In the recent past, Bulgaria lagged way behind other Central and Eastern European countries like the Czech Republic and Turkey when it came to investing in top end courses for visiting golfers. Well that all changed early in the new millennium, thanks in no small measure to Gary Player, one of the global golfing greats.
Approached by the Bulgarian Golf Association’s President, Krassimir Guergov to help popularise the game in his country, the Black Knight took to the task with gusto, putting his name to a couple of major projects to the north east of Varna, on the edge of the Black Sea, next to the small town of Balchik.
BlackSeaRama opened in 2008, with another Gary Player design, Thracian Cliffs, appearing three years later. Occupying a cliff top setting along the edge of the Black Sea, the course is laid out within a residential estate that proudly claims to be Bulgaria’s first gated golfing community.
BlackSeaRama co-hosted the 5th Bulgarian Open Amateur Championship in 2009, sharing the tournament with another neighbouring new venture, the Ian Woosnam-designed course at the Lighthouse Golf Resort, so it’s easy to see why the future of golf in this part of the world looks very bright indeed.
Unlike the previous reviewer who found BlackSeaRama to be “very similar the whole way round” I felt the two nines here were really quite different to one another! I played the back nine first due to congestion on the first tee and was mightily impressed with what I found on the inward half.
The holes had a lovely links feel to them (my notes emphasized the “firm & fast fairways”) with greens blending beautifully into their surroundings. I really liked the slightly uphill par three 13th, where mounding to the front right and front left of the green partially obscured the target.
The following two holes, both of which were short par fours, continued the sequence of top quality golf – the first one doglegging left to a raised, hidden green and second one veering right to another heavily sand-protected, elevated green.
The back nine ends with a really tough, uphill par three set out on the edge of the cliffs. I can only imagine what it’s like to play when it’s windy on this exposed part of the property but I could see a few balls finishing among the new houses to the left of the fairway as golfers shy away from the precipice on the right.
Now, having really enjoyed the first half of my round, I was looking forward to more of the same on the front nine, where the three opening fairways have small rows of vineyards running along the left, immediately beyond the cart path on that side of the holes.
Unfortunately, the linksy vibe that had been so prevalent on the back nine just didn’t materialize and I felt a little let down by that. The theme of incorporating little stone walls into the design was still in evidence but there were probably too many water-dominated holes for me here.
Not that these were in any way bad holes (par fours at the 4th and 7th bending left past water to the green and the par three 5th also played over water) but they just were so unlike those that I’d played a couple of hours earlier on the more secluded nine.
BlackSeaRama will co-host the Bulgarian Senior Open (along with Lighthouse) later this month and it’s also the venue for the European Senior Ladies’ Team Championship in September, when I suspect the tournament organizers might be tempted to reverse the nines as I did to finish at the par five 9th hole.