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A typical day of Korean golf, Gangnam style

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I think every golfer dreams of being on a beautiful golf course on a warm Saturday morning, surrounded by good friends and playing well to boot.

Perhaps in reading this, you might think that the above isn’t all that much to ask for; but then again, depending on where you are, it can quite a challenge.

I started playing golf in Korea from the fall of 2000 when there were less than 240 courses here, most of them being private member clubs. Booking a tee time was very difficult unless you owned a membership at a course (often hundreds of thousands of dollars), and I often tagged along with those who had such privileges.

If you were out of luck in the affluent acquaintance department, then you had to try to reserve a tee time at least 3-4 weeks in advance. If you were in a bigger hurry, some services offered ‘scalped’ tee times for a fee. These companies would book the preferred tee times in advance, and then sell them to golfers who wished to play on a specific day and time at a premium.

With tee times being so hard to come by, your foursome had to be committed to playing on D-day, come hell or high water. Walk-ons have never been allowed on any course and is still not in practice today. But what if a fourth in your group happens to be a no-show? The remaining three had to foot the cost of the absent player, caddy fee and all.

There were just too many eager golfers willing to pay Pebble Beach-esque prices and not enough golf courses.

GOLF IN KOREA, 2020

Fortunately, the number of golf courses has more than doubled here since 2000, and is projected to grow to a maximum of 600 (18-hole) courses by end of 2025. The price, however, still remains quite high.

Over 60 percent of these courses are public and access to tee times golf courses are easier than ever before. Nowadays, we can open an app on our mobile device and can usually reserve a tee time 1~3 days in advance. Progress.

But still, playing a round of golf in Korea is a labor of love.

It requires a full day with careful planning, taking into account the main factors as follows:

  • Choosing a foursome – As most courses still will charge green fees for FOUR players regardless of how many shows, all players are expected to show up on the day. If one has a less than a favorable track record of backing out last minute, they can expect to be uninvited to future foursomes.
  • Choosing a golf course – There’s no guarantee that tee time is open at a course we want. More often than not, courses are fully booked from sun up to sundown, so it’s more of a compromise of choosing from what available that fits everyone’s schedule. The mobile apps to help book tee times usually lists all the available times and days to choose from.
  • Price and location – As a general rule, the closer the course is to a large metropolis, the higher the green fee. Thus, cost and logistics, as well as the prestige of the golf and country club, also comes into play when choosing where to play. For example, from the Gangnam area of Seoul, most courses within 30-minute drive distance tend to be more expensive (green fee of $150~200) or more exclusive, meaning tee times are harder to come by. More distant courses may cost less at $80~150 but can take well over an hour each way along with toll fees and extra traffic.

Most courses are carved on the sides of low mountains and hills, with plenty of out-of-bounds stakes along most holes. This puts a premium on hitting the ball especially straight in Korean courses.

The golf season in Korea typically runs from late March to early November. For those willing to brave the cold weather, however, they can play all year round if well-prepared (my typical winter round is described below).

Outdoor rounds also tend to drop off during late July and August when the heat and humidity can be excruciating but otherwise, almost all of the courses in the country do robust business.

In peak season, golf courses can book up to 70~80 foursome per day, meaning tee times can be mere 7~8 minutes apart. With so many golfers, it can be time-consuming to hit a provisional and look for lost balls (which can result in less revenue!).

To save time and maintain the pace of play, Korean courses encourage golfers to continue to the OB/Hazard tee, which is marked in the fairway about 230-250 yards from the tee box. The golfer plays their 3rd or 4th shot from here depending on the penalty incurred from the errant tee shot.

Holes tend to be far apart, and most courses require you to ride a 5-seater power cart with a caddy. A single caddy is mandatorily assigned to a foursome to help with the pace of play, and also help fetch clubs, clean your golf ball, and occasionally help line up your putts. The foursome typically splits the cost of the caddy fee (120,000 KRW or about $100US) after the round.

Power carts are driven by the caddy and only on the cart path. The carts are also automated and can be controlled by a remote.

The clubhouses at many courses are enormous five-star resort-like buildings with high ceilings and chandeliers. Expensive sculptures and artwork decorate the vast lobbies and dining halls, and receptionists wear tailored suits or uniforms. Locker rooms and bathing facilities are opulent and meticulously maintained, making it feel like you’re at a luxury hotel rather than a golf course.

I’ve often wondered why a clubhouse would need to look like the Waldorf Astoria, but I’ve been told it’s a status thing that lingers from the old days. In fact, in the early years, I was reprimanded at two different country clubs for changing into shorts after a round of golf and walking into the front lobby. I wasn’t invited back to either clubs since then.

