The golf course at Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort is located on the northern Black Sea Coast of Bulgaria and it’s a Black Knight signature design that opened in 2011.
BlackSeaRama was Gary Player’s first Bulgarian ensemble and the layout has already received positive accolades. But his Thracian Cliffs is set to become the most talked about and the most photographed golf course in Europe.
The course is routed, hole after hole, along the cliffs on magical land of the once powerful Thracian kingdoms. The setting is pure theatre and Gary Player is quite rightly enthusiastic about the site.
“You will not find another golf course like this anywhere on the planet”, commented the Black Knight. “Pebble Beach is renowned as the best site and I would say Thracian Cliffs is twice as good as Pebble Beach.”
“I have to say, without a question of doubt, that I have never before played on a golf course where you can see the ocean on every single hole. When people come here, they are going to say Thracian Cliffs is the best golf course they have ever played in their life. I have been playing for 56 years and I never knew there was ground like this on the planet for a golf course.”
Every new golf course requires a period of settling and growing in, but Thracian Cliffs headed our Bulgarian golf course rankings soon after it opened and it featured prominently within our Continental European Top 100 rankings soon after it opened. The club's hosting of the 2013 World Match Play Championship, won by Graeme McDowell, certainly did the club no harm, showcasing the course to an appreciative worldwide audience.
Fantastic course and resort. Breath taking scenery and a real challenge, with each hole presenting a new challenge. A mix of tee positions means that the course can cater for all handicaps.
The front 9, hugging the cliffs and Black Sea, are arguably the more spectacular, although the back 9 competes with tee views stretching down to the sea behind and tricky greens to attack. Personal highlights include the 3rd (Par 5), 6th (Par 3), tight 8th (Par 4) and 12th (Par 4) - with many more holes equally as memorable.
This is on par with the very best resort courses in Europe, well worth a visit and a real gem of a find.
Reviewers below use words like crazy, spectacular, breathtaking and quirky to describe the experience of playing at Thracian Cliffs and I’m not going to disagree with any of them as it’s all of that and more – it’s just a shame when I played here recently the weather was dull, overcast and drizzly, which didn’t exactly help show off the course at its very best.
As you leave the Biarritz green on the first hole and compare the top of the escarpment high to your left against the waters of the Black Sea down to your right, you might just wonder how on earth a golf course was ever built on such a narrow strip running between the two. It’s quite a sensational setting (a little like I experienced before at Old Head in Ireland) and at times this surreal location can be almost overpowering.
The opening eight holes are played closest to the water’s edge – highlighted by stunning back-to-back par threes at holes 5 and 6 – and they occupy the prime positions on the property. It’s an unrelenting visual treat from one hole to the next, concluding with a wonderful pair of short par fours at the far end of the course.
It’s perhaps only natural to feel the holes on the way back aren’t quite as stimulating because they’re routed a little bit further away from the shoreline but they are also played at a higher elevation, making the views along the coast even more far-reaching, if anything. The downhill 12th, played to an offset infinity green, followed by the heavily-bunkered 13th were probably the pick of the holes for me on the inward half.
I’d managed to whizz round the front nine on a buggy in 90 minutes on my own but then got caught up behind a series of 4-ball groups on the way home. Taking twice as much time to play the inward half didn’t exactly thrill me but it did afford the opportunity to team up with a couple of Finnish golfers who were happy to be on what was for them the best course they’d ever played.
I have it on good authority that the last two holes were meant to be played originally as holes 1 and 2 but the proposed clubhouse and associated accommodation units (presently empty buildings looming over the 16th green) were put on hold due to the global recession that bit shortly before the course opened.
The development of these half-empty premises would make for a far more satisfying finale at the current 16th, allowing the (relatively) lacklustre #17 and #18 to be played at the start. At the moment, finishing on these two holes left me feeling slightly deflated at the end of what had otherwise been a quite remarkable round of golf.
What a crazy, spectacular, brilliant and unforgettable golf course! The photos you see are real, but can't really do justice to the vistas actually on the course, or to the layout of the course when you play it. Go there. Go there now!
I started with equal parts fear and delight on the first tee, but had one of those wonderful days where the ball was going where I wanted and that meant not a single one disappeared over a cliff (one did take off and hide in a thicket on the 14th or 15th): happy days! Used every club in the bag, took a million photos, enjoyed the challenges the shotmaking required, and just generally loved every moment of my game. The smile on my face this day may have been second only to the one on my face when I finally managed to play the Old Course at St Andrews.
Most course ranking lists use a combination of design, conditioning and aesthetics in their process. Thracian Cliffs rates very highly in all of those areas and is clearly the number one course in Bulgaria.
Given its spectacular setting and the glorious weather my group enjoyed it sounds almost churlish of me to disagree with these other reviews of fulsome praise for the course. But disagree I must.
The course is quirky to say the least and Gary Player has done extremely well to fit 18 holes in given the nature of the terrain- it is built into the side of a cliff face. Maybe it was because we played it at the tail end of the season but the greens were average at best and the tee boxes downright poor. Factor in that you can lose sleeves of balls that either tumble down the cliff face into the Black Sea or disappear into swathes of thorn bushes and this is certainly no place for the average holiday golfer with a high handicap. Given the layout, with some extremely long rides (this is a buggy only track) between green to the next tee box not helped by the lack of on course signage, this is also a course that will take at least five hours to play. A group of Rumanian businessmen took seven hours to reach the 14th tee the day before we played. Our group of eight, with three single figure handicappers in, contrived to lose over 80 balls on our first round. Fortunately the drinks buggy, which routinely sold out of beer and chocolate before it reached us, never runs out of extra sleeves of balls.
For a really enjoyable, fair and well designed course I much preferred Player’s first venture on the Black Sea coast, namely BlackSeaRama which may have a number of largely, ugly buildings dotted around its perimeter but is altogether a far better and fairer test of golf.
Thracian Cliffs is a fun one-off experience with some stunning tee shots as well as a couple of downright daft ones, no more so than the long par three sixth where one launches a ball over the side of the cliff and watch as it plummets either onto the green or else is lost forever. Vertigo sufferers may well want to skip it completely and head for the seventh where one simply has a 175 metre carry over the sea before reaching the fairway.
Finally, there is the soulless clubhouse that is situated in the residential village where most players stay. There are plans to move this to a bigger property that overlooks the course and this would certainly improve things. The current establishment is a good par four length walk from the 18th green which wholly negates Thracian Cliffs’ biggest asset, namely the stunning beauty of its setting. I am happy to have played it but disappointed that I was not more impressed with what could and should be a remarkable golfing experience for the better player. Maybe October is simply too late in the year to see the place at its best.
If you want spectacular golf on a course the like you will never have played with the sea visible from every hole then this is the place for you, this course provides everything you could wish for. the tee boxes are generous to allow all standards a good game of golf, the fairways are generous but do require accuracy to score well and the greens are heavily bunkered and are quite literally huge at least two clubs front to back. In essence though it is the nature of the course that makes it so exhilarating the cliffs, the sea, the feeling of beauty that you get from playing here, it is a marvel and as Gary Player says on the promo video before starting out its going to be a lot of fun, he’s not wrong.