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Golf – The Great Challenge and Opportunity for Bulgaria
07.29.2009

Bulgaria is a country of extraordinary natural diversity - a rare combination of high, snowy peaks, vast green fields, and golden sandy beaches. This gives anyone visiting Bulgaria the exciting chance to enjoy all kinds of sights and entertainment.
 
In the past few years, Bulgaria has started to develop as a destination for those who enjoy playing golf. Many experts think that the country has the potential to become a respected world class golf destination. With a year-round temperate climate, quality courses, and unique alpine locations, Bulgaria has everything in place to rival the most celebrated golfing venues.
 
Golf is a relatively new sport in Bulgaria, which means it will take some years to introduce the culture of this game into the country. The big investments in recent years have paved the way for this loved-by-many sport in Bulgaria. However, it will still take a lot of efforts, money, and will to turn the country into desired golf destination.
 
Lessons Time
As popular as golf is as a game, there are many people that are not quite familiar with the basics of the game. It takes time to get involved in its lifestyle and philosophy but here is something for starters.
 
The origin of golf is unclear and open to debate. Some historians trace the sport back to the Roman game of paganica, which involved using a bent stick to hit a stuffed leather ball. Other early games included the game known as cambuca in England and chambot in France. This game was in turn exported to the Low Countries, Germany, and England (where it was called pall-mall, pronounced "pell mell").
 
Most accept, however, that the modern game originated in Scotland around the 12th century, with shepherds knocking stones into rabbit holes in the place where the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews now sits.
 
A golf course consists of a series of holes, each with a teeing area marked by two markers showing the bounds of the legal tee area, fairway, rough and other hazards, and the putting green surrounded by the fringe with the pin (flagstick) and cup. A typical golf course consists of eighteen holes but nine-hole courses are common and can be played twice through for 18 holes.
 
A basic set of golf clubs is all any golfer needs to start playing the game. Three woods (used to hit long shots), a collection of 3-9-irons (used when you are less than 200 yards away from the green), pitching wedge, sand wedge and a putter are all that is required. As one's game develops and improves, certain additional, more specific clubs can be added to suit your abilities. To start there's only one rule to remember: You can't carry more than 14 clubs in your bag at any one time.
 
Let's go for a game
Going for a golf game in Bulgaria is as easy as it sounds. You just need a means of transportation to the golf course you have chosen. Some enthusiasm will help, too.
 
The first step is to choose a golf course. Currently, in Bulgaria there are five courses that one can go to and play. To experienced golfers, this may sound as a joke, but they must have in mind that five-six years ago Bulgaria had no golf courses whatsoever.
 
The closest golf course to the Sofia is the St. Sofia Golf Club in the village of Ravno Pole - only 10 kilometers from the Bulgarian capital. The course offers the golfers an area of over 500 decares with Par 71. Experts say the course complies with all European standards, and it can host professional tournaments.
 
The courses around Sofia include one near the town of Ihtiman (the first golf course in Bulgaria) - a wonderful 18-hole golf facility spanning over an area of over 500 decares with Par 71. It is located only 40 kilometers from Sofia along the E-80 Trakia Highway.
 
The Black Sea Rama golf course is one of the newest functioning courses in the country - it was opened in 2008. The 18-hole golf course is designed by the legendary golfer, Gary Player, and offers amazing views of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Varna International Airport is just 30 minutes away as are some of the biggest seaside resorts.
 
The Lighthouse Golf resort near the Bulgarian Black Sea town of Balchik opened its doors at the end of the 2008 season. It is designed by the world-famous golf player, Ian Woosnam. The prestigious 6 747 yard, par 71 course is a perfect challenge for those who enjoy the great game.
 
The newest among Bulgaria's golf courses is Pirin Golf and Country Club near the popular Bulgarian winter ski resort of Bansko. Golfers can play 13 holes on the Ian Woosnam course, and 5 on the Pine course, making a full, 18 holes game through the pine-lined fairways at the foot of the Pirin Mountain.
 
There are a few more courses that are currently under construction, and hopefully the negative effects of the global financial crisis on the investors' interest will not delay their opening too much.

Beginners Only
Playing golf in Bulgaria is not that expensive. You can go and try, and it will not cost more than BGN 10-15. You simply go to the golf course, rent some clubs and golf balls, and start playing. Two dozen (24) golf balls are at an average of BGN 4 (EUR 2). A set of clubs costs BGN 35. However, most of the places will offer you just one in order to try. It is just unreasonable to hire a whole set of clubs if you are going just to hit balls at the driving range all day long.
 
Of course, if you decide to take golf lessons, it becomes more expensive. The price of the lessons varies, depending on the age, time, and purpose. Half an hour with a teacher will cost you BGN 50, but a whole hour goes for BGN 80. Prepaid lessons are, naturally, less expensive. There are offers at BGN 500 for twelve 30-minutes lessons. Golf clubs in Bulgaria offer lessons for youngsters, which are less expensive. If there is a group of at least 10 youngsters, the lessons will cost BGN 15 per person (St. Sofia Golf Club offers this service).
 
