CNN: Bulgaria's 'Pebble Beach' to Host Top European Golf Event
The European Tour has long sought to grow golf outside the continent, taking top players around the world to Asia, the Middle East and Africa, while its second-tier circuit even visited South America this year.
Its latest bid to break new ground -- the largely untapped golfing market of Eastern Europe -- has been driven by the desires of one of its major sponsors.
One of the tour's premier events, the World Match Play Championship, will next year move home from economically-stricken Spain to Bulgaria -- which doesn't have a player ranked in the world's top 1,500 professionals, but has attracted car manufacturer Volvo.
"Volvo was the first company to bring a European Tour event to China and we are the first to take a full European Tour event to Bulgaria, as Eastern Europe is an important business area for us," the Swedish corporation's president of event management said on Monday.
"We are very proud to still be delivering ground-breaking innovations as we mark our 130th professional golf tournament. Everyone at Volvo looks forward to welcoming Bulgaria to the 'family' of exclusive host destination partners."
The tournament was staged at England's Wentworth from 1964 to 2009, and this year was the last at its second home at Finca Cortesin.
Next year's venue, Thracian Cliffs, has been hailed as Bulgaria's version of the famous American coastal course Pebble Beach.
"You will not find a golf course like this anywhere else on the planet," said its designer, South Africa golf legend Gary Player, who won the World Match Play title five times between 1965-1973.
Volvo, which also sponsors the European Tour's China Open and Golf Champions event in South Africa, said the World Match Play will be rotated in areas of interest to its business.
"We will announce future venues in due course," Ericsson said.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said it was a "real coup" to land the tournament.
"The vast media coverage will deliver a reputable boost for Bulgaria and our tourism industry. The recent growth of golf in our country will have the opportunity to be showcased around the world," he said.
"Volvo is setting a wonderful example to other international companies, as this shows they view Eastern Europe and Bulgaria as an area of interest for their future business development."
Nicolas Colsaerts, who helped Europe to win the Ryder Cup against the U.S. in a thrilling finale last month, will defend his World Match Play title at Thracian Hills from May 16-19.
"I've never been to Bulgaria but I've heard great things about the country and Thracian Cliffs," the Belgian said.
"Having won both the 2011 Volvo China Open and the 2012 Volvo World Match Play Championship, I think Volvo might be my lucky charm so so I hope that continues to be the case in 2013."
Colsaerts will be one of 11 Ryder Cup winners playing at the European Tour's BMW Masters in China this week, including world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and his predecessor Luke Donald.
McIlroy won the inaugural tournament at Lake Malaren, near Shanghai, last year when it was a smaller event with no sanctioning but offering a million first prize -- the biggest on offer in golf. This time the winner will take home €888,560 (.16 million)
"To go to back and win for the second time would really put the icing on the cake of what has already been a great year for me," said the 23-year-old Northern Irishman, who claimed his second major title at August's PGA Championship.
Next Monday he will take on world No. 2 Tiger Woods in an exhibition match at Jinsha Lake Golf Club in Zhengzhou.
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