Thracian Cliffs Europes Pebble Beach
Bulgaria may not be an obvious destination for golfers but, like so many other countries around Europe, it has realised that the game offers huge potential to its tourism industry, and golf courses are starting to pop up. Really good golf courses.
The best of the lot is Thracian Cliffs, one of two courses in the area designed by Gary Player. He rates the 6,840-yard par 71 layout as his very finest piece of work and says it stands comparison with Pebble Beach, which is one of the most iconic courses in the world.
Player is prone to exaggeration, but the general consensus is that he is right on the money in his praise of the course - and he has deigned a LOT of layouts around the world. If you have ever considered compiling a golf-course bucket list then you might want to include this one.
It is already rated as one of the best courses in Europe, and received plenty of exposure when it hosted the 2013 Volvo World Match Play Championship, won by Graeme McDowell, the former US Open champion.
The setting is absolutely stunning, with the course set in the coastal cliffs of the Black Sea, which comes into play on a number of breathtaking holes. The sixth hole is a 230-yard par three, played from an elevated tee to a green surrounded on three sides by the Black Sea. Miss the green and your ball is gone forever. Before you have a chance to get your breath back, you cross a bridge and head for the seventh tee, which is located on an island in the sea and demands a carry of almost 200 yards to reach the fairway.
Buggies are included with your green fee, which is probably just as well since the walk between some greens and tees is a decent hike. As you will have gathered, Thracian Hills is not for the faint-hearted, but nobody who plays it will ever forget it. If you start and finish with the same golf ball you will be part of a pretty elite club. It is a thing of great natural beauty.
Speaking of natural beauty, there is the Signature Course at Lighthouse Golf Resort. It measures 6,720 yards, was designed by Ian Woosnam and although it is barely six years old it is already well established and feels like it has been there for years. Like Thracian Hills, it proves that a course does not have to be long to provide both a challenge and a thoroughly enjoyable test of your golf game. It features many spectacularly beautiful holes and calls for a strategic approach. If you are taking your golf clubs to Bulgaria, Lighthouse Golf Resort is a must-play.
Black Sea Rama is another Gary Player layout, and was the first championship course in Bulgaria. Like Thracian Hills, it was built on top of the cliffs and provides memorable views. It measues 7,200 yards from the back tees and is a par 72. It is fairly flat but golfers have to contend with sea breezes, various well-placed lakes and water hazards and a series of hillocks scattered around the course. Once again, strategy is key to scoring well here.
Bulgaria has a great summer climate and is just a four-hour flight from the UK, with Thracian Hills only 40 minutes from Varna airport. The Black Sea coast is among the most beautiful and unspoilt to be found anywhere in Europe.
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