But things are definitely changing. In recent years, more golf clubs are allowing (proper length) shorts during the extremely hot summer months, and a formal jacket is no longer required at country clubs, save the very few most exclusive ones.

An average round here can last about five hours. It can be frustrating to be stuck behind a slow group as passing the foursome ahead is not allowed. Add to it an average of two hours to get to and from the course, along with time to shower and bathe (a social must!).

If you are playing with friends or entertaining business guests, having dinner together at a nearby restaurant is almost a certainty. All-in-all, if you spent less than $250 and managed to get back home within nine hours of having left, you’ve had a very successful day of golf. Seriously.

Despite all the obstacles of time and expense to play this often frustrating game, it seems we can’t get enough. In 2016, a report showed that over 3.3 million rounds of golf were played throughout the land of the morning calm and more potential golfers are waiting in the wings.

Not only do we like to play golf, we also work quite hard at improving our game through lessons, tons of practice and simulation golf, and the search for the latest and greatest equipment. So why is golf thriving here more than elsewhere despite the higher cost and time-consumption?

From my own experience, I think it’s mostly about social status.

In a country where golf requires a disproportionately large investment of time and money to play, a single-digit handicap is a sure-tell sign that one has the necessary means and the time to indulge this difficult game. Of course, this is just my opinion, and I’m sure not everyone plays golf for the sake of vanity.

But whereas my 8.2 handicap is not much of a deal back in Canada, here I am treated like a rock star in most golf circles (oddly enough, I seem to gravitate to those groups that treat me as such). But that’s a story for another time.

Some par-3 holes have a “hole-in-one” insurance machine. For 10,000 krw ($8.50), the foursome is insured for 2 mil. Krw ($1,700) payout in case of an Ace!

A TYPICAL (WINTER) ROUND OF GOLF

PLANNING FOR G-DAY

7 days to G-Day – After talking about playing a round of golf for over a month, I and three friends finally get around to syncing our schedules to book a tee time a week out in late February at a country club one of us has been raving about. Once the decision has been made and course booking confirmed, trash talk over messenger ensues.

3 days to G-Day – There had been no snow on the ground to speak of all through 2019 and 2020 winter, and yet Korea is hit with the biggest snowstorm resulting in 20cm of snow 3 days before our round. Crap. The course we have originally booked has informed us that they do not foresee their course being open on the day. Panic ensues.

2 days to G-Day – After checking all other options and frantically cross-check messaging each other, we finally decide on Shilla Country Club for the same day since one of us is only able to play that day. The most important factor in choosing this particular course wasn’t the price, travel time or location, but their reputation for being open most days.

The day before – Upon calling the course, Shilla CC says they will be open for business tomorrow but we will be playing at our own risk, since not all snow has been cleared or melted. “Oh, and perhaps you’d like to bring some orange-colored balls.”

GOLF DAY

9:00 AM – One of my friends arrives at my house to carpool to the country club, located 40 miles away, for our tee time at 11:12 am. Our navigation system shows that it will take about 67 minutes by car.

10:30 AM – We arrive on course to change and meet the other two at the clubhouse restaurant for breakfast/lunch. A typical meal at this time of day is about 15 dollars.

11:15 AM – After being greeted by our caddie and rolling a few putts on the practice green, we head to the first tee. After a light group stretch routine led by the caddy, we are away. Luckily, my first shot finds the left fairway despite a low pulled hook. Another short iron to an uphill green, but manage to scramble for a par. Great start and the snow is only spotty at best. Life is good.

Korea courses typically use a hardier type of grass that turns yellow in winter. Sturdier roots make for smaller irregular divots.

1:40 PM – After the front nine, we are told there are four groups ahead of us waiting to tee off the back nine. It is common to have a break/wait time of anywhere between 10-30 minutes between nines. We head into the restaurant/resting area next to the practice green to grab a snack and wait to be called.

2:05 PM – Food items and drinks are quite pricey at most courses and it’s no exception here. After a light snack of fishcake and soup, we tee up on the back nine with renewed hope and trash talk.

4:45 PM – We walk up the 18th fairway chatting how lucky we were in deciding not to cancel today’s round. It turned out to be a gorgeous sunny day, not nearly as cold as we thought it would be. The snow had mostly melted and wasn’t an issue for the most part. Now if only our scores could’ve been better…

5:00 PM – After paying (divide the total fee of about $100 and any tip by four) and thanking the caddy, she checks our clubs and asks for our signature to show all of our clubs are accounted for. Then we all go to the parking lot to put our golf bags into our respective cars, before retiring to the locker room.

