Golf - First European Tour event in Bulgaria hailed as a triumph

Bulgaria, without a player in the world's top 1,500, has been widely praised after hosting the World Match Play Championship - its first major golf tournament.

Reuters
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Spectators watch the final match of the Volvo World Match-Play Championship between Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland (AFP)

The $3.85 million event, staged at the picturesque Black Sea resort of Thracian Cliffs near Kavarna last week, broke new ground in the largely untapped golfing market of Eastern Europe.

"It has been a fantastic week and I have enjoyed it very much," said Graeme McDowell, who won his eighth European Tour title on Sunday.

"It will sound easy for me to say because I am standing here with a magnificent trophy in my hands, but I think if you ask all of the players who came here this week they will all tell you how enjoyable it has been to come to Bulgaria.

"Bulgaria is obviously a fairly new golfing country but hopefully we have helped start something special in this beautiful land and we can see a lot more people taking up the game here and really enjoying the sport," he added.

Bulgaria, which was named the undiscovered golf destination of 2012 by the International Golf Travel Market trade show, is so strapped for professionals that former football internationals Krasimir Balakov and Hristo Stoichkov participate in local tournaments.

However, more home-grown players could be forthcoming after competitors and officials hailed the spectacular Thracian Cliffs course, which offers a view of the Black Sea from every hole and was designed by South African nine-times major winner Gary Player.

It has been described as the 'Pebble Beach of Europe', a reference to the championship links in California.

"It's a fantastic golf course with a spectacular view," said South Africa's Thomas Aiken, who reached the semi-finals. "It is also a great course to play, so all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the week."

Per Ericsson, president of Volvo Event Management, said: "At Volvo, we take great pride and we take enormous satisfaction that we are the first to bring a full European Tour event to Bulgaria with our partners IMG," he said.

"Thracian Cliffs provided a wonderful stage for this great tournament and everything about the venue was wonderfully received by the players and we feel our 130th professional golf tournament has been a great triumph."

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