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Golf - the New Mecca
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Until recently, Bulgaria was under exploited in terms of golfing facilities compared to Western Europe. Years of Communist austerity had left the country with little in the way of sports facilities and golf was seen as a sport for rich Western capitalists. However, the country now sports golfing projects in excess of 500 million Euros. Three world renowned golf professionals, Ian Woosnam, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus have designed five of the golf courses in the country, three of which lie on the Black Sea Coast close to the city of Varna.

Welshman Ian Woosnam’s courses are Lighthouse near the small sea port of Balchik and Pirin, close to the ski resort Bansko. Jack Nicklaus’ course lies close to Dolna Banya in another ski area, Borovets and Gary Players courses Thracian Cliffs and Black Sea Rama lie near to Kavarna and Balchik on the Varna coast and he is also designing a new course further South in the Black Sea resort of Primorski.

Ian Woosnam, 2006 captain of the European Ryder Cup commented on the courses he has designed in Bulgaria, “I’ve done a few golf courses in different parts of the world, but I’ll have to say these are the most impressive that I’ve seen”. He anticipates that each of his courses will be winning courses and hopes that they will produce a lot of tourism and work coming in to Bulgaria. He adds, “I like to have all players of any standard play the golf course. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a beginner playing golf or a professional. Age doesn’t matter. We just want people to enjoy it.”

Golf tourism is expected to boom with a predicted growth of 10% each year. Roumen Todorov, Public Relations Officer of the International College Albena, which specializes in the teaching of golf tourism says that golf tourists spend on average two to ten times more money than the average tourist, which means that it is not only the golf complexes themselves which will benefit. He backs this fact up by explaining that studies show that worldwide, golfers’ monthly incomes are in excess of 4,000 Euros. He predicts that the opening of the new golf courses will bring valuable tourist revenue to hotels and facilities in the vicinity of the courses as well as increasing neighbouring real estate prices.

To encourage wealthy Bulgarians to participate in the sport, Malcolm Campbell’s book about golf has been translated into Bulgarian and includes many supplementary pictures of popular Bulgarian stars and politicians participating in the sport.

Bulgarian-based company, Air Sofia owns Ichtimen golf course near Sofia and another course near Sliven. Liliyan Todorov, Air Sofia’s Chairman says that they are planning to build another course close to the capital. He believes that the courses should be built first and then services and property developed around them. He scorns those who build property first and the course as a secondary part of the golf complex. Golf equipment is cheaper to buy than ski gear and at Air Sofia golf courses; young people under 18 can receive free golf lessons from a qualified golf professional.

Experts predict that in ten to fifteen years time Bulgaria will be home to around 40 golf courses. This will have the added effect of increasing the length of the tourist season to around nine months of the year. More than 65 million people worldwide play golf. To some it is classed as an elitist sport and in some countries annual membership fees are in excess of 100,000 Euros, but Bulgarian golf fees will be low in comparison to the rest of the world, making it another reason why people will be keen to join here.

Golf is also good for the environment preserving vast tracts of natural land. Ichtimen in Sofia covers around 6,000 metres of parkland and also offers horse riding, swimming, tennis, volleyball, basketball, football and ten in bowling. Golf courses on the Varna coast will also offer a full package of sport including links to nearby yacht ports. Views from the courses perched on the ragged limestone cliffs across the sea are spectacular and uninterrupted. Property on these courses has even attracted buyers who are not golf players.

The financial investment in golf courses in Bulgaria and their fierce promotion is liable to increase tourism and foreign real estate purchases for a long time to come.

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