Turkey has opted to delay its bid for the Ryder Cup by four years and build a purpose-built course for a possible 2026 staging.
Hosting the world’s biggest team golf event at one of the suitable venues in Belek in the south of the country, would require cutting down between 6,000 and 15,000 trees.
Instead, Turkey hopes to build a brand new, links style Ryder Cup course north of the highways that serve Belek, taking its potential investment to some €120m.
Turkey was one of seven nations to officially express an interest in bidding for the right to host the 2022 Ryder Cup alongside Austria, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
However, Turkish Golf Federation President Ahmet Agaoglu explained ahead of this week’s Turkish Airlines Open by the Ministry of Youth and Sport that postponing their bid until 2026 is the sensible option.
“The problem is these trees,” he said, gesturing to the thousands of pine and eucalyptus trees that cover the Montgomerie Maxx Royal.
“We calculate that we would have to cut 6-7,000 trees here. At the Faldo Course it would be something like 15,000 trees.
“All the trees are numbered and licensed and environmentally it is not just hard to get permission to cut them down, it is almost impossible to get the permission.”
The environment is a hot button topic in Turkey with several huge demonstrations staged in Istanbul’s iconic Taksim Square over the past two years in protest over the feeling of an estimated 2.7 million trees to build the new international airport north of Istanbul and the Third Bosphorus Bridge.
Building a Ryder Cup course will add around €30-40m to Turkey’s investment in bring the Ryder Cup to the Republic for the first time
“The Minister for Foreign Affairs, who is an MP for Antalya, is a keen golfer. So I will be speaking to him about the plan to build a golf course, not on the sea, but north of the road here. If it is there, that will be an open golf course that will be long enough to host a Ryder Cup.
“We cannot accommodate 30,000 or 40,000 people at any of the golf courses in Belek. This is the most suitable one but we can only get a maximum of 10,000 people around. The golf course we are planning to open on the far side of the road will be an open, links style course. It will be specially designed for the Ryder Cup bid.”
Turkey hosted the first Turkish Airlines Challenge on the Challenge Tour last May and is preparing to host the second $7m Turkish Airlines Open, the penultimate leg of the Race to Dubai’s four-event final series, this week.
“The Ryder Cup will cost the country between €100m and €120m and the biggest part of this is our commitments to tournaments,” Mr Agaoglu added. “One way or another we will be doing this Final Series event until 2023 or 2024 for the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey, which is 2023.
“We have nine years and together with the Challenge Tour event, we are already going to spend something like €70m - €85m on these tournaments. Together with the investment in the events, the new Ryder Cup course would be an extra €30m-€40m, not more than that. We are already spending 65% of the total on the tournaments.”
Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Martin Kaymer, Victory Dubuisson, Jamie Donaldson and Luke Donald will all be teeing it up this week and while Race to Dubai leader Rory McIlroy is absent, the organisers are pleased with the field.
A win over Garcia, Donaldson or Germany’s Marcel Siem this week and again in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai could see them pip McIlroy to the Vardon Trophy.
Turkey is pleased with the field but its position in the Final Series, sandwiched between the two events in China and the DP World Championship, is not ideal.
“This tournament will remain in Turkey but starting the Final Series here would be our request,” Mr Agaoglu said. “We are very happy with this tournament.”
Garcia,Stenson and Lee Westwood did their bit for sponsors Turkish Airlines by starting the week with a photo shoot at the 2,000 year-old Amphitheatre of Aspendos.
In reality, it is a theatre rather than an amphitheatre — regarded as the best-preserved in antiquity — and the three Ryder Cup stars “did battle” by hitting balls over the walls of a structure built in 161 AD.
Garcia said: “The Amphitheatre is an amazing place – this must be one of the coolest places I have ever hit a golf shot. I’m very excited about the week ahead actually – this is my first time in Turkey and it is a pretty amazing country with so much culture and history.
“It’s a big week for me obviously – I am one of the only guys with a chance to catch Rory in The Race to Dubai so I have to win this week to try and put some pressure on him.”
Westwood, who has been supporting golf in Turkey since the inaugural Turkish Airlines World Golf Challenge Match Play event in 2012, said: “I’m not sure they have been playing golf for as long as the Amphitheatre has been here but it feels like we are playing 2000 years ago with this backdrop!
“This place is pretty amazing – I don’t think I have played golf anywhere near as historical as this place. Hopefully it can give me a little bit extra inspiration to do well this week.”
Stenson finished in a tie for seventh place at the Montgomerie Maxx Royal last year as he completed his unforgettable season by becoming the first player in history to win The Race to Dubai and the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup.
He said: “It’s great to be back in Turkey and to be able to come to a place like the Amphitheatre of Aspendos is very cool. We do a lot of these photoshoots around the world and this is definitely up there with the most spectacular.
“Hopefully the golf can match these surroundings this week. I really enjoyed the tournament last year and obviously was on a pretty good run at that point so I am looking for more of the same and a little extra as I would love to win one of these big events before the end of the year.”
Ryder Cup star Dubuisson will defend the title that launched his career into the stratosphere 12 months ago, when he saw off Tiger Woods.
Currently 11th on The Race to Dubai, Dubuisson will be looking to shrug off the back injury which forced his withdrawal from last week’s WGC – HSBC Champions after the second round as he looks to finish the season on a high.
McIlroy holds a commanding lead at the top of The Race to Dubai but his supremacy can still be challenged by Donaldson, Garcia and BMW Masters champion Siem, currently second, third and fourth respectively in The Race to Dubai.
Garcia, who is making his debut in the Turkish Airlines Open by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, is one of eight members of Paul McGinley’s triumphant European Ryder Cup team teeing up in Turkey, with Dubuisson, Donaldson, Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher, Germany’s Martin Kaymer, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and the English duo of Ian Poulter and Westwood also in action.
A total of 17 players from the top 60 of the Official World Golf Ranking will line up in Antalya.