In the fusillade of sad news filtering out of Turkey, the course-record-setting—nine-under par, 62—shot by Thorbjorn Olesen at the ongoing Turkish Airlines Open, is a powerful reaffirmation of sport’s capability to transcend itself.
Coming as it does amidst political turmoil and sporadic bombings, the Danish professional’s stupendous effort on Friday in the second round of the national Open, has been elevated to symbolise more than a sporting achievement. What Olesen has achieved, I would argue, by hitting 18 greens in regulation, dropping eight birdies and an eagle, is to give fans in that country (and around the world) something to cheer about. It’s also reminded the world that Turkey, and Antalya in particular, is one of the finest golf destinations in Europe.
At the time this column is being written, Olesen is about to start his third round perched at a lofty 15-under-par, six shots clear of Adrian Otaegui and the ageless Thongchai Jaidee. If Olesen can maintain the same level of play (or even come close) and command the short stick with the same authority—51 putts over two rounds—then he’ll be a hard man to catch.
The two Indians in the field—Anirban Lahiri and SSP Chawrasia—haven’t been able to get the ball rolling on the treacherously unpredictable greens of the Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort: both were lying in the latter half of the field at one-over-par after two rounds. Chawrasia who shot a one-under 69 in the second round is the man with the momentum to make a move up the ranks on the weekend. Lahiri though, as he’s demonstrated in his last few outings on the Asian and US PGA Tour (in Macau and Malaysia, respectively), has the ability to go very low very suddenly and in the last few stages of a tournament.
The gorgeous RCGC, stretching along the Mediterranean coast, is one of over two dozen courses in Antalya, which make this region Turkey’s golf hub. Coupled with Belek—home to another 15 odd layouts—the two locales pretty much sum up Turkey’s attraction for the itinerant golfer.
Surprisingly, Istanbul, which I visited on the invitation of Turkish Airlines last month, has just a couple of courses, the pick of which is the Kemer Golf Country Club. Tight fairways, hemmed in by the rolling hills of Belgrad Forest, the USGA-certified course is exceptionally challenging and pretty. Designed by the well-known Dutch course designer, Joan Dudok van Heel, the course hosts over 50 tournaments a year. Yardages are in metres and, given the elevation changes on the fairways, golfers from India will find it convenient to use a range finder to dial in on distances. Playing well at this course requires a fair bit of thought and strategy on every hole; coupled with the challenge of doing so in a respectable time (marshals are quick to penalise slow play), playing to your handicap at the Kemer GC is justifiable reason to gloat. Your columnist did nothing of the sort: onlookers informed me later that the general impression going round was that I was digging for old artefacts under the guise of pretending to play golf. On a serious note, the reason this course is in the excellent condition that it is, inspite of high traffic, is because the management is extremely particular about repairing divots on the greens and the fairways—well-meaning advice for would-be travellers. Caddies are reasonably good and 80-100 Lira is considered a good fee and tip. There’s an excellent restaurant and bar for putting your feet up after the round.
If one had to glean a glimmer from the fallout then it is that Istanbul—one of the world’s greatest and oldest cities—has not been run over by the tourist hordes that descend on it every year. One of the top-five visited destinations in the world, Istanbul’s charms are too multifarious to be written about in the scope of this article. But those have been amplified considerably this year: wandering the streets of the old quarter of town, there’s no imperative to rush things, no queues at the Ottoman-empire monuments. In the evenings, especially in the hip Asian quarter across the Bosporus, the bars and clubs aren’t packed to the gills. Hotel tariffs and the overall costs of visiting are much lower than what they would be at this time of the year. Even getting a tee time at the Kemer GC isn’t that hard. All in all, a petty good time to visit Istanbul
But even if you don’t have travel plans to Turkey, do take the time out to watch the final round or the Turkish Airlines Open today. Neither Chawrasia, nor Lahiri have a real chance of making a run for the title, but this isn’t about that. Watch because it’s the best way to show your endorsement for the event, for the European Tour’s brave decision to hold the tournament this year, and to all the professionals who set aside fears about personal safety and have travelled to play in Turkey. These guys are all winners.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game.