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Author: Leonard van Nunen

Thracian Cliffs, Pebble Beach on steriods…

01 June 2014
10 min. read
Leonard van Nunen
Regularly a team of Leadingcourses.com visits an attractive golf region. For many golfers, the Cape Kaliakra region in the province of Varna along the Black Sea in Bulgaria is still not really known as a golf destination. But with courses like Thracian Cliffs, Black Sea Rama and Lighthouse Golf Resort this is a wonderful destination.
Thracian Cliffs (photo credits, member MartinHardenberger)

Although Bulgaria, with only seven golf courses across the country, is not considered a golf country these three golf courses make the country definitely worth a visit. The courses are about an hour’s drive north of Varna on the Black Sea coast and from Burgas it takes around three hours. Both Thracian Cliffs and Black Sea Rama are designed by Gary Player one of the greatest golfers ever. Lighthouse Golf Resort is designed under the auspices of Ian Woosnam but is clearly less spectacular than the courses by Player.

Where to stay?

In terms of accommodation, there is a wide choice of hotel rooms (Lighthouse) apartments (Thracian Cliffs) and villas (Black Sea Rama). Prices are more than reasonable for the quality delivered. When travelling with a family the facilities at the Lighthouse Resort probably are the best choice. The villas and apartments At BlackSeaRama and Thracian Cliffs are suitable for everybody and it's more depending on what course you want to play the most.

The golf courses at Cape Kaliakra

The nice thing about this destination is that these three courses are completely different. They all have a very high level of maintenance and are located only fifteen minutes by car from each other. Black Sea Rama and Lighthouse are adjacent to each other and Thracian is located just 6 km north along the coast. There are also beautiful beaches near Thracian, reachable with a free buggy ride form your room and there are several towns and restaurants nearby if you once do not want to eat on the resort.

In terms of difficulty, the three courses are also very different. Lighthouse Resort is best described as a family or resort course where the high handicappers can have a great day. Black Sea Rama is also an inland links course, but a lot more challenging than Lighthouse and it plays harder than it looks. Thracian Cliffs, host of the Volvo Matchplay in 2013, is a real championship course with 5 different tee boxes where even an experienced single handicap player can be sent home with a dozen balls less. What is essential at Thracian Cliffs is the tee box you choose. It must suit your level of play, otherwise, you'll really have a tough day.

Thracian Cliffs

Impressive par 3 at Thracian Cliffs (photo credits, member Claudio.Cittarini)

Thracian Cliffs is not only the best course of Bulgaria but also a top course in Europe, the best description for its spectacular location on the cliffs at the Black Sea is that the course looks like “Pebble Beach on Steriods‘. On every hole - except the 18th par 3 - you have one fantastic view after another of the Black Sea. The par 3 hole 6, with an elevation difference of 60 meters from the tee to the green is great and the tee on the 8th hole - located on a small island in the sea - is very special.

As mentioned, at Thracian Cliffs you can see the Black Sea not only from one hole but from every hole! Words, pictures and even video cannot accurately describe the dramatic views of this golf course. I played the course last week and I can’t get it out of my head. You really need to go here yourself to fully understand what an exceptional course this is.

Once you have played there you just want to go back and play it again. And you should because the first time it can be quite intimidating not only the signature 6th par 3 (174 meters from the medal tee and approximately 50 meters(!) down) but also the par 4 seventh that requires a 185-meter carry from the silver tee. I walked back to the back-back-tee used in the 2013 Matchplay and my GPS registered a carry to the first piece of land with fairway from over 230 meters…

The second time you play it the views and the scenery is still amazing but you will have some more room in your mind to actually play golf and try to set a decent score. Although it is a difficult course (the pro stated that a good round here from the silver tee is about 10 shots over your handicap), if you play it with the respect it deserves the immaculate fairways and the true and fast greens will give you a fair score.

If you have to comment on this course you can say the first 9 holes ON the cliffs are the most dramatic, but the back nine going back to the resort have some interesting challenges as well. The resort is not entirely finished yet the temporary clubhouse does not fit this majestic golf experience (the terrace doe not have a view…). A new clubhouse is planned on a perfect spot a little further down the course. There are also plans for a Hotel and a Marina.