5:35 PM – We chat about the game and how we played while soaking in a hot pool. All bathing amenities and towels are provided at the club. After changing into fresh clothes we brought with us, we go to the front desk to settle our tab for the day. Most golf courses pay after the round is done, which includes green fee (super cheap off-season price at $50!), my share of the power cart fee ($22) and any food/snacks we’ve eaten ($20), and anything procured at the pro shop. I print out my scorecard at the digital Kiosk to rub it in their noses of others during dinner.

5:45 PM – After checking the road navigation app, we decide to eat dinner nearby to wait for the evening traffic to lessen back into Seoul. A quick search of nearby restaurants on the App leads to one with favorable reviews by many past golfers who have visited. We all share the address by messenger and head out in our cars to meet at the restaurant.

6:50 PM – After a mediocre dinner, the navigation app indicates 62 minutes back home. We part ways at the restaurant with good-natured ribbing suggestive of a bigger ass-kicking next time and drive back home, careful not to fall asleep.

8:00 PM – We arrive at my place and my friend thanks me for the ride. He has another 15 miles to drive across to the other end of Seoul. I don’t envy him.

8:15 PM – Carefully placing my clubs back in the house, I shed out of my clothes like a chameleon and retire to bed early with my phone. Lack of sleep the night before and spending over nine hours for golf takes its toll!

But tomorrow is another day, and I have to be prepared both mentally and physically to go through this wonderful process at any time. For who knows when the opportunity to play golf in Korea may present itself next?

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James is a golf gear-nut living and writing about all things golf in Korea. A fan of Tiger, Fred, and Seve, he is forever seeking the holy grail of golf clubs that will lower his score. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada and has been in Korea to witness the explosive growth of golf since 1996. Despite playing golf for over 30 years and being a perpetual 10-handicapper, James steadfastly claims to be the embodiment of the Average Joe Korean golfer. He can be reached at jimmyinseoul@gmail.com, and often introduces cool new Asia-based golf gear on YouTube and Instagram.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Danny M.

    Mar 23, 2020 at 9:09 am

    That “sturdy” grass you’re talking about is Zoysia.

  2. Paul

    Mar 23, 2020 at 3:22 am

    I don’t think the reason why golf in Korea is so expensive is because of social status.
    There is a reason why south korean courses are made by carving mountains.
    The government views golf as a luxury sport and thus will not give permission to build golf courses on more suitable flat lands(which are normally reserved for farming/housing/industrial uses..”essential” to the economy). The south korean government constantly fails to realize the economic benefits a course can bring to the local economy(this is entirely another topic). This drives the price of making a golf course to unimaginable levels(10 million USD+) and to cover such expenses, the cost to play golf is about $300 on weekends. What is most surprising is that people actually pay these ridiculous prices! Golf is booming in Korea and I doubt the price will fall at all. Amazing..

    • Dan

      Mar 23, 2020 at 9:12 am

      Thank god Korea’s golf simulator industry is so ahead.
      Paying like $20 to play virtual 18 holes beats waking up at 5am, driving an hour and a half and paying a minimum of $200

  3. Jack

    Mar 22, 2020 at 9:15 pm

    Other than the no walk on part, sounds a ton better than golf in Hong Kong, where there is just one public course and 4 private locations. Love the yellow grass never knew why it looked like that. Good write up!

  4. Caroline

    Mar 22, 2020 at 8:55 pm

    Sounds like California 2 years from now, if that long. What the cost of water does not close the governor will make sure the land is re-zoned for housing as the Sanctuary State rolls on.

    • Brandon

      Mar 22, 2020 at 10:26 pm

      So true, Caroline. It’s a sad state of affairs out here. I was lucky to play yesterday at a course that had been resisting the forced closure, but they are closed now. No golf for anyone for a couple of months it sounds like.

      • Joey5Picks

        Mar 25, 2020 at 12:48 am

        Such a shame you have to take a break for a few weeks to stem the pandemic and limit the number of deaths.

  5. Johnny Newbern

    Mar 22, 2020 at 6:51 pm

    Really cool piece here, James. I learned a ton. Keep up the good work.

  6. Jeff

    Mar 22, 2020 at 4:34 pm

    Interesting that you would not arrive earlier to practice or partake in the amenities. Are there normally driving ranges at Korean gc’s?

    • Daniel Han

      Mar 22, 2020 at 6:30 pm

      From my experience most don’t have driving ranges. It’s tough to build a range on the side of a mountain. But there are plenty of ranges near the courses. Most just have a putting green

  7. dj

    Mar 22, 2020 at 2:49 pm

    This makes me appreciate my local golf courses!

    Thanks for sharing.

