Stuart Forster reports on playing at the Thracian Cliffs Golf Course in Bulgaria.
Thracian Cliffs Golf and Beach Resort hosted the Volvo World Match Play Championship in May 2013, the biggest golf tournament yet played in Bulgaria.
The course was designed by Gary Player, who has been quoted saying Thracian Cliffs will come to be regarded as “one of the top three golf courses on the planet.” The clifftop links course near Kavarna, on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, opened in 2011 and has already drawn comparisons with California’s Pebble Beach.
Golf in Bulgaria
At the beginning of the 21st century Bulgaria did not have a single 18-hole golf course. Hosting an event such as the Volvo World Match Play Championship marked a major step in the development of the sport in this Balkan nation. Seven 18-hole courses now exist in the country.
I pack my clubs and head to Thracian Cliffs, to play a round and talk with Perry Einfeldt, the resort’s General Manager. Einfeldt moved from Hamburg, Germany, to take on his role.
Preparations at Thracian Cliffs were underway for well over a year ahead of the tournament. Much of the key preparation out on the course – including seeding, scarification, spiking and fertilisation – had to be undertaken the year before Volvo World Match Play Championship as there’s little grass growth in the region until mid-April, when temperatures stabilise above 10°C.
“We have known for a long time that we’ll get this tournament. We had a visit from the PGA head green keeping supervisor and since April 2012 we have been following a special maintenance programme. This included the complete over seeding of the whole golf course and some other things like the levelling of signature tees,” says Einfeldt.
Thracian Cliffs Golf Course in Bulgaria
I’m experiencing Thracian Cliffs at its best. It’s a crisp, sunny day. Both the sky and sea are clear blue. The fine weather and dramatic coastal landscape prompt me to pause to take as many shots with my camera as I do with my golf clubs.
“Basically the design is very simple, it’s nine holes out, nine holes in; the course is 4.5km long. The nine holes out you play on the lower level, on the sea level, and the nine holes in you play right above. That has the positive effect that from every single hole you see the sea. You always think you play directly to the sea because from the upper level you don’t see the lower holes, so the greens seem to be above the sea on the back nine,” explains Einfeldt.
I think of myself as reasonably fit and, normally, I’d have no hesitation in walking 9km (6 miles). However, like everyone who plays the Thracian Cliffs, I have to go around the course using an electric buggy. Following the undulating buggy route around the course proves enjoyable and, quite possibly, sees my best driving of the day.
A buggy-only golf course
“This is a buggy only golf course, so you cannot walk it; it’s physically impossible but you can try,” says Einfeldt before launching into a tale of warning. “We had a marathon runner here, he was very positive in his thinking about walking this course, carrying his bag and equipped with pulse- and stepometer; he was top fit and we had to pick him up between the 12th and 13th holes and call a doctor.”
Learning that temperatures can rise above 40°C here in July and August I can see why walking the course would not be a good idea.
During summer Bulgarian holidaymakers flock here to spend time on the resort’s private beaches, the largest of which can accommodate 450 people. Thracian Cliffs’ 5-star hotel has 75 suites, which were fully booked from mid-May to mid-September last year, and the site has 168 apartments and five restaurants.
A club with spa and wellness facilities
Many visitors head here to relax by the 40 metre pool and to enjoy the spa and wellness facilities rather than for golf. Germans make up about a quarter of the guests here, so too does a combination of Brits and Scandinavians.
Golfers interested in playing a round should call +359 5709 2275 to book a tee time. Only 80 slots are available each day. Fifteen minutes are left between each departing group and, wherever possible, four balls are arranged to keep the flow steady.
It quickly becomes clear that the course record, 67, is in no danger from me. Apparently even the record holder did not get round without losing a ball.
A photogenic golf course
The cliff edges are protected environmental areas and, enjoying the scenery, I can see why it takes about six hours to complete a round.
The par five second hole is a mammoth 639 metres from the back tee, though its entirety as not used during the Volvo World Match Play tournament.
“The official signature hole is number 6, which is a par three. From the back tee I think it is 211 metres with 47 metre elevation,” says Einfeldt.
The impressively designed hole is not really that difficult but it does require good nerves to play a straight drive onto the fairway. Deviating a couple of degrees left means playing into a cliff face and too far to the right means dropping straight into the Black Sea.
The course is challenging and spectacular. It will be interesting to see how pros such as Nicolas Colsaerts, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose perform at the Thracian Cliffs in the middle of the month.
See the Thracian Cliffs Golf and Beach Resort website for details about green fees and how to book a tee time on the golf course. The website alos has information about accommodation, facilities and restaurants.
For further information about travel and tourism in Bulgaria see the Bulgaria Travel website.
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