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A Round of Golf at Ihtiman

Opened in 2000, this is a parkland course with a links feel, it tests every single aspect of a golfers skill - a full repertoire of shots in the bag is needed to negotiate the 18 holes in a respectable score - Quest Bulgaria member, Stephen Rawlings, takes us on a round of Ihtiman...

Being 5,948 yards, with a par of 71 off the yellow tees, it is in every way a proper golf course. Water hazards on 15 of the holes await a stray drive or approach shot, although some of the hazards will not bother most players, most will. Then there are the undulating small greens making accuracy paramount. Factor in the stiff breeze we had when playing this course and you have the complete package to test even the lowest of handicappers.

The Air Sofia clubhouse is unique. Built around an aeroplane, the wings stick out of the front and rear of the clubhouse, and the tail sticks out of one side. The fuselage runs through the length of the clubhouse with seating inside it creating part of the in-house restaurant. With a well stocked bar, and a pro shop, stocking good brand named golf equipment, the 19th hole is very inviting before or after your round. The club pro is Austin, who originates from Colombo, Sri Lanka. Austin has been at the club since it opened in 2000, and has made a very big impact on the members. He’s an amiable and popular man, without a doubt Air Sofia’s greatest asset, equal to the standard of the course. There’s a driving range and three putting greens, so practice facilities are good.

Accommodation is available at the golf course, or in the Air Sofia Hotel, which is only a five minute walk away. Other facilities include:- Horseriding, Swimming, Tennis, Volleyball, Basketball, Football, Ten-Pin Bowling a Fitness Centre. There are different types of packages available to golfers and non-golfers, and green fees are 60 leva per 18 holes (Friday-Sunday) and 44 leva per 18 holes (Monday-Thursday). Golf buggies are available at a very reasonable daily rate. Tuition with Austin is available on request, either on the driving range or as a playing round.


Out on the Course

Hole 1: 418 yards Par 4
A challenging opening hole, dogleg right with out of bounds and tall trees to the right to stop you cutting the corner. A good drive of around 270 yards is required down the left side to give yourself a view of the green for your second shot. Trees down the left on the approach to the green will catch any errant second shots, as will the bunker to the front left. The large green has some subtle breaks in it, so take care when putting.

Hole 2: 182 yards Par 3
A straight forward short hole with a large green and slight undulation will require a 5 or 6 iron. It’s advisable to use the right hand side of the tee box to give yourself the best view of the flag. Anything long may be caught by the bunker back right.

Hole 3: 394 yards Par 4
A good tee shot is required here to carry the water hazard at 210 yards from the tee. Once the water is negotiated, a mid iron is required into a two tiered quick green. The second shot suits a fade off the left greenside bunker. Take two putts here and you can walk off to the next tee happy.

Hole 4: 454 yards Par 5
A short Par 5 with a water hazard to the right. There is a water hazard about 120 yards short of the green but it doesn’t present too much of a problem. The green is firm and undulating, so accuracy is of paramount importance. Go long and there is a bank with a wall behind it. A good birdie opportunity here, but don’t get complacent.


Hole 5: 328 yards Par 4
A short Par 4 here requiring only a short iron approach following a good drive. The green is guarded by bunkers. It is like an upturned saucer and slightly elevated. Care is needed to hold the green and avoid short siding yourself.

Hole 6: 385 yards Par 4
A tough Par 4. Water guards the front and both sides of the green, so accuracy is a must. Anything longer than a 7 iron, especially from the rough, will struggle to hold the green. The green is deep, but it’s very firm. Good course management is needed here to keep your scorecard in tact.

Hole 7: 264 yards Par 4
This hole may be short, but from the tee you have decisions to make. There is water in front of the green, so if you do go for it, you’ll need 230 yards of carry,and then you still need to negotiate the two bunkers that also guard the front of the green. A mid iron lay up is a sensible option, giving a long pitch straight up the green. Putting on this green is very difficult, so stay below the hole.

Hole 8: 292 yards Par 4
Another short Par 4. Water in front of the tee doesn’t really cause a problem. Care is still needed for the approach, as the green is slightly elevated and firm.

Hole 9: 534 yards Par 5
This is a difficult hole, dogleg left with plenty of water down the left side to negotiate. With the water starting at around 140 yards short of the green to the left, and a large fairway bunker to the right hand side some 130 yards short, you either need an accurate 6 or 7 iron lay up shot, or an even more accurate fairway wood. The former will leave a full wedge into the firm green, and distance control is paramount here, as anything short will be in the water which cuts in directly in front of the left two thirds of the green. Like the other greens, it has subtle borrows sloping up from front to back.

Hole 10: 150 yards Par 3
A solid mid iron is required, especially as this hole is usually against the wind. Not too much trouble here, with a flat entrance to the green. The only concern is long and left, as Out of Bounds awaits. This green has subtle breaks and is pretty quick.

Hole 11: 279 yards Par 4
This short par 4 will test your course management to the limit. Playing this hole could only be described as equal to walking through a minefield with clown’s feet. Water all the way down the left starts 120 yards from the tee. Water all the way down the right starts at 160 yards. The fairway slopes down from 100 yards from the tee, making a lay up from the tee with an 8 or 9 iron the safest option, but aim slightly right to negate a bad bounce to the left. If the pin is back right, forget the pin! Pin high centre is the place to be if you want to get out with a two putt, as this green has some severe breaks in it. Par here is a great score.

Hole 12: 162 yards Par 3
A strong Par 3 with water in front and to the right playing to a large undulating green. Putting here needs a good touch.

Hole 13: 459 yards Par 5
A solid drive here is crucial to carry the water hazard at 200 yards. Once the drive is safely away, a well stuck wood will leave just a short pitch into the green. This is not the biggest green on the course, so care is needed to get close. If the pin is at the back, stay below the pin - do not go long or left!

Hole 14: 407 yards Par 4
A strong Par 4 with an undulating fairway, so a well struck drive will leave a semi blind approach to the green with a mid iron. There is water down the left side around 100 yards short of the green. Anything long here will be gobbled up by the bank and wall beyond the green.

Hole 15: 197 yards Par 3

Another strong Par 3 requiring pin point accuracy from the tee with a long iron or fairway wood, depending on wind direction. Slightly uphill with a bunker guarding the left side, trees and banking to the right hand entrance. No real dangers, but the hole does look daunting from the tee, and could make or break a good score this late in the round.

Hole 16: 328 yards Par 4
A slight dogleg left, requiring a drive down the right hand side of the fairway, to give you the best view of the pin. The water shouldn’t come into play here, and with a well struck tee shot, only a short iron will be needed for your second. One of the easier greens on the course.

Hole 17: 355 yards Par 4
A tricky Par 4, this hole requires a lot of thought. A good drive down the right hand side of this undulating fairway is needed to give you the best line into the green. The green is elevated, with a steep tier through the right third portion. Bunkers guard the front left and back of the green, and it is firm and tough to hold even the best struck shot. From the right side you at least have the option to hit a low running shot in, or aim for the lower tier and take your chances putting.

Hole 18: 364 yards Par 4

The home hole is pretty straight forward. Out of Bounds is only going to catch the wildest of tee shots. Bunkers on the right should not present much of a problem, but the bunker at the back of the green may catch anything long. A gentle finishing hole.