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Travel

The TPC San Antonio Experience

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There are few places I enjoy playing golf more than the Texas Hill Country. It is just a gorgeous part of the country and the golf there feels different. More rustic, maybe. Limestone rocks along the walls of bunkers and live oak trees and prickly pear cactus lining the fairways. Whitetail deer rise with the sun to meet early morning tee timers. And the natural landscape of those Texas hills provide a beautiful opportunity for elevation change golf holes with scenic views. At TPC San Antonio, you get all of those things plus the thrill of playing a PGA tournament course.

TPC San Antonio is a part of the JW Marriott Resort property. There are two courses on site, the The Oaks and The Canyons. The Oaks Course is the host site of the Valero Texas Open each year on the PGA Tour. The Canyons course was the host venue for the AT&T Championship on the Champions Tour from 2011 to 2015. I was able to stay on property and play both courses.

The JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa

The JW Marriott is massive and honestly, quite luxurious. I was a bit surprised at the blend of class with Texas charm. I half expected a more western motif, but the hotel itself feels high-end. It sits on 600 acres of prototypical Hill Country terrain, giving most every room incredible vista views. The dominant feature of the property, however, is undoubtedly the nine-acre water park complete with a lazy river and dozens of slides. The pool stays heated during winter months, too, so it is always able to be enjoyed as long as you stay in the water. The weather was a bit too windy and cool for us to brave it.

I traveled to San Antonio with a big group for this trip. There were 8 adults in our posse plus three kiddos under three years old. I was interested to see how the resort would handle a party of our size, but everything went off without a hitch.

Our rooms were spacious and complete with a good-sized balcony overlooking the waterfall and pool area below. My wife was impressed with the size of the bathroom and kept saying how nice it was. Our particular room had a pretty great view of the Canyons Course, even though I didn’t know which course it was at the time. But you can see the rolling hills of the course perfectly and that gets you excited to get out on the course.

          

The main lobby is on the second floor of the hotel with a fantastic bar and hang out area down below on the ground floor. At check-in, the front desk gives you a coupon for two free drinks from the main lobby. Touch of class there. It was a great way to meet up with our friends and family after we all got situated in our rooms. Fireplaces make the area cozy and just outside the doors are more sitting areas with sounds from the nearby waterfall. Not a bad place to have a glass of wine.

We weren’t playing golf on our first day since that was our travel day. But we did get a chance to check out 18 Oaks, the resort’s steakhouse inside of the TPC Clubhouse. The dining room overlooks the 18th green of the Oaks Course, thus the name. And though the restaurant is upscale, they had absolutely zero problem with the kiddos joining us at the table for dinner. The resort is without a doubt geared towards the golfer, but family is not far behind on the priority list.

And the food was legit. You can expect high-end steakhouse prices but my T-bone (I ate the bone) was savory and worth the money. I knew this was going to be the best meal of the trip so I ponied up. Also, the goat cheese topped fried cauliflower was the crowd favorite side dish. Bellies full, we went to bed early and prepared for The Oaks course in the morning.

The Oaks Course

TPC San Antonio is young, relatively speaking. Opened in February of 2010, both courses are obviously a part of the Tournament Players Club network. The clubhouse is large and still feels new. TPC Members have their own wing of the building for locker rooms and a member’s grille. Additionally, members get a separate practice area of the driving range for personal use.

Both TPC San Antonio courses are semi-private, meaning the only way to get on to play is if you are a TPC Network Club Member or a guest of the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa. The simplest and best value way to get on is to book a stay and play package with the resort. I recommend picking out a weekend and then calling the resort to work out a deal. I found everyone at the resort to be incredibly friendly and eager to accommodate.

The pro shop is a big one, but like all TPC courses I have played, the same brands appear in stock and there are some glaring omissions. No Peter Millar, for example, but instead mostly athletic brands like Adidas, Puma, and Nike. I never expect much from TPC pro shops anyway as I know the logo is not one I will be wearing much of anyway. Lack of originality can ruin a logo.

 

The Oaks Course is a Greg Norman design with PGA Tour Player Consultant Sergio Garcia and it is no joke. The par-72 course can stretch to 7,435 yards and it winds through narrow corridors of the Cibolo Canyons, just north of San Antonio. From the tips, called the Tiburon tees, the course has a 145 slope and a 76.6 rating. Of course, it is much more manageable from one of the other six tee boxes, but The Oaks course is widely considered one of the toughest stops on tour.

This course offers challenges from tee to green, and I am not just saying that. Some courses are second shot courses with demanding approaches. Some courses require precision off the tee. Some courses throw challenging green complexes at you and call for delicate short-game play. The Oaks course is a balance of all three. Some fairways are large and inviting, but the green itself will punish a lack of focus. Some holes need an accurate drive off the tee to have any shot at par. It really is a tough course but I wouldn’t call it unfair at all. It just takes concentration all round. There aren’t any break holes out there.

