For a country where the sport is not even 20 years old, Turkey has done remarkably well to establish itself as one of the most sought after destinations in the world for golf aficionados. It is now ready to overcome its next challenge – developing the local golfers.
The first golf course in Turkey was built in 1895 – Istanbul Golf Club is a nine-hole facility in the middle of the city – but it took the country almost 100 years to get its next one (Kemer Golf & Country Club in Istanbul and the Old Course at National in Belek opening in 1994).
One of the decisions that changed the golfing landscape of Turkey forever was taken by the government in the early 1990s, when inspired by the success of some of the golf resort clusters in the United States and Spain, Belek in Antalya region was chosen as the site for the first Turkish golf cluster.
Since then, golf has enjoyed an upward curve in the country, and during the week of the Turkish Airlines Open, a KPMG report was published which called Turkey the ‘Rising star of golf’.
According to Ahmet Agaoglu, the charismatic President of the Turkish Golf Federation, his country is now on the verge of making another quantum leap because of a variety of factors.
“One of the things we haven’t been able to do well, and I think I must take some blame for it, is we do not have many local golfers,” said Agaoglu.
“But things are going to change. We already have the highest percentage of junior golfers in the whole of Europe, and we are putting in place a long-term plan to develop junior golf further.”
Agaoglu said the growth could have been faster but for a couple of obstacles, mainly lack of playing facilities across the country.
“I think one major obstacle came around 2006 from the constitu- tional court because of environmental organisations and NGOs. It is a problem that many developing countries face, with these organisa- tions thinking golf is not right for the environment,” he said.
“I completely, absolutely, 100 per cent disagree with that. Look at the Scandinavian countries. They are most environmentally sensitive.
And if there are 108 golf courses in Sweden, and 120 courses in Fin- land, then golf is not dangerous for the environment. It takes time to make these NGOs understand that golf is safe, and in fact good for the environment.
“So, a rule existed from, I think 2006 to 2013, that land owned by government cannot be used for golf courses, and it was luckily lifted.
“Right after that, there is a very good plan by the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Forestry, and 23 new golf course projects have been approved in Antalya region alone and 10 in Turkish Riviera, Ankara and Samsun region.
“The other reason why golf is not growing at the right pace is because 90 per cent of the golf courses are commercial golf courses. So, only two golf courses in Belek out of 11 run our junior golf programmes because the others consider them- selves commercial golf courses.
“I appreciate their business model, but they are not helping grow the game in the country. We are running our programmes through the golf course in Ankara, in Istanbul and there is a nine-hole golf course coming up in Samsun which will be operational from May 2016, and this will help increase the number of golfers in the country.
“I also think that the municipalities should be involved with sports, and also golf. That is their duty to the citizen. They should build at least one public golf course in each city. The Samsun course is actually a brainchild of their mayor and he has taken the lead in getting it built. Other cities must follow his example.”
The visits of golfing icons like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy for the Turkish Airlines Open has also played a huge role in ramping up the interest in the sport among the local population and in consolidating Turkey’s position further in the world golfing map.
“I think the best way to illustrate the impact of the Turkish Airlines Open would be to have a look at the statistics about the number of golfers coming to Turkey,” said Agaoglu.
“In 2011, we had 529,000 rounds played in Belek, which dipped by nearly 10 per cent in 2012 for a variety of reasons.
“But more importantly, after we hosted the first tournament in 2013, that number has started to climb again by four to five per cent every year. This comes at a time when tourism numbers in most markets are going down.
“This jump in the number of rounds played is only because of the tournament. We are back to 2011 numbers. The tournament has played a huge role, and I must say that the support of Turkish Airlines has been vital in this process.
“We would not have gone anywhere if they did not share our vision. To have a big name backing your event is very important. When you speak to a player like Tiger and invite him for your event, the first question they tend to ask is who is the title sponsor?”
Agaoglu pointed out various other points on how golf is benefiting the Belek region and why more golf courses will be good for Turkey.
“There are almost 50 staff employed by an 18-hole golf course, and then there is the staff at the attached resort,” he said. “These are all permanent employees. This is fantastic for any region to have so many employment opportunities.”
Andrea Sartori, Global Head of Sport at KPMG, said during the release of their report: “Our findings show that Turkey has great development potential. With a progressing tourism industry, fantastic climatic conditions, a highly successful junior programme, and the commitment of stakeholders and sponsors to continue to sup- port the game, golf in Turkey looks to have a very bright future.
