In November 2011, the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO) named Bulgaria the ‘Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year’.
Not bad going for a country that only took its first golfing steps at the beginning of the new millennium. The Bulgarian Golf Association was established in 2001 and, soon thereafter, courses started to pop up.
Now, four years on from its blazing trail being acknowledged with that prestigious award, Bulgaria has firmly positioned itself as one of the world’s most exciting, culturally diverse and entirely unmissable golf holiday hot spots.
Strictly speaking, golf in the Balkan republic is split into two main areas: Cape Kaliakra and Sofia.
The latter, of course, is the capital of Bulgaria and is, in its own right, a very popular short break destination. Sitting at the foot of Vitosha Mountain in the western part of the country, there is much to see and do in Sofia. Best of all, you can enjoy three or four nights there without burning a hole in your pocket. According to multiple travel affordability indexes - including TripAdvisor’s TripIndex Cities - Sofia is the most affordable capital city to visit in Europe, with year-round flat rates.
Direct flights operate out of London Heathrow, Luton, Gatwick and Manchester, whilst the choice of accommodation is excellent. It is, by any measure, a great place to visit.
Currently, it is home to three excellent golf courses, of which St Sofia is one. It first opened in 2004 and later the same year staged the first-ever Bulgarian Amateur Championship. It was subsequently closed in 2009 for a redesign, which was carried out by Europe’s victorious Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, and in May 2012 it reopened to great acclaim.
The Peter Harradine-designed Pravets layout is only 40 minutes from Sofia and forms part of the superb Pravets Golf & SPA Resort, whilst Pirin Golf - set against the incredible backdrop of the towering Pirin Mountains - was designed by former Masters champion Ian Woosnam and, like Pravets, is part of an exceptional wider resort.
Meanwhile, Cape Kaliakra, offers a different, but equally enjoyable, Bulgarian golf experience. A long, narrow headland in the Southern Dobruja region, it sits up against the Black Sea Coast and is characterised by steep, rugged, vertical cliffs. What’s more, with Varna airport just 45 minutes’ drive from the heart of the region and, with a new flight operating there from Glasgow, it’s easy to reach.
Thracian Cliffs is, by some distance, the most famous of the three great courses here. Designed by nine-time major winner Gary Player, it has an IAGTO award all of its own - it was named the European ‘Golf Resort of the Year’ last year - and hosted Bulgaria’s first-ever European Tour when it staged the 2013 Volvo World Matchplay Championship. It has been described by some as ‘Europe’s Pebble Beach’ and one look at its stunning cliff-top location is all you need to know that’s no exaggeration.
Another Gary Player course awaits visitors to BlackSeaRama. Named the world’s ‘Best New Course’ by a top US golf magazine in 2009, its sea views are truly majestic, whilst the on-site accommodation, dining and leisure facilities complete a superb experience.
Last but by no means least is the Lighthouse Golf & Spa Resort. Its course was also designed by Ian Woosnam and is a fine example of a modern championship links.
With all of this, and much more besides, no wonder Bulgaria is causing such a stir.