The current accommodation offers nice different sizes of apartments where you can stay for a weekend or longer and if you really like it you can buy one of them. The breakfast and the restaurant is good and the staff is very friendly, everything is possible so just ask. You definitely have to use a buggy on this course, sometimes the routing can be a bit confusing (especially where to park your buggy when you want to reach the green) but new signs are ordered. Some bunkers could use a little more sand. The in-course out of bounds left of the 17th is a pity but you have to locate the driving range somewhere on the narrow piece of land on top of the cliffs…

We played the course with no wind at all, a condition seldom experienced on Thracian Cliffs so if the wind is blowing bring plenty of balls. When I heard Gary Player talking about ‘his’ course and saying that you will never find a course like this anywhere in the world I thought this is a designer who is proud of his work. but when I played it I realized he is right.


Peak through an old structure at BlackSeaRama (photo credits, member docteurbflament)

Poppy flowers everywhere! Playing BlackSeaRama early of June is a treat, with sunshine and a light breeze. We were started by the friendly (UK) starter who explained to us that the high rough can be nasty on this friendly-looking Gary Player design.

It is amazing how the oldest course on Cape Kaliakra is shaped high above the Black Sea coastline. It is an open (inland) links course with great maintenance that can be enjoyed by golfers of all handicaps. Do not be deceived by its benign looks, the course (especially the rough) has some hidden teeth also when the wind comes in play you will have to bring your A-game to play your handicap.
The facilities are excellent, the clubhouse is on the perfect spot with a great terrace overlooking the Black Sea, a large driving range and well kept putting green. Here and there some ancient ruins are recreated that add to the atmosphere.

Speed of play in the course was managed good by the English marshal, although like all the courses here in Bulgaria all levels of handicaps are allowed. Walking the course with a trolley is possible but when it is warm I would recommend a buggy to enjoy the experience better.

The greens were in excellent condition when we played there early June they were fast and true. The design by Gary Player is beautiful and most people will leave the course with the signature 18th 194m (medal tee) par 3 in mind. This hole has a dramatic view and requires a significant amount of carry, for a mid handicapper or somebody with not so much distance it’s quite intimidating. My favourite hole is the par 3 13th embedded in poppy flowers (check the pictures) which is a better choice as an example of the rest of the course.

The staff is very friendly and the food is great. Also, they have a very nice well stocked pro-shop. Playing all 3 courses on Cape Kaliakra this is the place to stock up on (cheap) balls, you will need them in the high rough or playing Thracian the next day.

On the course several nice villa’s with a swimming pool can be rented or bought. With  two other excellent courses within a 10-minute drive this is an excellent choice to spend a weekend, week or the rest of your life!

Lighthouse Golf & Spa Resort

Wide fairways and greens at Lighthouse Golf & Spa Resort (photo credits, member uglykid)

Lighthouse Golf & Spa Resort offers a course for all handicaps with great accommodation choices. A design by European Golf Design where Ian Woosnam was involved. It is a quite open course on the Black Sea Coast north of Varna. The views and scenery are not as spectacular as on its neighbouring courses, at some holes the view is actually blocked by trees to keep the wind from the green.

When you want a full luxurious accommodation with an enormous Spa, pools, beach nearby, child care, restaurants this is the place to be. The course is playable for all level golfers and it is an excellent base to explore the other beautiful courses nearby.

Maintenance was excellent, the greens large and fast, some patches in the rough could use some more grass but the level of quality of all three courses in Kaliakra is of a high level. Do not be fooled by the open character of the course the rough close to the greens can be pretty nasty. The fairways are full and you almost want to walk barefoot to feel the carpet like denseness…

The service was excellent the last time my clubs were this clean is when they came out of the factory, the shaded terrace close to the 18th green is a nice place to add up your scores. Lighthouse Golf & Spa Resort is exactly what the name describes a great place to relax with a nice golf course for all level golfers.

Getting there and away…

It is best to fly directly to Varna. From Zavetem (Belgium) TUI flies to Burgas and Varna, with good parking in Brussels this is certainly not a bad option. There are also a number of German cities that have a good connection to Varna. Burgas is an alternative but is it still 3 hours (by taxi) away.

Most courses/accommodations arrange “free” transfers to and from Varna to Burgas but usually a fee is required. Once you are on the course is a car really is not necessary. The course where you stay arranges a transfer for a small fee (€ 10) to other courses which are maximum 15 min drive away …

In short, the Varna region has the potential to grow into a super golf destination in the months of April, May, June, Sept, Oct and Nov. Especially Thracian Cliffs alone is course is worth making the trip for.

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