A decade ago Bulgaria didn't have a single 18-hole golf course. That though, has changed, and from 16-19 May the Thracian Cliffs course will host the Volvo World Match Play Championship, featuring 24 of the world's top players.
The Thracian Cliffs Golf and Beach Resort runs 4.5 km along the Black Sea coast near Kavarna and is arguably the most scenic of Bulgaria's seven golf courses. Gary Player designed this challenging course, 49 km north-west of Varna, and has been quoted predicting Thracian Cliffs will become regarded as "one of the top three golf courses on the planet."
The sixth hole of the 6,452 yard, par 72 course requires golfers to tee off from a clifftop, driving onto the fairway 40 metres below. Slicing the tee shot means your ball will plop down into the sea, hooking means it's likely to smack against the cliff to the left.
At Balchick--also by the Black Sea and less than 8 km from the Thracian Cliffs course--the fairways of the Lighthouse Golf Course appear broad and lush, which may lull some players into a false sense of security. Admittedly, I was one such player; the bunkers which Ian Woosnam designed into the 6,170 yard course seemingly had the effect of pulling my ball towards them.
Bulgaria's first 18-hole course was opened in 2004 on the edge of Sofia, the country's capital. Despite being barely five years old, the course of the St Sofia Golf Club and Spa underwent a major redesign in 2009.
Ireland's Paul McGinley--who sank the winning putt in the 2002 Ryder Cup at The Belfry and the man who'll captain Europe in next year's attempt to retain the prestigious trophy--designed the new 6,600 yard, par 71 course, making it "more modern and more challenging" in the view of Prolet Yordanova, the public relations manager of the Bulgarian Golf Association.
The new look St Sofia course opened in May last year. At present many of the trees on the course's rough are still young and small, so the course will mature to become more challenging over the years ahead. It's already a championship course, as St Sofia hosted the 2012 Bulgarian Open as well as the Balkan Challenge Trophy, played for by teams of amateurs from 14 countries.
Pravets, the birthplace of Todor Zhivkov, who led Bulgaria for more than 35 years until 1989, lies 50 km from Sofia and is the home of Pravets Golf Club. The green of the par 72 championship course's signature eighth hole is on an island. Water features providing scenic character and challenges along the course's 18 lakeside holes.
Peter Harradine is the architect of the course at Pravets, which is managed by Braemar Golf. In an echo of the Old Course at St Andrews the ninth and 18th holes converge to form a double green.
In a nation where golf is a relatively new sport, the Pravets Golf Academy provides opportunities for golfers to begin playing and to improve their skills.
They can watch and learn from some of the top professionals when the pros tee off in the Volvo World Match Play Championship at Thracian Cliffs in mid-May.
For more information about travel and tourism in Bulgaria visit www.bulgariatravel.org.
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