Saturday, December 30, 2006


One of the world's fast-growing golf areas is Turkey's Mediterranean coast. Nine courses cluster in the Belek area with its Greek ruins, topsy-turvy resort hotel expansion, and the gorgeous backdrop of the crystal blue sea, arid desert, and the snow-capped Taurus mountains. This has always been an area of abrupt changes with its coexisting and clashing cultures -- the Greeks, the Romans, the early Christian byzantines, the Muslim Ottomans, and the modernizing nationalist Turkey of today. But the new golf tourist boom may be the biggest revolution yet with hotels, roads, and golf courses transforming the area's ecology and society. Now you can visit the breathtaking ancient ruins of the Temple of Apollo or, just down the coast, the new Temple of Faldo, the famous British champion's multimillion dollar Cornelia Golf Course winding its lush green way through the sea pines. As it always does, golf links into social and political controversies here. Turkey's Mediterranean global golf tourism revolution has both its unconditional business boosters and vigorous activist opponents.

Golf Gateway, Kadriye

A personable young British pro, Ryan Parfett, runs an instructional center in Kadriye with the latest computer simulation equipment. Expatriate golf enthusiasts Michael and Loy de la Pena have formed the Kadriye Belek Golf Society.

Letoonia Golf Resort, Belek

A decade ago, this part of Turkey's Mediterranean coast was mostly village farmland. Now it has wall-to-wall resort hotels like Letoonia. These Turkish riviera resort enclaves cater mostly to northern European tourists; they offer all-inclusive packages as a cheaper alternative than Spain and Italy to sun-seeking vacationers. The resorts themselves are fenced off from the rest of Turkey with cable tv, elaborate tropical-style swimming pools, and English and European-language speaking staff. Many visitors never leave the grounds during their Turkish stay.

Ad for golf villas, Belek

Retirees, mostly northern European snowbirds fleeing the winter cold, have been moving to the Turkish riviera. Recent changes to Turkish law make it legal now for foreigners to buy property.

Ali Şahin, Golf Director, Cornelia Faldo Golf Course

That most tourists come from Britain, Germany, and Sweden means that golf investors on the Turkish riviera have sought out European golf stars to "brand" their courses. Faldo's Cornelia course, Turkey's best, opened this year. A Colin Montgomerie "signature" course will be completed nearby in 2007.

Construction for a new Belek course

The unchecked pace of golf course and resort expansion has raised concerns. There are environmental questions about golf's appropiateness in this arid area with limited water and delicate Mediterranean ecology. No real zoning controls have limited the massive resort hotel development. Although construction and resort workers make Turkish minimum wage with basic benefits, a huge gap also exists between the working-class, mostly Muslim local workers and and the well-heeled vacationing Europeans who have made Turkey's Mediterranean into such a popular destination. That ugly barbed wire fences with guard box entries surround area golf courses heightens the controlled enclave feeling of the new tourist economy.

Sorgun Forest

This last surviving patch of seaside old growth forest has become a controversial flashpoint. When plans were announced to build a golf course in the forest, locals mobilized a vigorous, hard-fought campaign to stop the project. Their coalition included restaurant and cafe owners in the nearby town of Side, expatriate environmentalists, and both Turkish and international organizations. The Side activists forced cancellation of the proposed course thus saving this lovely forest long a local favorite for birdwatchers, horseback riders, Sunday picnikers.

Zeynep and Mehmet Gülcü

This Side couple helped to spearhead the successful campaign to save the Sorgun forest from golf course development. They run the popular Mehmet's Bar with its lovely Mediterranean view in the small tourist town of Side. Another local activist, Harun Friese, runs the wonderful Apollonik Cafe right on Side's harbor next to the Temple of Apollo.

Silence Beach Hotel, Side

Environmentalists could not block this cookie-cutter resort hotel at the Sorgun forest's edge. In the foreground is the last small public beach in this area that has seen the privatization of most coastline for tourist resorts.

Temple of Apollo, Side

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