AHMET AGAOGLU: FULL SPEED AHEAD IN GOLF

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We discussed the importance of the Turkish Airlines Open tournament and the golf development in Turkey with the president of Turkish Golf Federation Ahmet Agaoglu.

What was it that sparked your interest in golf? It all started in 1987. I was in Dubai for a business trip and after the meeting I was resting in the hotel room watching TV and the opening ceremony of the Emirates golf course was being broadcast live. I found it all very interesting, that huge green space in the middle of the desert, and I said to myself, “I HAVE to see this place”. So I found a driver who took me down there and I was so captivated, that I decided that I should definitely have a go at it. Even if I didn’t turn out to be a good player, I would be in contact with nature. So, back in Turkey, I joined Klassis Golf Club in 1994 (the year that it opened). For the next 7 years I kept playing golf, even thinking I could become a professional, but I slowly realized that golf wasn’t that easy after all. I’ve been into sports ever since I was 12. I used to play football, fence and run 800 meters, so I am well aware that if you’re not a good athlete, you might make a good coach, and if you can’t do that either, then you can make a good administrator. And that’s how I became the president of the Turkish Golf Federation.

What does it mean to you, being the president of the Turkish Golf Federation? It means a lot. First of all, it’s a big honour. When I took over in 2000 there were only 78 licensed players in the country and 6 golf courses in total. There were no official trainers, no international competitions, few national competitions, and the golf scene was limited to Istanbul and Antalya. On the whole, it was an unknown sport. Now we have almost 6000 licensed players, about 300 top-ranking golf trainers, and international referees certified by the R&A. 15 or 16 international golf tournaments are organized in the country, we participate in more than 15 international tournaments and championships every single year, and we now have 20 golf courses which will hopefully increase to 40 or 50 in the next 5 years. All in all, we have achieved quite a lot. And, let’s not forget that we started from zero.

What are the federation’s priorities? Having already obtained permission from the government, we will build one 18-hole golf course, and a national teaching academy here in Istanbul, plus a 9-hole course and golf academy in the middle of Anatolia, between Istanbul and Ankara. We also aim to build 2 or 3 courses for training purposes and for developing golf, in the next few years – and to increase the number of players up to 10,000, within 3-4 years. We have 3 or 4 very skilled young golf amateur players, who we plan to take to the European Tour. Once these boys enter the European tour, become professionals and start earning money from golf, the golf scene in the country will get a boost. Most of the youngsters are interested in football because it pays much better than all other sports. But if these youngsters realize that there is also good money in golf, I’m sure they will become more interested.

How do you promote golf in Turkey? We have a project in with primary schools all around the country. It might be impossible to build golf courses in, say, Azru (the Iranian border), because a huge amount of money is needed, but indoor training facilities are available. So we send coaches and instructors to train the children for one year, and from every district we select 30, 40 or even 50 students for our winter and summer training camps, which are located in Istanbul and Antalya. What they learn in the indoor facilities can be applied in their professional careers. That all started in 2004. In 2006 we started a national Junior Golf League, which gives the boys the opportunity to show off their abilities. We cover all their expenses, of course. Flights, equipment, hotels, you name it. Until 2006, this money came from the Turkish Golf Federation. But, since 2006, we have received generous funding from the national budget and the Ministry of Sports. The government now subsidizes 85% of our budget. I can give you a figure, it’s not a secret: last year we received a subsidy of about 1.5 million US dollars. In fact, the Ministry of Sports is willing to finance any sports-related project, as long as it sounds plausible and realistic.

Are you preparing for the 2016 Olympics in Rio? We have signed a contract with the assistant coach of the men’s team of Scotland, Mr. Spencer Anderson. He was the coach when the Scottish national men’s team won the Australian Championship. Our first target is the World Amateur Team Championship, then we aim to introduce a couple of our players in the European tour, and prepare ourselves for 2016, when Golf will be an official Olympic sport for the first time in the 200-year history of the Olympic Games. We still don’t know what the participation criteria will be but, regardless of the criteria, our aim is to take part in the Olympics. Andersen has proposed an intensive program for 2012, and quite a realistic program for 2016. Every single sportsman dreams of being in the Olympics, just being there, among the 10,000 competitors. This is one of the few dreams that I still haven’t managed to realize, and now I have the chance to be part of it, not as a competitor, but as the Federation’s president.

Do you take risks? To be honest, I used to take more risks before I started playing golf. But I can’t handle this stress anymore. When I play golf I escape from reality, I leave all problems behind and refresh my body and mind. The findings of a study conducted on people over 80 years old in the US are quite interesting: 90% play golf. Stress, ecological disorders, and an unhealthy diet are what make our lives short.

Do you believe in luck? Of course I do. I used to be a Captain, that’s my profession. From working on ships, I became a ship owner with 18 ships in my fleet. There is no doubt that this was a huge success, but my personal contribution to this success was not more than 10%. 90% was luck. People say that you have to be in the right place at the right time. But how do you know that you will be in the right place? It’s all about luck. You can make huge investments and endless calculations but there are still some things that can’t be predicted, and that again is all about luck.

Thank you very much, I feel like I’ m in the right place, at the right time and with the right person! Actually, we are always in the right place at the right time! We just have to be a bit lucky too. You can never know your destiny, but there is always a very good reason for everything. If you think this way, you will probably go far in life. Never plan every single detail ahead; you never know what tomorrow will bring.

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