The defining features, for me, were the bunker systems. HUGE bunkers on every hole, but especially around the greens. And they are devastatingly deep. They loom ruggedly on most every full shot and none should surprise you. If your ball finds its way into one, it’s not because you couldn’t see it. Let’s just hope you can get out.

The most memorable hole on the course is undoubtedly the par-3 16th. Water is present front left of the green, but it is really not in play. The hole plays 192 yards from the back and 163 from the traditional men’s tees, but aiming for the middle of the green isn’t an option. Waiting for your ball there is a bunker, smack dab in the center of the green, surrounded on all sides by undulating Champions Bermuda, funneling your ball around the sand trap.

The grandstands were already going up behind the green in preparation for the Texas Open coming up in April. It’s always a cool feeling playing a course with tournament stands around. The 1,002 room JW Marriott Hill Country Resort looms in the distance, welcoming you back home as your round comes to a close.

 

The course is in wonderful condition, which makes sense with the PGA Tour event less than a month away. But the greens were genuinely sensational. They held approaches really well and my putts weren’t bumpy at all. Not too fast or too slow, either. And while the natural undulations of the Hill Country can play tricks on the eyes, the reads weren’t unfair. I think they can be mastered but probably not in your first round. I am sure the assistance of a caddie would do wonders.

The 18th hole is a classic. Now that I have played a few of the TPC Network courses, I realize that a solid finishing hole is a priority for them. This one is an almost 600-yard par 5 with a meandering creek down the left side that crosses the fairway in front of the green. With the right wind, getting home in two is achievable for the pros, but that creek does give some hesitating thoughts. The clubhouse is elevated green side and left, offering views of the closing hole from the patio of 18 Oaks restaurant.

My wife and son were waiting for us on 18 green, which is becoming a bit of a tradition for these articles. He’s a sweet little boy who loves to putt with dad at the end of the round. I am excited for him to be able to play all 18 with me soon.

The Oaks Course was an absolute beast and a grind, but I loved the layout. It is not a course where you are going to score low without a perfect ballstriking day, but the scenery and conditions made it such a nice time. Still, I was more exhausted after that round than any I can remember. It’s not a bad course to walk at all, but you are just grinding mentally all day. Overall, I feel really happy having played it once but not sure that is a course I would want to play every day. It will be fun to watch the pros attack it in April now that I have played it myself.

After our round, it was definitely time for some food and drink. We needed a recharge and the ladies had already discovered the famous strawberry jalapeno margaritas from the resort restaurant Cibolo Moon.

We ended up eating dinner at High Velocity, a laid back grill and sports bar that is just off the lobby bar in the main hotel entrance. High Velocity is a relaxed environment with a great beer menu. The Golf Channel was on the big screen and mood was good. Honestly, a pretty great place to unwind after a round of golf to talk about the course.

The Canyons Course

The Canyons Course at TPC San Antonio shares the same clubhouse and practice facility as The Oaks, but the course runs along much closer to the resort hotel. And though they share the same property, the two courses couldn’t be much more different.

The Canyons, a Pete Dye design with influence from PGA Tour Consultant Bruce Lietzke, can be stretched out to 7,106 yards from the back tees but is a more manageable 6,142 yards from the tradition men’s tees. The par is 72. While Pete Dye is known for his ‘dyeabolical’ designs, this course plays much easier than the The Oaks. And in my opinion, it’s a much more fun course because of it. The course conditions aren’t quite on the same level, though.

The first hole is a straight away par 4 with an elevated tee and wide-open fairway. Swing away. But to the right of the teebox is a great view of a couple other holes, all below you in elevation with sneak peeks into the course that lays ahead. It’s an exciting glimpse into the literal rises and falls the course is going to provide. That is in absolute contrast to the Oaks Course. While the Hill Country surrounds on all sides, the Oaks Course only has about 100 total feet of elevation change all round. That is not the case here at The Canyons. Many more cliffs than valleys on this Dye design.

                

The bunkering on The Canyons, while still impressive, is much more shallow and manageable than the day before. Dye uses positioning, rather than size and depth, to bring strategy into play. And the classic coffin bunkers are still present, though a bit bigger than any others I have seen on his courses.

I enjoyed the Canyons’s par 3’s a bit more than those on The Oaks. The par-3 fourth hole plays only 162 yards, but water hugs the left side and creates a more-nervous-than-you-should-be swing. Miss slightly left and you’ll be wet but plenty of room right. Be careful though, as the entire green slants towards the water and it isn’t hard to chip one completely across. The whole was a nice surprise after the first three holes, which were more traditional in design. We found out the hard way.