If you like the game your next step might be to decide to join a club. Then you may buy clubs, and it will become a little more pricy. However, experts say that the value-quality ratio in Bulgaria is pretty good.
 
Some players compare golf with skiing in a matter of expenses. Being a fan and practicing both sports is not as cheep as taking a ball and going for a soccer game. However, golf is a little more expensive, because you need to join a club. Nonetheless, golf in Bulgaria can be an affordable sport at reasonable prices.
 
The Challenge
Golf is a global game that is becoming popular in Eastern Europe fast. In fact, it has registered greater growth in this part of the world than in the West, where the growth of golf has been flat in the recent years.
 
It is a way of life for those who have been bitten by the bug. Golf has many advantages over other sports. You can continue to play the game well into retirement years. Golf also builds character in youngsters, and teaches them many facets of life.
 
Golf is not really developed in the Bulgaria, experts say. The oldest golf courses have only been operational for 3-4 years. There are not more than 200 Bulgarian golf players.
 
"We have the place, we have everything, we just don't have the people. There are already too many golf courses for the people in the country", representatives of the business said, who wished to remain anonymous.
 
In their view, the biggest challenge is to shatter the myth that golf is for the elite. There are great teams on the golf courses, which easily meet world standards.
 
The Golf Industry in Bulgaria
In addition to being a sport, golf is a large industry. The two major areas that go side by side with building a golf course are selling properties and encouraging tourism.
 
One reason to build a golf course is to sell adjacent real estate property because sometimes there is no other way investors can get their money back. Especially in a country like Bulgaria, where there are not few players, returns on such an investment are not for the short-term investor looking to make a quick profit.
 
In other countries, and other golf courses, you generate 50 000 rounds of golf a year; in Bulgaria - 5-8 000 rounds a year. And that's including all foreigners, and all members. Under these conditions there is no way you can generate income from the game of golf, business representatives told Novinite.com.
 
Annual costs to run such a complex and maintain it to a good standard surpass EUR 750 000 for the golf course and clubhouse, depending on the experience of the management.
 
The return of the investment from fees is a long-term perspective, and many investors rely on another trend connected directly with the golf course projects, namely the demand for luxury hotel accommodation and vacation properties.
 
The areas near golf clubs become popular like those on the seaside or near ski tracks. This level of investment is justified by the constant tourist traffic and the need for a comfortable stay after a pleasant round on the golf course.
 
Another way of attracting foreign tourists and golfers is having famous designers build the golf courses. Investors and golf course owners say that the design of a golf course does not make the project more expensive, but adds a lot of value to it.
 
Choosing a top designer is a must for developing a successful project golf project in Bulgaria. Among the golf course projects in Bulgaria there are some designed by the golf legends Gary Player, and Jack Nicklaus.
 
"Once this course is completed, it will be the best in the world. The progress is great and, honestly speaking, in my golf career I have not seen anything as good as this golf course. When people come and see it they will not believe their eyes. I mean, it is so beautiful; it is in fact the best golf terrain I have ever seen. There are only five golf courses like this in the world which are located directly on the coastline", golf legend Garry Player said not long ago, talking of the Thracian Cliffs near the Kavarna village of Bozhurets.
 
Some experts think making Bulgaria a really competitive golf destination would require the building of at least fifty golf courses. Golfers must be able to choose and enjoy various courses. A tourist will never come to Bulgaria to stay and play at one course for two weeks. Moreover, this requires a lot more things than only building golf courses.

Infrastructure is really important.
 
Potential Yet to Be Realized
The road to the golf course must be perfect, and currently, there is no such thing in Bulgaria. Of course, this involves the government, too. Business representative believe that the state must realize the importance and the value of this sport. It has the potential to bring a lot of money into the Bulgarian economy. This is fresh money, which will be welcomed at a further stage of managing the effects of the economic crisis. Money not to be missed.
 
On the other hand, the tourism sector must be involved, too. There is a strong need of advertisement. Foreigners must be aware of the potential of Bulgaria, and of the wonderful golf courses they can find here.
 
The popularity of the game will certainly lead to Bulgaria becoming a golf destination, and the building of more quality golf courses will be a definite factor. It can become popular by involving famous people playing golf. Politicians, celebrities, public figures must start playing golf. In most countries in the world politicians are golfers.
 
Bulgaria does not yet have a golfing tradition or any famous player but is following in the footsteps of countries like Portugal, Dubai, and Thailand which have developed into successful golf holiday destinations in the past two decades. There is already a Bulgarian Golf Federation, and a Bulgarian Professional Golf Federation. Some say it is a matter time before the emerging of a professional golf player from Bulgaria - which will be the best advertisement for the country's golf industry.
 
There is a lot to be done, and both the business and the government must be involved and help each other. Some experts say that in 7-10 years Bulgaria will have everything to become a world class golf destination. The country has the potential, and it now depends on the will, and of course, the interest of investors.

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