Adam Lawrence reckons the long and winding road to Perry Dye's new Turkish course is well worth following.
The idea of a great golf course that's in a remote location is hardly new.
Golfers have been travelling to play the game for over a hundred years, and places like Ballybunion and Lahinch must have seemed pretty remote in the early years of the twentieth century. In more recent years, in the US we have seen the growth of the destination club as places like Sand Hills, Dismal River, Ballyneal and Sutton Bay aim to attract affluent golfers to the middle of nowhere to play golf, fish and hunt. It's pretty clear that few locations are too far distant for a golf club to be viable, if the course is good enough.
Still, the journey to Lykia Links, located about 60km east of the city of Antalya, on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, is something to behold. As the crow flies, the course is probably only four or five kilometres away from the eastern end of the strip of golf courses that make up the Belek tourist development (of which more in future issues of GCA). But it might as well be a hundred miles.
The road to Lykia is a narrow, winding lane, passing through a number of small farming villages and, on more than one occasion, appearing to have come to an end. Persevere, though, and you'll eventually see a large gatehouse and driveway leading up to a huge resort hotel, clubhouse and villas. So far, so normal – but the golf course that supports the development is far from ordinary.
Lykia sits next to a river estuary, and is a classic links landscape. Pre-construction aerial photos show pristine sand dunes, and the beach next to the course is an important location for sea turtles, which lay their eggs in the sand. And among these dunes, American architect Perry Dye – the son of the legendary Pete, and a well established course designer in his own right – has built a quite amazing golf course. It's ironic, after the millions his father spent building faux links like Whistling Straits and Kiawah Island, that Perry should get the opportunity to build on real linksland.
Lykia Links – whose eponymous developer is a large Turkish tourist group which has interests along the country's coast – is going to be a tremendously difficult golf course. Pete Dye, of course, has a reputation for building phenomenally tough courses, and it's pretty clear his son has the same kind of mindset. This difficulty is perhaps the biggest complaintI have about the course. The dozen or so courses that have been built on the strip of sandy land at Belek over the past decade attract a fairly classic profile of holiday golfers, mostly from Germany and Scandinavia. It is, I think, fair to say that the standard of play in Belek is not that high. Put some of these players on the Lykia course, add a bit of wind, and a six hour round will seem quick.
Off the black tees, Lykia stretches out to an eyewatering 6,850 metres (7,536 yards). The greens are, generally speaking, highly sloping, and a number are very small. There are deep bunkers, protected with characteristic Dye railway sleepers, and there are massive waste areas threatening on a number of holes.
The long par four opener will come as a wakeup call to many golfers. Dye says in his course notes that he hopes those who find it too tough will take the hint and play from a more forward tee for the rest of the round – but it is the tough green as much as the hole's length that will cause problems.
The fourth, the course's first par three, exemplifies the good cop and bad cop to be found at Lykia. Playing 200 metres (220 yards) from the back tee, and even 161 metres (177 yards) from the middle markers, it is a fabulous hole, unrolling over natural dunes with bunkers that seem to be part of the original landscape. There is, at least, plenty of room around the green, so long as you can avoid the bunkers, but the putting surface itself is tiny. If you haven't been rudely awakened before you reach this hole, you certainly will be now.
The truly way-out experiences are to be found on the back nine. The fourteenth is a shortish par four, which the golfer might think gives a bit of a breather. Nothing doing! Two deep 'spectacles' bunkers are cut into the face of the green, dictating that the approach shot much fly high and land softly. Climb up the bank to the front of the green and something truly unusual will greet you. Too few greens that fall away from the line of play are built nowadays, but this is one of the steepest you will ever see. If the flag is right at the back of the putting surface you may have a chance to get it close – but if it's anywhere near the front, don't even think about it.
The seventeenth closes the deal. At 242 metres (266 yards) from the backs, it will be the longest par three most visitors have ever seen. Even from the very front markers it stretches 155 metres (171 yards). A huge waste bunker guards the right side of the entire hole, and the green curves around a small mound on the left hand side. The mound would make rear flags hard enough to access, but just to add an extra level of difficulty, it happens to be topped by a small bush! A player who leaves his ball on the front of the green will have no chance of getting at a back pin.
A key attribute of links golf, of course, is the firm, bouncy turf that grows on sandy soil by the sea. Traditional links turf won't grow in such a hot environment as southern Turkey, and, given the need for an environmentally sustainable course in a dry area, the course has been grassed with Seaspray hybrid paspalum. Paspalum might be described as the warm climate equivalent of the fescues and marram grasses that grow naturally on the cool weather links, and it tolerates salt and brackish water better than almost any other grass species. It can also produce a fabulous facsimile of links turf, if it is kept dry and firm. But – and here's the rub – it will go dormant during the Turkish winter, and will probably have to be overseeded with ryegrass. I understand why courses judge this necessary, but it's a shame: dormant paspalum is a brilliant surface.
But if the majority of your customers come during the cool season then, even apart from aesthetic concerns, any greenkeeper would be worried about his turf by the time spring comes around and it starts growing again. With the Rain Bird satellite decodercontrolled irrigation system and the same manufacturer's 700/750 series heads, it should be in good condition all year.
Yet, despite all these qualms, I have to say that I loved the golf course. When I visited, it was a few weeks away from opening, and there was a fair bit of work to be done before the first golfers could test themselves against Perry Dye's handiwork. If it is properly managed – by which I mean very actively marshalled, with golfers required to move up a set or two of tees if they are struggling – Lykia could well prove to be one of the most exhilarating holiday golf experiences to be had anywhere in the Mediterranean.
This article first appeared in issue 15 of Golf Course Architecture, published in January 2009.