Area guide: Cape Kaliakra, Bulgaria
There is always a sense of anticipation when you visit a course of any type for the first time. The level of anticipation does vary markedly though, and when the course is one you’ve seen notable images of many times and when it is on a preposterously exciting site, those levels rise close to the maximum.
That was definitely the case for the trip to the Cape Kaliakra area of Bulgaria, where the stand-out course is Thracian Cliffs. Thracian is backed up by BlackSeaRama and Lighthouse, all three being tightly packed together on a stretch of coastline overlooking the Black Sea.
The currency exchange means Bulgaria is a very cheap option for golfers, just as it is for skiers. And the weather is beautiful in the summer. So it’s breathtakingly scenic and great value, but does this Bulgarian option offer a sufficient level of quality to satisfy British golfers? Travel editor Chris Bertram went to find out…
One of Continental Europe’s most spectacular courses with hole after hole of sensational views
This clifftop course is usually considered one of the Top 100 courses in Continental Europe and was named by IAGTO as the ‘European Golf Resort of the Year for 2014’.
It hugs the bluffs along a 4.5 kilometre stretch of terrain above the rocks way below, with Black Sea views from every hole. Even arriving here is fairly spectacular, along a twisting coastal road between cliffs on which Thracian sits and some much higher ones further inland. It is an awe-inspiring setting, 360-degrees.
It was designed by Gary Player, who could not help himself from describing Thracian Cliffs as the ‘Pebble Beach of Europe’. While that may be 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 in Cape Kaliakra is surely the kind of jaw-dropping, memorable golf we can’t get enough of.
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 competitors in the Volvo World Match Play Championship 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 say is fairly modest, hit down an enclosed corridor. But as you walk towards the opening green, suddenly everything opens up in front of you. It begins a phenomenal opening run, with the cliff edge on the right never far from your thoughts and gaze.
Perhaps the highlight on the front nine is 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 next starts with a tee basically in the sea and requires a hefty but exhilarating carry. There aren’t many more thrilling back-to-back holes in Continental Europe.
It finishes with a par 4 to a green that is heavily guarded by water and then a late change in tempo – a short hole with no cliff-edge action. You get plenty of that before then though…
Cape Kaliakra travel guide continues on the next page…