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Golf Tourism Statistics in Bulgaria

Bulgaria is relentless in its pursuit to become a centre for quality according to recent golf tourism statistics, which will further develop its up and coming image and bring with it additional wealth from avid fans of the sport. Golf tourism is expected to boom with a predicted growth of 10% each year and research shows that golf tourists spend anything from 400 to 500 euros per day compared to regular package tourists who spend around 50 to 100 euros - so great for rentals! Kuncho Kunchev, a large investor in the Black Sea Rama golf complex near Balchik, said that he chose to invest in golf because, “Without quality golf courses, Bulgaria will remain a cheap destination. It will continue to attract tourist flows, but without any major impact on the economy.”

Bulgaria’s potential as leading golf destination - Shrewd investors like Kunchev have seen the potential in Bulgaria to become a popular destination for golfers. Its summer climate and natural surroundings are similar to those in Spain, which has grown into one of the world’s most popular golfing destinations. Golf is also considered to be good for the environment, preserving vast tracts of natural land. Ihtimen in Sofia covers around 6,000 metres of parkland and also offers horse riding, swimming, tennis, volleyball, basketball, football and even ten pin bowling. Golf courses on Bulgaria’s northern coast will also offer a full package of sport including links to nearby yacht ports, and many courses are tying-in with Bulgaria’s vast spa resorts. Views from the courses perched on the ragged limestone cliffs across the sea are spectacular and uninterrupted. It’s no wonder that property near to these coastal courses has attracted buyers who are not even golf players!

The Bulgarian government is also considering plans to promote further construction of golf courses. One proposal is to provide investors with free government land, on the condition that they turn it into a golf course. This proposal met with some opposition and the government was criticised for failing to tackle the country’s infrastructure problems, this fact was supported by some of the would-be investors who stressed that improvements to the infrastructure were crucial to support future tourist growth.

Bulgarian’s to date have not been keen golfers, although more effort is being put into promoting the sport amongst the indigenous population. In order 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. Another incentive for Bulgarian’s to take up the sport is of a financial nature; golf equipment is cheaper to buy than ski gear and at Air Sofia golf courses under 18s can receive free golf lessons from a qualified golf professional.

Focus on the courses today - Currently, Bulgaria has only a handful of functioning golf courses; St. Sofia Golf Club & Spa, 15 km from the capital, Golf Club Air Sofia in Ihtiman, 40 km from Sofia and the Golf Course in Sliven. Professional golfer, Gary Player who is involved with a few golf courses in the country believes Bulgaria has the potential for 100 courses.

Bulgarian-based company, Air Sofia owns Ihtiman 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 constructed first and then services and property developed around them. He scorns those who build property first and then construct a golf course as a secondary stage of the complex.

This year three more courses will open on the northern coast close to Balchik. The three independent courses have been developed by two of the golf world’s leading names; Ian Woosnam and Gary Player. These golf pros have developed four courses in Bulgaria. Welshman, Ian Woosnam’s courses are Lighthouse near Balchik and Pirin, which also benefits from being close to the ski resort Bansko. Gary Player’s courses - both of which are situated on the northern coast - are Thracian Cliffs and Black Sea Rama. He is also helping design 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 award winners and hopes that they will, in turn, provide a lot of tourism and employment opportunities for 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.” The Woosnam designed Lighthouse is due to open in September 2008, and will be exclusive to owners and those who rent property there.

The Black Sea Rama golf project near Balchik – featuring the Gary Player course - is developed by advertising tycoon Krassimir Gergov, sociologists Andrei Raichev and Kuncho Stoichev, former deputy financial minister Iliya Lingorski, and Georgi Krumov, the head of Equest fund and current Sofia garbage concessionaire. This course is an integral part of a larger development, which will include villas and town houses all within the complex. Its location is also very convenient for the all-important golf tourist; the development is close to Golden Sands and Varna International airport. The Black Sea Rama golf course is expected to open in June 2008 and is likely to be officially opened by Hollywood actor and golf fanatic Morgan Freeman.