There is always a sense of anticipation when you visit a course for the first time.
The level of anticipation does vary though, and when the course is one you’ve seen images of many times and when it is on a preposterously exciting site, those levels are close to maximum.
That is definitely the case on arrival at Thracian Cliffs. Few, if any, who visit here will not have seen images of this clifftop course before travelling to Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast in order to play it.
Say what you want about Thracian Cliffs, but it must be among the top 10 most scenic courses in the whole of Europe.
The host of the Volvo World Match Play Championship in 2013, it hugs the bluffs along a 4.5km stretch of terrain above the rocks way below.
It was designed by Gary Player and the South African could not help himself from describing it as the ‘Pebble Beach of Europe’.
Even arriving here is fairly spectacular, journeying excitedly along a twisting coastal road that sits between the cliffs on which Thracian sits and some much higher ones further inland.
This corner of the Cape Kaliakra area is awe-inspiring wherever you look.
It was designed by Gary Player and the often grandiose South African could not help himself from describing it as the ‘Pebble Beach of Europe’.
Yet, while that is a little fanciful, there are striking similarities, just as there with Old Head of Kinsale. And just as with the Irish course, while design connoisseurs will turn their noses up at some aspects of Thracian, for most golfers, the premier course of the three in this area is surely the kind of jaw-dropping, memorable golf most of us can’t get enough of.
Even if someone prefers the lower-octane fayre of a classic parkland such as Chantilly or a quaint heathland such as Utrecht, few will not relish the drama and scenery of Thracian Cliffs.
You must choose the correct tees for your ability to get the correct experience though, because off the 7,097-yard tips it was a test for even Graeme McDowell and co in 2013. In fact locals reckon you should expect to lose as many balls as half of your handicap!
Another similarity with Old Head is that the first shot of the day is fairly modest, hit down an enclosed corridor.
There is a phenomenal opening run of holes, with the cliff edge on the right never far from your thoughts and gaze, with perhaps the highlight on the front nine at the 232-yard, par-3 6th.
But as you walk towards the opening green, suddenly everything opens up in front of you and you get the first of the views of what seem a thousand views of the sea.
It begins a phenomenal opening run of holes, with the cliff edge on the right never far from your thoughts and gaze, with perhaps the highlight on the front nine at the 232-yard, par-3 6th – although with a 40m drop in elevation it thankfully doesn’t play its full, intimidating yardage given the green is cut out of the cliff edge with the sea on the right.
The turn back for home comes at the 9th with a really solid par 4 and par 5 combination.
It finishes with a par 4 to a green that is heavily guarded by water; if it was a clock, the water would start at 6 o’clock and carry all the way round to 1 o’clock. A bunker awaits between 2 and 3 o’clock for those who bail out with a pushed approach.
Escape the water there and you must then walk to the 18th tee and clear the length of the lake on 18, which is a late change in tempo by virtue of the fact it is a short hole with no cliff-edge action.
It has had a mixed reputation in terms of conditioning but our most recent visit assured us it has got its presentation as it should be, which is pleasing to write for it would be a shame if that aspect spoiled one of Continental Europe’s most spectacular experiences. Chris Bertram