 

The par 4 ninth hole is wonderfully design. A bunker hugs the left side with a subtle hat tip to more famous church pew bunkering. The hole bends right to left around that bunker and then steep downhill towards the narrow green, 348 yards away. The perfect drive with a right to left ball flight can be propelled down that hill and get you much closer to the green than you’d expect.

And then of course, the Canyons closes with perhaps the best hole on property, the 441 yard par four 18th. A slight bend around famous Pete Dye bunkers, the hole feeds you back towards the resort. And the slope of the fairway feeds your ball down to those bunkers, if not through them to the native Texas grass and brush down below. The Live Oak trees don’t come into play near as often on this course, which definitely gives it a more ‘swing away’ feeling on most every hole.

I thoroughly enjoyed my round at The Canyons course, but if you are making the trip to TPC San Antonio, you should without a doubt play both courses on property. Each one offers different challenges and rewards. If you want to play where the pros play, test your game and enjoy world-class course conditions, you’ve got that at The Oaks. If you want a course with phenomenal views where you can enjoy swinging hard and having fun from tee to green, that is The Canyons. Play them both and get the best of both worlds.

The City of San Antonio 

We spent one extra night in downtown San Antonio, just so we could show the kiddos the famous River Walk and the Alamo. Don’t sleep on this city. It really is a fun weekend destination for you and the family to accompany your golf fix. And of course, Sea World is always a huge hit with the little ones. All and all, I would say this was a great trip for the whole family. The JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort is an awesome place to stay. They were more than accommodating to us with the kids and the food options were wonderful. The golf was a great sampling of Texas Hill Country golf. And the City of San Antonio is a uniquely cool place to visit.

If you want help planning your next golf experience or just have any questions about some of mine, reach out to me on Twitter or Instagram and shoot me a message. And definitely check out my other golf experience articles. I look forward to hearing from you!

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Travel

Exotic Golf: Turkey

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When choosing a place to spend their dollars, international traveling golfers usually opt for the tried and true options. Scotland, Ireland, and the Caribbean are easy choices in terms of culture and proximity for the U.S. market.

But for the golfer that has a sense of adventure, exotic golf destinations can give an exceptional experience and also give you stories that will beat anything that most of your buddies can tell. In this series, we’ll take a look at destinations that offer great golf—in locations that are wild and wonderful.

Turkey

Turkey is a nation with a captivating blend of antiquity and contemporary and of East and West. The cradle of civilization and center of world history, Turkey was the site of the first human settlement; the seat of the Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman Empires; the birthplace of Homer and the last home of the Virgin Mary, just to name a few. With its spectacular coastline, majestic mountains, cosmopolitan cities, and quaint villages, Turkey has long been one of the world’s most fascinating travel destinations.

Turkey at night

Recently, Turkey has been in the news because of the conflicts on its border with Syria. But the perception that Turkey is unsafe has been exaggerated; in fact, the area involving that conflict is small and isolated. The numbers bear that out, as tourism continues to rise in Turkey. As in previous years, the number of incoming tourists to Turkey increased by 13.7 percent in 2019, reaching 51.8 million people, an all-time record.

According to Ali Bilir, Vice Chairman of Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TURSAB), Turkey has diversified its tourism industry to a great extent adding new sites to its list of destinations while working hard toward the goal of reaching the target of hosting 75 million guests by 2023.

“With the hospitality of Turkish people and the quality of the facilities, Turkey is not very far from reaching the 75 million target,” Bilir said in an interview.

Turkish Airlines Turkish Open

A key facet of that diversification is golf travel. The first golf course in Turkey was the Istanbul Golf Club in 1895; it took 100 years for the next golf course to be built, but golf has now taken a firm foothold in the country. What many golf travelers, especially those outside of Europe, don’t realize is that Turkey provides one of the most compelling golf travel destinations in the world.  In fact, the country was named the rising star of golf by KPMG Golf Advisory Practice in 2015, a real badge of honor in the golf tourism industry. The country has developed the Turkish Airlines Open into a coveted title on the European Tour. And for the traveling golfer, the value factor is off the charts with prices on hotels and rounds of golf that are a fraction of what a similar experience goes for in top U.S. destinations.

