Talk Turkey with Beany after ‘beat the pro’ challenge
When you’re trying to beat the men to the best tee times on your women’s golf break, it helps to have Europe’s victorious Solheim Cup captain on board.
The presence of Catriona Matthew at an international women’s amateur event held in Turkey earlier this year showed solidarity with the sisterhood at all levels of the game.
More about friendly competition than female empowerment, the Sebahat Özaltin Ladies Tournament was the climax of a week-long programme of events held at Gloria Resorts in Belek to celebrate International Women’s Day.
And if confirmation was ever needed of the power of sport to inspire women and girls, who better than Beany to provide it?
Attracting more than 90 participants from ten different countries, the event – hosted by Matthew – also served to showcase the venue as a year-round golfing destination.
For those of us who’d travelled from the UK, escaping the grip of storms Ciara and Dennis, it was difficult to resist Gloria’s warm embrace and the promise of pre-season golf without mud, mats or winter greens.
At that point, we couldn’t have imagined that Covid-19 – already shutting down cities in some parts of the world – would have such a far-reaching impact on golf, travel and every other aspect of our lives in the months ahead.
For the time being it was business as usual and within an hour of arriving at Antalya International Airport we were enjoying the sea view from our balcony at the Gloria Serenity.
This was my second visit to Belek, a Mediterranean golfing magnet with a sweeping turquoise coastline, dotted with mature pine forests, upmarket modern hotels and world-class courses.
One of three neighbouring resorts in the Gloria portfolio, the beach-front Serenity is a short shuttle ride from Gloria Golf Club, the largest golf complex in Turkey, offering two 18-hole championship courses, a nine-hole academy course and a two-storey practice range.
In common with many in Belek, the hotel’s all-inclusive luxury golf packages provide the perfect no-fuss formula for groups and families in search of an affordable five-star experience.
Our tournament was played over Gloria’s beautiful Old and New courses, winding their way through tall umbrella pines, palm trees and lemon groves, all in the shadow of the imposing Taurus mountains.
Designed by French architect Michael Gayon to test amateurs and professionals alike, both tracks are popular with tourists and have staged events on the European Challenge Tour.
While the Old is known for its unforgiving narrow fairways and risk-reward layout, the New – considered slightly less punishing – is certainly no walk in the park, thanks to an abundance of water and clever bunkering.
When it comes to local wildlife, you don’t even have to stray “off piste” to cross paths with large, lumbering tortoises as they graze the lush fairways.
For most of us the highlight of the event was the opportunity to take on our host in a “beat the pro” challenge at the 17th hole of the New Course – an intimidating par 3, surrounded by water.
I’d ask anyone afflicted by first-tee nerves to put themselves in my size-six Footjoys when the shotgun start saw me drawn to play my first shot of the two-round competition at that very hole.
“Hey, we’ve got this,” I tried to assure my normally trusted nine iron, now showing tell-tale signs of a tremor.
Forget nearest the pin, it was a relief to see my shot clear the water and follow hers on to the green, sparing me the indignity of fishing with a ball-scoop in such esteemed company.
It felt slightly ironic that my first encounter with the former British Open Champion should be here on the Turkish Riviera, some 2,700 miles away from Gullane on Scotland’s beautiful golf coast, where we’re members of the same club.
Already focused on retaining the Solheim Cup on US turf next year, to become Europe’s first captain to win it more than once, Matthew was delighted to support International Women’s Day with a women-only amateur tournament.
“I think events like this are very important. It’s great for women golfers who are perhaps not quite as confident in their game to come and play in a relaxed atmosphere and with these fantastic courses and surroundings,” she said.
But what about gender equality; an issue at the heart of IWD and one on which golf has been conspicuously slow? Initiatives such as the Women in Golf Charter, launched by the R&A in 2018, are helping to promote a more inclusive culture, but does she feel enough is being done?
“I think it is. In these countries, where golf is emerging, it is far more equal than in countries where perhaps golf is more established.
“But even at home in Britain it is changing. It’s taking time, but it is changing and it’s moving in the right direction, which is encouraging.”
As someone who honed her skills trying to beat her father and brothers, Matthew hopes the euphoria – and record television audiences – generated by the dramatic climax to last year’s Solheim showdown will attract more girls to golf.
“It was the most exciting finish, coming down to the last putt on the last green, so hopefully that will inspire some of the next generation,” she said, savouring the memory.
Now it was time to say farewell to Gloria, her fairways bathed in early spring sunshine, and good luck to Catriona, still basking in the afterglow of that famous Gleneagles victory.
Julie Douglas flew from Edinburgh to Antalya International Airport with Jet2 , returning with Turkish Airlines.
Information about holidays and golf packages at Gloria Serenity and other Gloria Resorts is available at www.gloria.com.tr
For the latest advice on visiting Turkey go to www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/turkey
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