“But there are other avenues which haven’t been even explored at the moment.
“All golf course development has been done around golf resorts in Belek. They are yet to experiment with golf course development around real estate. Now, the purists may scoff at the idea of housing around a golf course, but some of the most successful developments in recent times have been based on that model.”
Agaoglu has no doubts the future of golf in Turkey is extremely bright.
“We started to seriously think about golf and how we can use the Belek region with the KPMG Conference that was held here in 2010. At that time, nobody even thought that we will have an event on the Final Series of the European Tour and we will have players like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy coming and playing here,” he said.
“However, we have done that in such a short period of time, and I am sure we can overcome all other obstacles soon.”
Hopes of a home victory in the World Cup may have been dashed, but it has not dampened the mood at the eighth edition of rugby’s biggest competition.
While the England team have not fulfilled expectations and bowed out losers, UK tourism will be the big winner off it. After all, it has been given the perfect opportunity to showcase the wonders of the whole country, and not just London as the Olympics did in 2012.
From James Bond to the Brontes, iconic sights and scenes featured in classic movies or literature provide a license to thrill and leave an indelible mark on the 466,000 overseas visitors expected during this tournament.
Patricia Yates, Director of Strategy and Communications at VisitBritain, the national tourism agency responsible for marketing Britain overseas, says: “The importance of the sporting events like the Rugby World Cup is primarily the opportunity to get destinations on televisions around the world, and the audience of this tournament is four billion people.
“Of course you have the guests and they reckon it will attract just under 500,000 international visitors who will stay in hotels that sold out of rooms in some cases a year-and-a-half in advance.
“People will come particularly from Australasia, North America and Europe, the traditional rugby markets. But the big prize is using that TV reach to inspire people to visit places they haven’t seen before, be it now or in the future.
“International visitors tend to go to London, particularly the Gulf market. They are hugely loyal but tend to be London-centric and there’s a whole country to explore.
“There are great stories to be told of regional Britain and great locations. From our literature, Shakespeare in Stratford or the Bronte sisters in Yorkshire, or where films are set like Bond. There is a romanticism about Britain and we want people to enjoy that.
“Fifty-four per cent of our spend is still in London so we have a job to do in telling people about the rest of the country.”
At the 1991 World Cup, while the final was held at Twickenham as England were beaten by Australia, they shared games with Scotland, Wales, France and Ireland.
This time, Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium is the sole outside host among 10 English cities that will stage the 48 matches. They included Brighton, where the sight of South African supporters getting off the train at the station to give a guard of honour and cheer Japan fans, who had just witnessed their country’s stunning upset of the two-time champions, embodied the spirit of this tournament.
And also Leeds, home of former British and Irish Lions and Scotland coach Sir Ian McGeechan, who said: “You want everyone to see how special a World Cup is. I was there in 1987 for the first one in New Zealand and it’s amazing to see how much it has grown since then and how much the people have taken it to their hearts.”
Such heartwarming moments were also evident last year when Leeds and surrounding areas opened the 2014 Tour de France and then introduced its own Tour de Yorkshire.
And Yates adds: “Yorkshire has had a cracking few years in international tourism. They hosted the Tour de France and then, canny as they are there, they had a Tour de Yorkshire, and have seen international visitors go up about 12 per cent year on year.
“The weather was glorious and you could see people having fun – and what an advert for the region. That’s the strength of sporting events, with people saying I have to go there.
“What we also see is a shift from go-see to go-experience. We are the home of sport, but you can also take part at a local level too.
“It’s important people don’t just see The Open, but go and play the golf courses. Getting out on a bike, watch football, but go and have a kickabout, and cricket is not just about being held in a big arena, but a small village experience.”
There was nothing like the experience of an Olympics, though, for Yates as she recalls how the Games lifted London after the terrorist bombings in the capital in 2005.
Having joined that year as Head of Press and PR, she recalls: “Tourism is a very resilient industry and we have lived with terrorism for many years. There’s a real spirit of life carrying on.
“The 7-7 happened after the Twin Towers in New York, there was a new resilience and we were not going to let this impact on us.
