Stuart Forster reports on playing at the Thracian Cliffs Golf Course in Bulgaria.
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Thracian Cliffs Golf and Beach Resort overlooks the Black Sea near Varna in northeast Bulgaria.
The course was designed by Gary Player. He 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. It hosted the Volvo World Match Play Championship in May 2013, the biggest golf tournament played thus far in Bulgaria.
Golf in Bulgaria
At the beginning of the 21st century, Bulgaria did not have a single 18-hole golf course. Hosting an event of the magnitude of the Volvo World Match Play Championship marked a major step in the development of the sport in this Balkan nation. Nine 18-hole courses now exist in the country.
While at Thracian Cliffs I talked with Perry Einfeldt, the resort’s General Manager. Einfeldt moved from Hamburg, Germany, to take on the role.
Preparations at Thracian Cliffs were underway for well over a year ahead of the Volvo World Match Play Championship. Much of the key preparation fout on the course – including seeding, scarification, spiking and fertilisation – had to be undertaken in 2012. There’s little grass growth in the region until mid-April, when temperatures stabilise above 10°C.
Thracian Cliffs Golf
I experienced Thracian Cliffs at its best. It was a crisp, sunny, autumn day. Both the sky and sea were clear blue. The fine weather and dramatic coastal landscape prompted me to pause to take as many shots with my camera as I did with my golf clubs.
“Basically the design is very simple, it’s nine holes out, nine holes in; the course is 4.5-kilometres [three miles] 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,” explained Einfeldt.
I think of myself as reasonably fit. Normally, I’d have no hesitation in walking nine kilometres (six miles). However, like everyone who plays Thracian Cliffs, I have to use an electric buggy. Following the undulating buggy route around the course proves enjoyable. To be honest, it saw my best driving of the day.
Summertime in Bulgaria
“This is a buggy-only golf course, so you cannot walk it; it’s physically impossible but you can try,” said 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 a pulse meter and pedometer. He was top fit and we had to pick him up between the 12th and 13th holes and call a doctor.”
Temperatures can rise above 40°C in this part of Bulgaria in July and August. That explains why walking the course in the height of summer is not a good idea.
During summer, Bulgarian holidaymakers flock to spend time on the resort’s private beaches. The largest of which accommodates up to 450 people. Thracian Cliffs’ 5-star hotel has 75 suites and the property has 168 apartments and five restaurants.
spa and wellness facilities
Many visitors head to the luxury resort to relax by the 40-metre pool. Enjoying the spa and wellness facilities is an alternative to playing golf. Germans make up about a quarter of the guests here. Britons and Scandinavians also embrace playing the Thracian Cliffs Golf Course in Bulgaria.
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 became clear that the course record of 67 was in no danger from me. Apparently, even the record holder did not get round without losing a ball.
A photogenic coastal course
The cliff edges are protected environmental areas. Enjoying Thracian Cliffs’ coastal scenery, I quickly understood why it takes approximately six hours to complete a round.
The par-five second hole is a mammoth 639 metres from the back tee.
“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,” commented Einfeldt.
The impressively designed hole is not really that difficult. Yet 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 both challenging and spectacular. It proved a pleasure to play.
Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort
The Google map below shows the location of Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort in northeast Bulgaria:
Books about Bulgaria
Planning a trip to Bulgaria? The following books may be of interest to you:
The DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to Bulgaria:
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 also 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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A version of this post was originally published on Go Eat Do on 4 May 2013.