The first step to enjoying Turkey is of course getting there. Golfers in the know choose Turkish Airlines to travel to Turkey if possible. In addition to having the most direct flights to Istanbul of any airline, Turkish Airlines supports your golfing passion by carrying your golf clubs free of charge, which includes the connecting flights from Istanbul to Antalya. Coach is perfectly fine but if you have the opportunity, upgrade to Business Class and get spoiled with one of the top-rated air experiences in the world. And you’ll also get access to the Turkish Airlines lounge in the Istanbul Airport; featuring restaurants, theaters, a piano lounge, individual nap rooms complete with showers and more. The lounge is a vacation in itself.

When planning your journey, you’ll find that most of the newer golf resorts and courses are concentrated along the Mediterranean coast in Antalya, known as the “Turkish Riviera” due to its 300 days of annual sunshine and pristine beaches.

The Maxx Royal Hotel

Antalya’s luxury hotels and resorts are some of the very best in the world, offering superb luxury accommodations, a gourmet dining and pampering service. Bilir said,  “There are 421 five-star hotels only in Antalya, which is more than the number of five-star hotels in Spain, which is considered the biggest competitor in the Mediterranean region. Antalya offers separate alternatives not only with sea, sand, sun, but also with its historical and natural beauty.”

Montgomerie Maxx Royal Golf Club

Antalya’s courses are characterized by challenging water hazards and lakes, dunes, parklands, rambling fairways and fast greens. The golf courses feature numerous championship offerings including the Montgomerie Maxx Royal Golf Club.

Located on the grounds of the award-winning Maxx Royal Hotel in Belek, the Maxx Royal is Colin Montgomerie’s first Mediterranean design and has been described as one of the finest courses in the world. It features 18 holes within 256 acres of pine forests and ridges with naturally sandy ground, eight lakes, and about seventeen acres of bunkers, making it one of the toughest in the region. And the golf world has turned its focus to the Maxx Royal Golf Club every November as the host of the Turkish Airlines Turkish Open, one of the most popular stops on the European Tour.

Suite at Maxx Royal Hotel

If it’s available, snag a suite at the Maxx Royal Hotel with a beach view. With its ultra-modern design, luxurious appointments and attention to detail, combined with the view of the gigantic pool complex and the ocean beyond, it is easily one of the finest room stays in the world.

Carya Golf Club is rated as the top golf course in Turkey by many publications. It is a classic heathland-style course roaming over undulating sand hills and shaped by home-grown heather rough, pine and eucalyptus trees. The 7,186-yard, par 72 Players course is a demanding test of golfing strategy. Carya also offers a world-class Golf Academy and spectacular new clubhouse.

Carya Golf Club

Sueno Golf Club features two stunning 18-hole championship golf courses: the 18-hole, par-69 Dunes course measuring 6,190 yards, and the more challenging, par-72 Pines course measuring 7,013 yards. Both are links courses with natural bunkers, dunes, numerous lakes and pine forests.

Sueno Golf Club

Golfers can also sample The National Golf Club, the first course on the Turkish Mediterranean coast to be built to international standards. Located just 25 minutes from Antalya’s airport, National offers golf for all playing abilities, with 27 holes, including a par-72, 6,659-yard course with sculpted fairways, broad bunkers and numerous natural lakes, and a nine-hole PGA academy course. Fun fact: the course was designed by popular television commentator David Feherty.

National Golf Club

The Cornelia Faldo Golf Club features three nine-hole courses designed by Hall of Fame golfer Nick Faldo called the King, Queen, and Prince. They combine to create three championship courses, with the longest, at 6,947 yards. The resort also hosts the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, the first of its kind in Turkey.

Cornelia Faldo Golf Club

Istanbul is another magnet for golf aficionados in the spring, summer, and autumn. The only city in the world that straddles two continents (Europe and Asia), Istanbul is home to one of the oldest clubs in Europe, including the aforementioned Istanbul Golf Club, now a nine-hole course. The Klassis Golf and Country Club (1994), an 18-hole, par-72, 6,377-yard course designed by Tony Jacklin, hosted the European Challenge Tour in 1997 and 1998. Klassis also offers a nine-hole academy course, driving range, putting green, pro shop, and a five-star hotel.

Istanbul Golf Club

Klassis Golf and Country Club

When you are not on the golf course, there are any number of bucket list experiences in Turkey. From the historical to the exotic, everyone in your group will find something fascinating to see and do.

Topkapi Palace interior

You might remember the ’60s jewel heist movie “Topkapi” that was set in Istanbul. The palace is real, and it’s a must-see when visiting Turkey. Sumptuous beyond belief, the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul takes you into the fantastical, opulent world of the sultans. The interiors feature extravagant tiling and jeweled decor, and the surrounding public gardens, which were once the sole domain of the Royal Court, are now open to the public and provide a tranquil, green oasis from the bustling city streets.

