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Additional resort golf options in southeast Europe

20 October, 2022
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Jim McCann

Additional resort golf options in southeast Europe

We had a good look at Belek in Turkey recently in our resort golf series and we return to the southeast of Europe to cast an eye on some other attractive options in that region. On the continental coastline, we’ll visit Greece and Bulgaria as well as heading to the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Crete. It’s probably a bit late to think about going to any of these places this year but they’ll all still be there in 2023, just waiting for visiting golfers who don’t mind travelling an extra few miles to play with the sun on their back.

Costa Navarino

Costa Navarino in Greece’s Messinia region is fast developing into one of the top golf destinations in all of Europe, boasting four signature 18-hole layouts. The Dunes course (pictured above) was first to arrive here in 2011, designed by Bernhard Langer with Ross McMurray of European Golf Design. It’s located alongside two 5-star hotels – The Romanos and Westin Resort Costa Navarino – and complemented by a stylish clubhouse, spa, conference centre and a wide selection of gastronomy venues.

Less than a 15-minute drive away lies the Bay course, which appeared a year after the Dunes, with Robert Trent Jones Jr. as its architect. This is a more forgiving track that its older sibling, anchored by a wonderful earth-sheltered clubhouse overlooking Costa Navarino Bay. Close to the layout sits the Mandarin Oriental hotel, due to debut next Spring, along with the recently opened W Costa Navarino within the new Waterfront development, featuring 246 rooms, villas and suites.

Continue another 3.5 kilometres south of the Bay clubhouse and you’ll come across the latest two courses to appear at Costa Navarino, both of which were laid out by the design company of legendary golfer José María Olazábal. Serviced from the same newly constructed clubhouse, the International Olympic Academy course (pictured above) and the Hills course occupy a rugged hilltop site, with the former offering fantastic panoramic views of the Bay of Navarino and the Ionian Sea beyond.

So, four very different golfing experiences at one superb destination (with convenient flights in and out of nearby Kalamata airport) – what’s not to like about this place?

Crete

Crete is situated around 250 kilometres to the southeast of Costa Navarino in the Mediterranean and it’s the largest and most populous of the many Greek Islands. Golf has only been played at Crete Golf Club since 2003, when Bob Hunt from PGA Design Consulting designed eighteen holes amongst the hills of Hersonnisos. The on-site hotel comprises 25 suites but there are more than thirty partner hotels associated with the club so playing here as a non-resident is not a problem.

Unfortunately, the original plan to construct another twenty-four golf courses on Crete came to nothing but it’s worth seeking out the 9-hole par three course at Porto Elounda Golf & Spa Resort for an alternative golf experience.

Aphrodite Hills

Continue east and you’ll arrive at the island of Cyprus, where there are a number of good golf options available. The Cabell Robinson-designed layout at Aphrodite Hills is another early new millennium layout, accompanied by the 5-Star Aphrodite Hills Hotel which offers 290 rooms located in various annexes amidst a beautiful garden complex. The European Tour’s inaugural Cyprus Open was staged here in 2020 when Cyprus became the 50th country visited by the men’s professional circuit.

A recent reviewer thought the “rugged terrain (was) probably not suited to a golf course (with) carts mandatory due to long distances between holes routed across and around large valleys” but they conceded that “the layout was a spectacular visual feast with high quality conditioning.”

It would be remiss not to mention some other local Cypriot golf facilities to check out: Secret Valley is situated about 5 kilometres away and on the other side of Paphos airport you have the Nick Faldo course on the Eléa Estate and the Donald Steel course at Minthis which has recently been renovated by Tom Mackenzie.

We now travel 1,000 kilometres north to the port city and seaside resort of Varna on Bulgaria’s Black Sea.

Lighthouse

Drive less than an hour northeast from Varna airport and it brings you to three golf facilities that are located very close to one another on the coast, between Balchik and Kavarna. The first of these is the Lighthouse Golf & Spa Resort, designed by Ian Woosnam with European Golf Design, where the club celebrated ten years of successful golf operation in 2018 by hosting a Legends Tour event.

For accommodation, the venue offers 180 double guest rooms and four penthouse suites. A recent 4-ball review mentioned that “at certain parts of the course (there are) absolutely staggering views off the edge of the cliffs looking down on Thracian Cliffs.”

BlackSeaRama

Immediately next door, occupying the same clifftop setting, the course at BlackSeaRama Golf & Villas is a Gary Player design that opened its doors to golfers about the same time as Lighthouse fourteen years ago. The resort is centred around a 20-room boutique hotel and villas positioned close to the clubhouse, along with a wellness centre, sport centre and tennis courts.

Last year, a reviewer commented about the course: “there are a couple of standout holes, especially the 18th which is an amazing long par three and worth the green fee just for that hole.” Along with Lighthouse, the club recently co-hosted the 18th edition of the Bulgarian Amateur Championship and the 12th staging of the Bulgarian Senior Championship.

Thracian Cliffs

It takes less than 10 minutes to drive from BlackSeaRama to Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort, where accommodation is based in two separate areas: six residential buildings comprising the Marina Village and ten buildings that make up the Hillside Village. The course is another Gary Player layout which came into play three years after BlackSeaRama first welcomed visiting golfers. Holes are set out on a dramatic, narrow tract overlooking Argata Beach and Bendida Beach, with thrilling elevation changes and stunning scenery.

The last review for this course pretty much sums up the feelings of many who have teed it up here: “I have played many great courses in the world and, although I wouldn’t say this is the best course I have played, it is the most spectacular by a mile! If there is a better-looking course I have yet to see it. Every hole has a spectacular cliff top view and it’s breath taking from start to finish.”

Jim McCann

Editor

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