“These things happen, I live in the centre and the first concern was for people directly impacted rather than the impact on tourism. It is about being sensible and making sensible messages. The real strong point was TV cameras going out in the street and they spoke to Americans who all said they were going to stay and there was a real sense of solidarity.
“Yes, you always have to be prepared and be able to cope with what life throws at you, but you don’t spend your life worrying about it. The first few days there was an impact on tourism, but we were back to expected numbers by end of the year. Then we had the Olympics – and we grew out of adversity.
“The Olympics were fantastic. Brits are quite phlegmatic and we don’t tend to talk ourselves up, but that was an amazing atmosphere and a real party spirit. Boris [Johnson], as the Mayor of London, wanted a party city and we absolutely managed to do that and all the things that we were worried about, didn’t happen.
“The sun shone, the tubes worked, ticketing worked and security was fine. We had amazing events and a feel-good factor from sport spilled across the nation. That’s the real power of sport.”
The Rugby World Cup is estimated to bring in £2.2 billion to the UK economy with £869m in direct expenditure, through ticket sales, travel costs, accommodation and visiting other tourist attractions.
World Rugby chief Brett Gosper has claimed it could surpass the Olympics in terms of having a greater economic impact on the country.
While the Games provided a £9.9bn boost in trade and investment, the construction of brand new arenas at the Olympic Park meant costs reached £8.9bn.
Thanks to existing stadia, this World Cup, though, will require just £85m for infrastructure. But Yates says: “I think it would have to go some to do more than the Olympics, which drove record numbers. What will be interesting to see is if rugby really kicks off some of the regions, and for some of them, it might be more important than the Olympics.
“The intention of hosting the Games was to create a real step change in tourism and we have had record tourism since the Olympics, and inbound tourism is worth £62bn to the UK. It’s an industry in which you have to compete and drive people to come. Was it worth doing? Absolutely.”
Having staged football’s European Championships in 1996, the Olympics and now the RWC, all that is left is for football’s showpiece tournament to return to these shores. It was 1966 when England were World Cup hosts the last time.
Having controversially missed out on 2018, there is a feeling that success is long overdue.
“We are passionate about football, we have the stadia, we have the appetite,” adds Yayes.
“It didn’t come in 2018, but we will be in the right place to do it if we bid again.
“Britain showed it can put on major events and put them on in a way that doesn’t worry governing bodies. We know how to do it and we have fans who will turn up and support.
“We have seen years of record growth and have an ambition to grow tourism to 40m visitors by 2020. Sport will play a big part in that. We have great events driving us and we want to be seen as one of the most welcoming destinations.”
If having a ski dome in a Dubai shopping mall did not seem surreal enough, Soccerex chiefs added to the realms of unreality when they staged a five-a-side football tournament there.
It was 2006 and visitors to the Mall of the Emirates were mesmerised as legends such as Phil Thompson, a seven-time former title winner with Liverpool, former Manchester United and England captain Bryan Robson, Iran’s ‘Asian Pele’ Ali Daie and Egyptian hero Hossam Hassan evoked memories of their glorious playing days.
The innovative idea left even Sepp Blatter stunned by the audacity of it all.
The outgoing FIFA president was in town for the then 10th anniversary of Soccerex, the world’s largest business-to-business football conference, and witnessed again how the Gulf was fast becoming a hot spot for sporting events.
A year previously, Robson was joined by Old Trafford and France superstar Eric Cantona and the late former England manager Sir Bobby Robson for a session of coaching and skills at Jumeirah Beach Hotel.
With a who’s who of football in regular attendance as Dubai hosted the Soccerex conference from 2002 to 2007, it played a part in the introduction of a new UAE professional league and perhaps helped sway influential minds about the prospect of a first-ever World Cup in the Middle East.
Despite the controversy, Qatar will have that honour in 2022 and Duncan Revie, founder of Soccerex, said: “Dubai opened people’s eyes to how up and coming that region was in terms of football and sport. Back in 2000 when we made the decision to come, Dubai wasn’t known as it is now.
“It was very much a closed shop. People now know what a fabulous place the UAE is and Qatar is going to follow suit.
“Johannesburg was not a very popular destination for Soccerex, but we helped shine a light on it – that it is safe, people are great and it will be a great World Cup in South Africa.