Hagia Sophia exterior

Hagia Sophia interior

Renowned as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, the spellbinding Byzantine glory of the Aya Sofya Museum (Hagia Sophia) is not only one of the top things to do in Istanbul, but also in Turkey. The imposing exterior is rimmed by the delicate minarets added after the Ottoman conquest, while the frescoed interior is a grand reminder of old Constantinople’s might and power. This famed monument is a must-do for every tourist visiting the country.

Pamukkale

One of Turkey’s most famous natural wonders, the white travertine terraces of Pamukkale (“Cotton Castle” in English) cascade down the slope looking like an out-of-place snowfield amid the green landscape. For the best photographs, come at dusk when the travertines glow as the sun sinks below the horizon.

Antalya

The bustling Mediterranean city of Antalya has something for everyone. The two beaches outside of town are packed in summer with holidaymakers from across Europe. The Old Town, tucked right in the center of town, is a wonderful place to explore with its cobblestone alleyways rimmed by creaky Ottoman-era mansions. The Antalya Museum is renowned as one of the country’s best, with an astonishing collection of Hellenistic and Roman marble statuary, and there are lots of attractions outside of town, from Aspendos and Perge, to the town of Side. make sure you pick up a box or two of Turkish Delight, the traditional candy that combines chewy nougat, fruit, nuts and powdered sugar into an addictive bite-size treat.

Aspendos Theater

Just south of Antalya, the mammoth Roman Theater of Aspendos celebrates the pomp and ceremony of emperor Marcus Aurelius’ rule. Considered the finest surviving example of a classical age theater still standing in the world, it is one of antiquity’s star attractions.

With its combinations of old and new, past and future, East and West, Turkey makes for an exceptional travel experience. On the golf course and off, it is a unique destination that will have you feeling like a true adventurer.

For more information, GoTurkey, the country’s official travel guide, is an excellent resource.

 

 

 

 

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California Dreaming

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Like my last article, I am borrowing a title from a popular song from the ’60s but unlike the song, the leaves were not brown and the skies were not gray. I had a chance to play three courses in and around Sacramento California and I wanted to give our readers a quick review and offer my opinion of them. The week I was there was the hottest the area had seen in a few years and the locals were complaining about it all the time. For me, it was a blessing because it kept many golfers away giving me more time to enjoy the course.

The first one was a Club Corp course called Granite Bay Golf Club. It’s northeast of Sacramento and not far from Folsom Lake. The course is laid over the natural hills of the area and is carved into a neighborhood of amazing houses that are so large that you need GPS to keep from getting lost. Linda Creek flows through parts of the course and the designers used the sharp drop-offs formed by this creek to create great holes that offer amazing views and fantastic approach shots.

Both the 1st and 10th hole are intimidating tee shots with hole number one showing you nothing but a large pond and making you decide how much of it you want to try and carry. The 10th makes you shoot over a large rocky gorge to a large tree planted right in the middle of the fairway at about 240 yards. If you live in the area and can get on this course, I highly recommend it.

The second course I visited was on the other side of Folsom Lake it is a public course called Empire Ranch. This course is right up against the hills in the northeast suburbs of Sacramento and offers a great challenge for all levels of play. The course starts off fairly easy, but don’t let that go to your head. The back nine is up and down with blind tee shots and sand traps placed in just the right place to snag your ball and any hopes you had of making par. The fairways were in great shape and the greens were fast but fair. The staff was great and they had two marshals going around checking in with groups and offering water if they needed it.

The only thing that I wish they could fix would be the dumb geese. As most people know the Canada goose love to make a mess wherever they go and when it comes to golf courses they are a real problem. From my research and experience, the only real way to get rid of them is to put a swan in the ponds. The swan may look pretty but they are extremely territorial and will drive the geese away. All in all, a great course, and I would recommend it to anyone that is going to be in the area.

My final stop was Grizzly Ranch Golf Club up in the mountains northwest of Lake Tahoe in a little town called Portola. This course is up at about 6,000 feet and winds through a fantastic forest of tall pine trees. On many of the holes, the only sound you hear is the wind whispering its way through the mountain pass and down the fairways.

On almost every hole, you could see deer walking in the rough or a fox cautiously making its way up the side of the hill. For nature lovers, this course is a must. Altitude is something that really comes into play at this course. Even though I have played courses that are at a mile high I was still hitting shots that were a club too long. If you play here make sure you take that into account when choosing your shot. There isn’t a ton of water on the course but the natural rough that lines the fairways is a major concern. If your ball goes in there the chances of you finding it are slim.

Overall it’s a great course in a part of California that few see. In my mind, it’s worth the drive because of its natural beauty as well as how difficult it is.

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