Warren Little - Getty Images
Intrepid SB Nation reporter Brian Lauvray braves international travel to check out the inaugural Turkish Airlines World Golf Final.
Reasonable people, when faced with a situation that takes control of their life and puts that control in the hands of someone else, well, reasonable people try to consider all known variables. Flying, for instance, is one of those "life is in whose hands now?" situations where all variables are considered, if only for an instant, variables up to and including death. I say reasonable people and I say "if only for an instant" because irrational people can have hell-bent phobias of flying. But for the reasonable, there's always that moment as a plane's wheels shed the pavement of a runway -- not fear of flight or that weird shifting and feeling of weightlessness, but an instinctual kick south of the spleen saying, "This isn't normal. We're going really fast, we're very high up, something could go wrong."
That feeling? It's been my experience that a normal traveler can quell that feeling on their own on any flight, but for airliners to be considered a cut above, they need to make you forget that feeling seamlessly and with their own powers. So good on you, Turkish Airlines, for helping me forget about the possibility of a terrible, painful, fiery death. Of course, Turkish Airlines, while eliminating one matter of concern, supplanted it with another far more trivial and less existential burden: deciding between goat cheese ravioli and boeuf bourguignon. I went with the ravioli, after the small plate of salmon tartare, and before the aperitif and cheese platter. All of which was so much fuel for a very long nap on one of those seats that convert to a comfortable bed. (Just make the check out to B. Lauvray c/o: SB Nation, Turkish Airlines #KTHXBAI)
But enough about death and comfortable airliners that have astonishingly excellent food, not just for air travel, but for earthbound restaurants as well. I'm back in Turkey once again, and for the first time, I'm visiting an area not within the immediate vicinity of Istanbul. Nope, I'm in southwest Turkey on the Mediterranean Coast checking out some historical sites, and more relevant to a sports website, I was given a press pass for a golf tournament. What golf tournament? An inaugural affair dubbed the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final, a match play tourney pitting the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Matt Kuchar, Lee Westwood, Webb Simpson, Charl Schwartzel, Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan against each other in a round-robin format, with the final four advancing to the semis.
Golf in Turkey? "Yeah, why not golf in Turkey?" Turkey with an emerging upper and upper-middle class has become the golf destination du jour for Europeans (particularly Russians, Germans and Belgians). While on a more down-low trajectory than, say, the UAE, Turkey has been pulling the "ball so hard, check us out, EU" efforts for over 15 years, making huge strides in infrastructure, technology, job development -- you name it, they're doing it -- while targeting sports as the latest sphere of influence and affluence with which to market and brand the nation.
The efforts haven't gone unnoticed. Turkey's successful hosting of the 2010 FIBA World Championships brought the country to a new level of awareness to the Western World in regards to sports and hosting therein of sports, and Turkey is lobbying the IOC hard for Istanbul to be the host of the 2020 Olympic games. Additionally, with the IOC seriously contemplating golf as a sport for the 2016 games and beyond, the dots begin to connect themselves as to why Turkish Airlines and the Turkish government would sponsor a world-class golf tournament with some of the biggest names in the sport.
The region the tourney is taking place in is called Belek, which is a district of the rapidly growing Antalya metro area. Antalya has seen exponential population growth over the past 30 years. Belek in many ways resembles the golfing communities of Hilton Head, S.C. (if Hilton Head had fewer snowbirds in conversion vans), or Florida's more tony golf resorts (if Florida had fewer alligators and was less Florida-y all around). Namely, Belek's climate is hot and muggy, and its location is squarely in the Turkish Riviera, a prime stretch of Mediterranean shoreline that's been eyeballed by all of history's great real estate entrepreneurs (Roman Emperor Hadrian had a villa and still has a gate named after him there, the Byzantine Empire had Antalya and Belek as primary trade ports. You get the idea: coast, strategic placements, etc.)
While Hadrian, the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, et al, have all gone the way of the dodo, conquest is still a big theme in the area, and after the first day of match play, the favorites, Woods and McIlroy, are each down a match and both will have to win out if they hope earn a crack at the $1.5 million prize. (Aside: the total purse for the tourney is $5.2 million. With a purse like that, Turkish Airlines essentially bought out the club, made it rain, and proceeded to leave the club with the PGA just standing there.) Woods and McIlroy are paired together for the final round of qualifiers, and both could be eliminated by that point, but I'll be on the course covering it and will have a full report from Antalya Golf Club later today, which will be around 1 p.m. ET back in the States.