“When we came to Dubai, it showcased the city, the region, and Soccerex brings all the great football minds so you can learn from them on the conference platform and all the exhibitors showing their wares and the latest cutting edge products. Instead of doing 11 meetings with 11 flights across 11 different weeks, you can often do it in a few days.”
It was a format, a niche, that Revie first unveiled in 1995 with wife Rita, a seed planted by a visit to a music industry conference in Manchester.
The city will this week again host the Global Convention, marking the 20th anniversary of Soccerex.
Rather fitting as Revie, son of the late Don Revie, says: “We have been all over the world, but we are back in Manchester, where we conceived it at the Midland Hotel. I was born in Manchester, dad was Footballer of the Year when at Manchester City, so it is a homecoming.”
But Revie, 61, hasn’t always enjoyed home comforts as he recalls “a lot of bumps in the road”, including the time when the Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts agreed a six-year deal to stage the event in Dubai from 2001.
“We called it the World Convention at the start, but I didn’t foresee that 20 years later we would have done five Continents and 20 cities,” he said. “We didn’t particularly have a good event when we first moved abroad in Paris, and then we had the case of cancellation in Dubai in 2001, after 9/11, and had to start in 2002.
Then we had to postpone the second one there in 2003 because of the Gulf War, which began on the same day as we were beginning.
“But everyone in Dubai was so helpful, the Sheikhs, our supporters, and that gave us the springboard to go on and get better.”
The Revie family’s association with the Emirates stretches back to 1977 when Don quit as England manager to take charge of the UAE national side. Many thought the man who shaped the great Leeds United side of the 1960s and 70s would not last long in the desert, but he spent six years in the Emirates, coaching Al Nasr too.
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And it is why Revie would love for Soccerex to return to the UAE. “We have got about 21 different cities wanting Soccerex events and we will now be going out to tender for the main convention and other forums,” he added.
“We will be in Manchester for the next two years and then we have got the Asian Forum, Americas Forum and African Forum and they will be going to different cities from 2017 onwards. The tender documents will be going out and Dubai is on the list and Abu Dhabi as well.
“It would be great to come back to the UAE because that’s where we really took off, the starting point from where it began to become a global event.
“And all the support we had through those two postponements hasn’t been forgotten – and neither has the fact how my dad had a fabulous six years there.
“When he left the England job everyone thought he was going to far-off desert. But he disproved that and it’s got even better.
“Similarly with Qatar too – and I’m pretty sure, let’s put it this way, we will be somewhere with Soccerex in the Middle East in the next four or five years.”
Not only will that help towards sporting development and international exposure, but also boost the local economy. Manchester marketing officials estimated Soccerex would generate £23m for the city during its four-year tenure.
While confidentiality does not allow him to divulge more details, Revie says deals worth “hundreds of millions of pounds” have been negotiated at Soccerex since its inception.
“Clubs have been bought and sold, and shirt sponsorships have been done,” he adds. “One deal fairly well documented was the Bwin shirt deal with Real Madrid that was done at Soccerex in 2006.
“More recently, the adidas deal with Jordan was signed at Soccerex in Asia four months ago. Some of the new lucrative television deals were negotiated too. In
Barbados where we had our Americas Forum they were talking about a league for the Caribbean.
— SoccerexFF (@SoccerexFF) September 6, 2015
“This week we have got the whole of the English Football League coming, the Premier League, La Liga and a meeting of their commercial directors. It’s becoming THE meeting place.”
And just like the last Global Convention in Manchester, the FIFA presidency will be a hot topic. A year ago Blatter did a link to the event to declare his intention to remain as leader of world football’s governing body.
But following revelations of corruption that saw several FIFA executives arrested by US authorities, the Swiss will step down from his role once a successor is elected in February, 2016.
Today, Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, president of the Jordan Football Association, will talk at Soccerex and reveal whether he will stand again, having gained 73 votes to Blatter’s 133 in a May election.
“Prince Ali will be fascinating to listen to, his ideas on the past and future, and grassroots through the Asian Football Development,” says Revie.
“It (Soccerex) is the Cannes of the football festivals. We have all of the celebrities and the sparkle, but also make sure we have a platform for the people who attend to do business. It’s a rarefied atmosphere and they are all decision makers.
“We make sure with our Soccermatch system, meeting areas and networking facilities, that our customers meet the people they want to meet. They want to do deals and Soccerex affords them the environment to do that.”