GOLF WORLD HEADS FOR BULGARIA
Pulse racing; sweating standing on the top of 100metre high cliff overlooking the Black Sea, I was terrified!
This was no place to be if you had a fear of heights, but it was not the elevation that was the concern, this was no place to be unless you were really sure of what you were doing.
What I was doing in this situation was baffling to me too?
How on earth could I be standing at this signature tee on a championship golf course waiting to play a shot to the sixth green 200 metres away and some 50 meters below my feet; but I was. More than that the golf manager was there watching every nervous twitch and body movement I was having, as the club swung back this was no time to bale out and in a moment the club swung forward and in a spilt second the ball was on its way; but which way? Miracle it was straight!
The Thracian Cliffs golf course in Bulgaria has this world-renowned hole as part of a series of ball gobbling holes in its spectacular cliff side location at Kavarna on the Black Sea coast.
The club manager playing the next hole even put a ball in the sea after a monster drive on the seventh, from a tee positioned in and if the hole was not difficult enough, the sea!
I was now in good company, my own attempt at the previous sixth did fly perfectly straight, but my club selection let me down as it sailed directly over the flag like a peregrine falcon after it’s prey. My target was now some 20 metres below from where my ball was bound and as the sixth green flag flapped so did I on the tee, as I watched the ball sail majestically into the extremely ‘blue’ Back Sea 10 meters beyond the pin!
Here is where I have to make a bit of a confession. I am not an experienced golfer by any stretch of the imagination but my chance to investigate the potential of golf tourism to Bulgaria did seem to hold a great deal of interest and I found myself touring the country looking at their burgeoning golf industry.
Finding myself playing on what will be the Volvo World Matchplay Championship course was a dream and the club allowing and trusting me to have playing access to the Gary Player designed course was a real highlight and such a thrill. It was some ten years ago that I had last played golf and then not to a very great standard, but the gracious club staff did make me feel at home and were very encouraging all the way round. I lost several balls, which at my level was to be expected! The club manager said that the very best score made on the course was 67 and still that had a loss of two balls included in it!
This course will be featured on TV’s across the world in May 2013 where the world’s top golfers will be seen playing this gorgeous looking but horrendously located cliff edge course, with stunning sea views from every tee and hazards a plenty even for the top professionals. From a TV point of view this Bulgarian course will throw up some amazing images showing that even the best pros will struggle hard here not to lose balls, maybe not so carelessly as I did but the hazards are there believe me!
As well as the Black Sea coastal area where there are 3 close together, around the capital of Sofia there are two other courses to choose from too. The oldest is St Sofia Golf Club and Spa located just outside the city the next is at Pravets Golf Resort and Spa designed by Peter Harradine located by a man made lake some 30 kilometres out of Sofia. The 18 holer has plenty to keep most golfers happy some easy and some bogie makers as well.
Lighthouse Golf and Spa Resort designed by Ian Woosnam at Balchik located with extensive sea views from the hotel the rolling 18-hole course provides a great alternative to the very challenging Thracian Cliffs course. Pretty well next to the Lighthouse is the Black Sea Rama a classic links style course.
This grouping of golf courses at the Black Sea coast does allow a chance for players to holiday in an amazing country and to satisfy their thirst for a good golf fix. All ranges of handicaps will have a very great holiday here with fees running from around 30€ up 120€ depending on the course, the variety within easy reach on the Black Sea area are second to none.
What else for perhaps the golf widow or widower? All of these hotels run spas as well, so there is certainly pampering on the cards for those left back at their hotel base.
The culture and history of Bulgaria is truly interesting and there are some wonderful sights to be visited along this area of the coast. Just a short drive and you are in the coastal town of Balchik, Varna is 40 minutes away and both offer culture, history and Black Sea beach life.
Balchik has an extensive seafront so of course it follows that there will be plenty of bars and restaurants as the busy summer life returns to what in winter is a pretty and sleepy town if somewhat rough around the edges. The gardens running down to the sea in Balchik have a wonderful and royal history. The former summer residence of the Romanian Queen Maria has a striking effect on the visitor, its unique romantic atmosphere and design contrast with the fact that she came to an untimely end being shot by accident by her squabbling sons, she lived in a delightful villa at the edge of the sea. A place she fell in love with and many tourists will too. She hoped to be buried there but in the end she was taken back to her native Romania one of the countries that adjoin this large Balkan state.
The main city in the area is Varna an industrial port but here too it has a large beach area Golden Sands that springs into life along with the same season May onwards to September it will be thronging.
The culture is in many places and museums of all types from the classic historical and archaeology types to that of a Navy Museum in Varna that sports some classic Russian aircraft and helicopters in its exterior display, which can be seen from the road so its hard to miss a ‘Mig’ at a take off angle in the middle of the city. The Varna Archaeological Museum does display many gold and other items found from the time of the Thracians right up to a darker period for the Bulgarians the Ottoman Turk invasion. One interesting sign that does come to mind at the entrance to this eclectic establishment is the sign that says No Photo’s, No Touching, No Bags and slightly worrying No Guns!
The Orthodox cathedrals and churches are spectacular with their plethora of icons and painted walls that give such feast for the eyes, but it is often here that the ears to are also gently assaulted with ethereal chanting’s and singing. Do if you can, time your visit to the celebration of Mass, glorious memories of an audio experience for me in both Sofia, The Alexander Nevski Cathedral and Varna, Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin.
During most seasons of the year there are colourful festivals all over the country and if you are lucky to be there it will be well worth it.
Around Varna two sites that can easily be visited at most times is the Stone Forest, large natural stone columns left after erosion processes weird wonderful place some 50 million years old. Also the former Monastery cut into a sheer rock face a famous monastery some 14 km away from Varna. The cells of the monks and the chapel were carved into the soft sandstone cliff forming a group of caves and passage ways. The Aladja Monastery was under the influence of religious teaching of Byzantium at that time and was in use up to the 18th century.
Eating and dining, in or out of the hotels in Bulgaria is certainly an excellent experience and it’s hard to know where to start. Shopska a chunky diced salad of tomato, cucumber, peppers and local white cheese is a must, the Blue Fish, to me looked a little herring like, but had a creamy flavour rather than oily and freshly caught from the Black Sea, griddled with selections of vegetables again, superb.
The people I met were extremely friendly and most people you will come into contact in a normal holiday situation will speak English. A general feeling of safety in the country, the police there, rather like the police of the UK are unarmed, so I think that says a lot!
If travelling between Sofia and the Black Sea coast one place to stop off is the old former capital of Veliko Turnovo this is certainly worth an overnight stay, with castles, narrow hillside streets and churches it is a delight as is the river… that meanders through the city like a snake.
Talking of snakes during several historical talks a lighter story came to the fore, it is alleged that imported hedgehogs possibly from Hungary did help to eradicate these slithery, silent reptiles and the little spikey creatures set about them as food and the numbers were drastically reduced by them. This is a typical Bulgarian story and I would love to know how true this could be?
This story of driving snakes out may be a little wide of the mark, rather like my sliced drive on the 17th, but one thing you can depend on is that golf in Bulgaria will be big in the coming years and driving done by some of the world’s top golfers at Thracian Cliffs will itself drive golf tourism no end and you heard the truth here first!