Love golf? Adore travel? Then combine the two and head for some of the hottest fairways to sporting heaven. If you’re looking for somewhere away from the well-travelled golfing areas, tee off in Tunisia, try Tallinn in Estonia, or perhaps revisit Europe’s recent equivalent of golfing gold rush territory, Turkey, says Kevin Nash.
There are a mere dozen golf courses in Tunisia, and arguably the best (designed by Robert Trent Jones Junior) is attached to one of the country’s most sumptuous hotels, The Residence Tunis. Although sometimes described as a links course, it’s not really, although some holes skirt the sea and others border lakes set inside a nature reserve teeming with migrating birds.
Heading south along the Mediterranean coast just outside Sousse (known as “Tunisia’s St Tropez”) is El Kantaoui, a purpose-built resort popular with European sun-worshippers, where the golf courses (Sea and Panorama) are good enough to have featured on the European Seniors Tour.
About 64km (40 miles) from the capital, Hammamet (where screen legend Sophia Loren has a holiday home) boasts two terrific golf complexes: Golf Citrus, the country’s first 45-hole set-up, built around seven lakes; and Yasmine Valley, Tunisia’s self-proclaimed friendliest club, which welcomes visitors in search of competitive sport.
The Residence Tunis has a choice of rooms with sea or garden views and a sizeable yet relaxing thalasso spa, inspired by the Roman baths at Carthage. Facilities here include 30 treatment cabins and a seawater pool beneath an impressive cupola.
For the non-golfer:
If you don’t mind haggling, try the medinas in Sousse or Hammamet, or the pretty tourist trap Sidi Bou Said, near Tunis (often swarming with cruise passengers); while a camel ride can be quite hypnotic, if a little scary at first.
Unlike Morocco, another burgeoning North African golf destination, Tunisia doesn’t insist on caddies. Consider hiring a buggy though, especially in the heat of summer, and try to play early or late in the day. The academy and nine-hole course at Golf Citrus are good for beginners, but watch the wind at Yasmine Valley, and keep out of the olive trees at El Kantaoui.
Maybe not the first place that springs to mind when it comes to quality golf resorts – not least because of the long winters that lead to courses closing for months on end – Estonia boasts one of Europe’s finest and newest facilities, the Estonian Golf and Country Club, just outside the picturesque and fascinating capital, Tallinn.
Golf only took off in Estonia following the Russian withdrawal in 1991, and the Golf and Country Club (which opened in 2005) is rated by far the best in the country. The complex is a fixture in Europe’s top 100 courses, hosts the continental qualifier for the Omega Mission Hills World Cup, and earlier this year was chosen as the venue for the prestigious European Mid-Amateur Championship.
There are two courses here, the 18-hole Sea overlooking the Gulf of Finland, and the nine-hole Stone. Cutting-edge luxury villas (ideal for groups of up to a dozen) are discreetly dotted around the courses.
Like Tunisia, there are only a dozen golf courses in Estonia, and most of them are municipal. The oldest, Niitvaja, which is about 32km (20 miles) from Tallinn, dates back only to the mid-1990s and has narrow, tree-lined fairways and an interesting island green on the 15th.
Stay and play on site at the Estonian Golf and Country Club, with its award-winning clubhouse offering spectacular views down to the Baltic Sea. If you’re a beginner or simply want to brush up your game, make use of the resort’s golf academy.
For the non-golfer:
Tallinn boasts lively bars and pavement cafés galore, and is ideal for meandering walks along cobblestone streets and among Gothic spires and glass skyscrapers.
The country as a whole has been famous for spa and wellness breaks since the 1820s – Pärnu and Haapsalu are the most popular resorts – and you can indulge in everything from mud wraps to chocolate massages in the Estonian capital.
The golf season runs from April to October, but Estonia’s good in the height of summer, when it’s often sunny, comfortably warm (temperatures average around 17˚C/63˚F in July), and there’s daylight until very late in the evening. If you get a birdie, be sure to fill out a disc and record your achievement for posterity in the lobby at the Estonian Golf and Country Club.
Belek, a sort of Disneyland for the discerning golfer, has been on the radar for several years now, but new courses and hotels are springing up all the time – as if there weren’t enough reasons to pay a return visit. And if you haven’t already been, well, what are you waiting for?
There are now 16 golf courses in Belek (out of just 20 in the whole of Turkey), including the Sir Nick Faldo-designed 27-hole course at Cornelia Golf Club, and Carya Golf Club – the brainchild of five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson.
The facilities are top-class, and the attention to detail is staggering. Carya, for example, is based on the classic Surrey heathland courses in England where Thomson enjoyed so much success, with a million (yes, count ‘em) imported heather plants for added authenticity.
But probably the most talked-about course is Perry Dye-designed Lykia Links Antalya, the only links in the southern Mediterranean, which opened just three years ago and already racks up 30,000 green fees annually.
Belek has a staggering 50 5-star hotels, including Letoonia Golf Resort, a family-owned 500-room complex covering 30 hectares (75 acres) with its own private beach. Although the resort is all inclusive, it’s worth spending a little more for waiter service (around €15 per person) in the à la carte restaurants. Opt for an apartment away from the main pool for a more relaxing time.
For the non-golfer:
You simply must try an authentic Turkish massage in the bustling Kutlu Spa at Letoonia; it’s full-on, definitely not for the squeamish or anti-social, but a foamy, fun experience. Belek’s 16km (10 miles) of sandy beaches are ideal for water sports, while Hadrian’s Gate, Antalya, and the Roman amphitheatre at Aspendos, are nearby.
Spend quality post-round time relaxing in truly sumptuous clubhouses. Also, pack plenty of balls in your bag as the well-stocked pro shops can be pricey – and it’s easy to lose an orb or two once you stray from the immaculately manicured short stuff.