The Lighthouse course at the Lighthouse Golf Resort and Spa is one of three new golf courses to have opened along Bulgaria’s Black Sea coastline since 2008 – BlackSeaRama and Thracian Cliffs being the other two layouts. Along with the Pirin resort in Bansko, it's one of two Bulgarian tracks operating within the European Tour Properties network.
Designed by European Golf Design with Ian Woosnam as the headline-grabbing architect, the Lighthouse course has been fashioned to complement the other two Gary Player-designed courses that occupy this part of the Cape Kaliakra landscape with fairways laid out around several pockets of residential development and a routing that occasionally takes holes towards the cliff tops.
The layout measures 6,338 metres from the back markers, playing to a par of 71, and it boasts a fine set of five short holes, two on the front nine and three on the back nine. Undoubtedly, the best of these par threes is saved until last, at the 151-metre 17th, where water protects the front right hand side of the green.
In September 2018, Lighthouse proudly hosted only the second European Tour golf tournament to be played in Bulgaria when the national Ministry for Tourism sponsored the European Tour Properties Senior Classic, marking the 10th anniversary of the golf course's inauguration. Ian Woosnam was on hand to welcome fellow senior professionals and amateur players to several days of mixed competitions, with Magnus Persson Atlevi winning the main event.
Lighthouse’s golfing credentials are plain for all to see. It’s one of two dozen golf facilities operating under the European Tour Properties banner and it hosted a prestigious event on the Staysure Tour last year so there can be no doubt about its ability to provide a good test on the course and offer decent peripheral amenities and accommodation off the course.
I experienced both facets a couple of weeks ago when I played here with the club’s French-born Director of Golf Dimitri Chaynes. In fact, some might consider playing with a professional as a requirement when officially reviewing a course because you get to see in person exactly how the layout should be tackled by a good player!
It’s a well-constructed track – as you would expect to find with any layout from the European Golf Design portfolio – that’s set out on a good-sized property with plenty of separation between the contoured fairways. There are small pockets of on-site housing but these residential elements never come close to interfering. There’s also a little wooded area close to the coastline that a few holes are threaded through.
Some might bemoan the fact that the edge of the cliffs were never really incorporated into the routing but I think it’s fine, actually – I’d rather tee it up somewhere which is laid out to pretty much look like it’s a lie of the land layout than something more contrived, containing forced holes offering nothing more substantial than visual stimulation off the tee.
The front nine is very solid, highlighted by the 7th and 8th holes (funnily enough, located close to the cliff edge!) where new raised tee boxes have been introduced to give golfers a better perspective of what lies ahead. The halfway house (Shiv’s Bar) behind the 8th green overlooks the precipitous drop down to the Black Sea and this is the spot that rightly claims all the attention, not the holes themselves.
The inward half is just as good as the preceding front nine, made memorable by a terrific par five at the 16th that doglegs right past a small lake to a green sporting some serious forward bunker protection. The following hole, a water-laden par three, affords a little bit of respite before tackling the tough finisher – a long par four (rated stroke index 2), which plays to an offset, raised home green.
My family and I stayed in one of the Lighthouse apartments for a few days and I had the opportunity to play both the on-site course and Thracian Cliffs. The apartments were very sparsely populated, but there were steady streams of tourist buses arriving and departing from the large and well appointed hotel: many of the passengers had sets of golf clubs with them and the course was busy at times.
Lighthouse was a nice warm up to the much more spectacular and challenging Thracian Cliffs. It's a relatively open parkland resort course that is built on mostly flat terrain, which could sound concerning, but there are plenty of design elements that make the course interesting: undulations of the fairways and surrounds, doglegs, sufficient well placed bunkering, over water shots and holes that run in a number of different directions and rarely are they adjacent.
The conditioning was good and the green fees quite reasonable (€56). Best holes were likely the par 4 16th and par 3 17th as they had the main water hazard directly in play.
Well worth playing.
The course opens with a straight away par-4 which gets you away from the clubhouse and into the round and the approach to the par-4 2nd hole needs to carry a grass hollow short and left of the green. Water is in play on five holes on the course starting at the 4th (both left and right of the fairway). My pick of best front nine hole is the short par-4 7th with a nice short approach downhill to the green. The 10th is tough par-4 with plenty of water down the right . Probably the best looking part of the course is around the 13th and 14th holes which is closest to the coast.the finish to the round is strong with water in play on the last three holes and nice variation with a par-5, par-3, par-4 combination - I would probably say the 18th is the toughest par-4 on the course.. As I mentioned, there will soon be three courses in the region; I have played two of them and also walked the fantastic looking Thracian Cliffs ..
My current golf ball ratings are.. 3 for the Lighthouse, 4 for Blacksearama and 5 for Thracian Cliffs .. I do suspect that all three courses will all move up one rating by the time I return (not too long I hope) - Obviously golf on Bulgaria's east coast will be a step into the unknown for most but with the high class accommodation and memorable golf courses on offer, I would think this is set to become very popular.