Adam Lawrence visited Faldo Design's newly-opened course in Belek.
Around twenty years after the stretch of sandy coastal land that is now the Belek resort strip, half an hour east of the Turkish city of Antalya, was first zoned for the creation of golf resorts, the development of the region is reaching its culmination.
What was once a vast pine plantation has, over two decades, been turned into a golfer’s playground, with more than a dozen courses, along with associated resort hotels. And now, with the opening of Faldo Design’s Cornelia course, along with the Thomson, Perrett and Lobb-created Carya Golf Club, and European Golf Design’s Colin Montgomerie signature course at the Papillon resort, the development is essentially complete.
Cornelia’s course is a 27-hole complex, divided into three nines, with the Roman-inspired names of Tiberius, Gaius and Sempronia (the Antalya region is famous for its classical remains, with well-known sites such as Hadrian’s Gate in the city itself, the perfectly-preserved theatre at Aspendos, only a few miles east of the Belek resorts, and the ancient city of Termessos in the Taurus mountains).
Like the rest of the Belek golf courses, Cornelia has the benefit of a naturally sandy site, with some interesting topography that the Faldo team has used to good effect in the course design. A broad dune ridge runs through the middle of the property; and the best holes on the course tend to be the ones that make use of this ridge. A good example is the terrific par three third hole on the Tiberius nine. Only 135metres (150 yards) from the back tee, the hole plays sharply uphill to a green sat atop the dune ridge. Two deep bunkers – the Jaws – cut into the face of the hill give the hole its name. But clearing the Jaws is only half the problem: the undulating green, although large, is well suited to a short one shot hole, as it demands either a very accurate tee shot or some finely judged putting if a three is to be obtained. Many golfers advocate small greens for short par threes, and, while this can make for great holes, as at Royal Troon’s Postage Stamp, the option of a large green with significant contours is a more forgiving, yet still challenging option – a good choice for a resort course.
Another standout hole is the short par four eighth on the Sempronia section. A lake cutting in front of the tees and then down the left side of the fairway threatens the drive, but more than this forces the golfer to make a classic ‘bite off as much as you can chew’ decision. The carry need not be long, but two bunkers at the end of the landing zone mean that a drive over the narrow part of the water will still leave a tricky approach, all the more so as the green is especially shallow when faced from that direction, not to mention the fact that it slopes noticeably away from the line of play. Left off the tee leaves a more comfortable pitch, but requires a closer engagement with the lake. The bunkerless green complex is worthy of note too, as golfers will be able to choose any number of different shot types for their approach, with the only connection being that all must be executed carefully and with great control to achieve a good result.
Considering the sandy nature of the site, it’s perhaps a little surprising that a number of the more notable holes and greens don’t actually feature any formal bunkers. There are some large waste areas to contend with, but in many places, Cornelia’s designers have tried to prove the point that ground contours and short grass are the best and most equitable defence for a golf hole. Take the par three sixth hole on Tiberius, for example: no bunkers, but a significantly elevated green that is exposed to the winds and has some tough falloffs to the sides. Only solidly played shots will find a happy home here.
The next hole, ‘Faldo’s Choice’, is a short par four on the same kind of model as the famous fourteenth at Loch Lomond, with an allcarry direct route to the green, or a layup option to the left. Trees threaten the aggressive shot, and three deep greenside bunkers wait to catch an approach – from whatever distance – that leaks away to the right. It’s a nice hole, not, perhaps as dramatic as the original back in Scotland, but a fun opportunity for golfers who haven’t been lucky enough to visit Loch Lomond.
Tiberius’s eighth hole is yet another shortish risk-reward par four. Again water threatens on the left; again, a drive that takes on a longer carry will give a much easier approach. My only qualm with this kind of hole is that few golfers, on holiday, will be interested in playing the hole conservatively. “I haven’t flown all this way to lay up,” is a commonplace assertion, and frankly, who can be surprised? It’s not the architect’s fault that people think this way; but perhaps these do or die shots can be over-used in this resort context.
A few of the other holes are a little less satisfactory. I didn’t really see the appeal of the long par five second on the Tiberius nine, which curves its narrow way through the pine trees in a snaking left to right dogleg. Not only were the trees rather closer to the line of play than one might wish, but also the bending fairway meant that the second shot was largely dictated: knock the ball further down the corridor, but don’t try to get it too far, because the trees will get in the way.
Talking with golfers who had played Cornelia before I visited, their view was that the course was substantially more difficult than some of the other tracks in the Belek area. While the Faldo practice has undoubtedly earned itself a reputation as a creator of tough courses – Chart Hills in England, Cottonwood Hills in Kansas and Amendoeira in Portugal all lay down a real challenge to golfers – I am not sure that Cornelia is quite as sabre toothed as my informants would have had me believe. True, there is a fair amount of water hazards to contend with, and there are some holes that are fairly narrow corridors between the pines, but I think the real issue people were highlighting was the course’s extremely fast greens.
It isn’t Cornelia’s fault that Belek as a whole has some failings as a destination. Most significant among these is the lack of any town centre, meaning that guests without a rental car are essentially stuck in their hotels unless they are prepared to fork out for cabs to get anywhere in the evening. I find it hard to understand why no-one thought to create a focus to the resort, perhaps with a marina, to exploit the beautiful coastline. Add a series of shuttle buses, and the whole region would be significantly more user-friendly.
The other question I have about the Belek area is whether there is sufficient individuality in some of the courses and resorts. Because the landscape is very similar along the coast – sandy soil with pine trees – there is naturally a consistent feel among many of the golf courses. At Carya, just down the road, Thomson, Perrett and Lobb have tried to counteract this by creating a golf course inspired by the Surrey heathlands, and propagating millions of heather plants. The one standout is Perry Dye’s wild ride at Lykia Links, a few miles away from the main resort strip. Cornelia doesn’t have a signature of the same kind – it’s just a good, solid golf course, superbly conditioned and with excellent service. Assuming that’s a strong enough pitch to attract tourist golfers, I’m confident those that do visit will enjoy themselves. The resort has been nominated as one of three hosts for the World Amateur Team Championship when the tournament comes to Turkey in 2012: it should give a good account of itself in the face of top level amateur golfers, and I reckon the players there will have a good time too.
GCA travelled to Belek courtesy of Turkish Airlines, and stayed at the Kempinski Hotel The Dome.
This article first appeared in issue 16 of Golf Course Architecture, published April 2009.