For Golfers at the Turkish Open, Security is Paramount
After a long flight from Atlanta to Istanbul, Carson and Cameron Kuchar could have been excused for feeling groggy when they arrived in Turkey with their parents, the pro golfer Matt Kuchar and wife Sybi, for the 2012 World Golf Final. What made the boys suddenly come to life? Not their first taste of the confection known as Turkish Delight — it was when they met the family’s personal security detail for the week.
“They thought it was the coolest thing ever,” said Kuchar, the 2016 Olympic golf bronze medalist and runner-up at this year’s British Open. “We had not one, but two security guards, and they both looked like they could play the Hulk.”
The boys still talk about the bodyguards, and about the way Cameron, the eldest child of the Kuchars, celebrated his fifth birthday that week with a Turkish bath-themed party at the family’s hotel suite, which several of the tournament contestants and their significant others attended wearing bathrobes.
Kuchar, who said he usually plays one international tournament per year besides the British Open to see different cultures, had planned to compete again in the Turkish Open, which begins Nov. 2, but decided to withdrawafter diplomatic issues arose between the United States and Turkey.
Because of the continued security concerns in the region the tournament was almost cancelled last year.
“I remember being on six conference calls in a 36-hour span trying to make sure this event happened,” Andrew Chandler, whose sports marketing firm, ISM, helps run the event, said of the 2016 tournament. “I said, ‘If you want to completely destroy a nation’s tourism industry, that’s all you’ve got to do.’ I said, “There’s no reason for it.”
Turkey attracted nearly 40 million foreign tourists at its 2014 peak, according to International Tourist Arrivals. That number dropped to less than 26 million in 2016 because of political turmoil and terrorism.
With the increased security concerns last year, Chandler and the Turkish Golf Federation president, Ahmet Agaoglu, reminded European Tour officials that the Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort in Antalya Province, the tourism capital of Turkey, is in a secluded golfer’s haven in a region renowned for its white sand beaches on the Mediterranean. While tourists come to enjoy the sunshine, they bring their golf clubs, too.
Chandler persuaded Keith Pelley, the European Tour chief executive, to make an 11th-hour trip ahead of the tournament to check the security measures. After meeting with Richard Moore, the British ambassador to Turkey, and Mevlüt Çavusoglu, Turkey’s minister for foreign affairs, Pelley was convinced it was safe.
To help alleviate worries, tournament organizers arranged a charter flight for players from Gatwick Airport in London to Antalya, and a plane carrying competitors from the HSBC Champions in Shanghai stayed on the runway at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport — just months earlier the site of a terrorist attack that killed dozens of people — before flying to a private terminal in Antalya.
Once the players landed, they were taken by private transportation to the resort, the same site that hosted the G20 summit in 2015. None of those measures prevented the Ryder Cup players Rory McIlroy, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Patrick Reed from pulling out. The tournament went off without a hitch.
“In the history of Antalya, there isn’t a single person who has been injured because of terrorism,” Agaoglu said.
John R. Bass, the United States ambassador to Turkey, at a memorial this month for those who died in the 2015 Ankara train bombing, praised the security efforts that have prevented major terror attacks this year.
“And that comes after two years in which there was a significant attack, if not every month, then pretty close to that,” Bass told reporters. He added that the absence of violence was a result of the Islamic State’s no longer being able to conduct such attacks in Turkey.
Nevertheless, Turkey remains a high-risk destination for most of the world. On Oct. 9, the United States temporarily stopped issuing visas to Turkish citizens to travel to the United States, and the Turkish Foreign Ministry quickly announced similar measures in the United States. That followed the latest warning from the Department of State, recommending that United States citizens “carefully consider the need to travel to Turkey at this time, and avoid travel to southeast Turkey.”
But Turkish Open organizers are confident that the all-inclusive resort’s safety measures and precautions will ensure another incident-free tournament.
“We treat the players like G-20 leaders,” Agaoglu said.