of Byzantine architecture, with its immense 6th century dome that reaches as high as a 15-story building. Completed in 537, it’s had a dynamic history, first as the principal church of the Byzantine Empire in its capital of Constantinople, then as a mosque after the Ottoman Empire took the city in 1453, then as a museum, starting in 1934, and now as a mosque again, after June of 2020. Accordingly, mind your etiquette when visiting (shoes off, women’s heads covered, please), but do be sure to visit and bring your camera: there’s a reason it’s considered the 8th Wonder of the World.
Across from that, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, more commonly known as the Blue Mosque, is another awe-striking site for anyone seeing it for the first time, and also well worth visiting. Topkapi Palace is here as well, for centuries home to the Ottoman sultans, who wiled away the days walking courtyards, meeting with officials in grand tiled rooms, and visiting their harem, all still visible and vibrant (architecturally speaking). If visiting the palace compels you to seek the royal treatment yourself, consider the Ciragan Palace Kempinski, located in the Besiktas district. A former palace for sultans as well, it has hosted heads of state, who like all guests enjoy the 24-hour butler service and a romantic setting along the Bospherous. In a completely different design direction, the Raffles Istanbul eschews Ottoman references for a modern Turkish aesthetic. Lavinia, a contemporary Turkish restaurant, is on site as well, making this a decidedly 21st century option in the ancient city.
When one has gazed across the Bosphorous and walked the small, twisting lanes of the Old City, enjoyed a tea and a fine meal, golf certainly will come to mind. For that, Kemer Golf & Country Club is a modern club property roughly half and hour north of Istanbul. Located in Belgrade Forest, its top-quality leisure facilities and restaurants, and its 18-hole golf course, all are accessible to guests of Kemer’s on-site and nicely appointed hotel. The course covers the rolling forest hills, offering beautiful parkland views and a proper challenge. On-site pros also coach the Turkish National Team, and the club is host to numerous tournaments each year, making this a fair stop for golfers in the area. An hour away to the west, Klassis Golf & Country Club is another great option, accessible to guests of the Hotel Silvri (which also has a lovely pool and restaurant). The 18-hole course is a Tony Jacklin design, and should prove a worthwhile round before one readies to head south to Türkiye’s golf region.
After your golf appetite is whetted, a short flight from Istanbul gets you to Belek, in the Antalya Province on Türkiye’s Mediterranean coast. Forty years ago it was a quaint village sitting under views of the Taurus Mountains, its golden beaches as populated by Caretta turtles as by visitors. Today, it’s a different story. With more than 30 four- and five-star hotels and a high concentration of world-class golf courses (and substantive government investment), the region has grown into a serious golf tourism destination, one to rival the Algarve or any other golf haven—and with 300 days of sunshine each year, it’s no wonder.
Among the many fine options in Belek, Carya Golf Club is one of the better-known. Several times host to the DP World Tour’s Turkish Airlines Open, the course here was designed by Peter Thomson, the five-time winner of the Open Championship. Playing here, on the pastoral route among the pine forests, one could be forgiven for thinking they’d somehow fallen asleep and reawakened on a heathland layout in England: millions of sprigs of heather were imported to help set the scene Thomson desired, and the result is indeed transportive.
Another Turkish Airlines Open host, the Montgomerie Course at MAXX Royal Resort offers a compelling, if non-traditional, arrangement of holes: six each of par-3, par-4 and par-5. Visually stunning, it’s sure to challenge even the most accomplished player.
The exceptional Gloria Golf Club is one of Belek’s originals, with its Old Course far younger than some “Old” courses, opening in 1997. Sand and water abound here as well, and no less so at the newer (2005) New Course, which tips its hat to TPC Sawgrass with an island green at its own No.17. The resort here is top-class as well, with fantastic amenities inside and out—including Türkiye’s first Trackman Range.
Island greens can also be found at Sueno Golf Club, another lauded resort option that offers 36 holes across its aptly named Pines and Dunes courses. Dramatic contouring and a few rather large hazards are complemented by sharp maintenance and elegant design, and there are lovely facilities here as well. Fans of links golf will want to visit Lykia Links Golf Club, a Perry Dye design that runs right up along the Mediterranean sea in stunning fashion along two miles of bronze sand, offering sea views and immersive play.
The PGA Sultan Course at Antalya Golf Club, attached to the Sirene Belek Hotel, announces its personality with a properly daunting first hole that sees water off the tee and down the right-hand side of the fairway, and forest down the left-hand side. Its sister Pasha Course is kinder, but only by a small amount. Both are so beautiful, however, one hardly minds the challenge.
And then there’s the course that started it all: National Golf Club. Built in 1994 by David Feherty (then more known from the Ryder Cup than from TV) and David Jones, this course was the first in Türkiye to host an international professional golf event, the 1996 Beko/Oger Tours Turkish Senior Open. Since then it has hosted others, and for many it remains the course by which all others in Belek are judged. If the course is a regional veteran, the resort to which it’s attached is anything but: The Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort, which is also connected to Carya Golf Club. Supremely modern, the resort offers multiple pools, a luxury spa, a private beach and more.
The Regnum Carya, like many Belek resorts, is all-inclusive, meaning travel here is about as stress-free as one could want. There are so many stay-and-play options, it’s remarkable, really, and it’s worth exploring all of them. Likewise, it’s worth exploring the area beyond the golf courses. The area is known for great spa treatments, and like resorts and golf here, they’re easy to find as well—whether you’re after a traditional scrub in a hammam or a something more elegantly modern. Also worth exploring is the local Koprulu Canyon National Park, where one might be able to catch a performance at the large amphitheater or simply sit and wonder at the natural beauty. Skiing in the Taurus Mountains, touring the port of Antalya, visiting the Manavgat and Kursunlu waterfalls or local caves… One could spend months exploring—and this is but one small region of a large and engaging country.
It should come as no surprise that summarizing all that’s on offer in Türkiye is a challenge, given its long history and vast cultural resources. Nothing for it but to plan an extended stay, and then a return visit as well. Sitting at the crossroads between East and West, the country brings so much of the best parts of both together and creates something distinctly beautiful and distinctly Turkish—and perfect for your next holiday.
In December of last year, the United Nations received word from the Turkish government that the country wished to be referred to as “Türkiye,” the name it adopted following its declaration of independence in 1923. Pronounced something like “tur-key-YAY,” the new spelling replaces such spellings as “Turkey,” “Turkei” and “Turquie,” and the U.N. made the change immediately. While widespread adoption might take some time, products made there are now branded “Made in Türkiye” and a “Hello Türkiye” tourism campaign is doing its part to educate travelers as well.