Construction of a new golf course – designed by European Golf Design – for OKOL Lake Park near Sofia, Bulgaria, is expected to begin in the autumn.
“Very few people have ever seen the spectacular views from the Alpine meadow on which OKOL is located,” said Robin Hiseman, architect at European Golf Design. “It’s an amazingly beautiful place, especially on the back nine, which plays out and back along a narrow ridgeline, with an incredible panoramic view over Iskar Lake and towards the Rila Mountains and the Borovets ski resort, some 25 kilometres to the south. The golf course takes you to all these natural viewpoints and makes a virtue of pausing there.
“The site is strewn with many impressive and unique rock outcrops, which we incorporate into the design. On a technical level, we’re going to clean out a lot of self-seeded pine saplings, which, if left alone, will eventually block out the views. We shall be working with the Golf Environment Organization to ensure the best possible stewardship of the alpine meadow through which the course is routed. Most of the rough will be retained. It’s a precious landscape and we will treat it with the utmost respect.”
The course is bordered by nature and offers views of the nearby Iskar Reservoir.
“There are aspects of OKOL which remind me of Scottish moorland courses, rustic Cotswold common land, and high Rocky Mountain grassy plains in the USA,” said Hiseman. “My experience of those courses has been a key aspect in drawing inspiration for OKOL. I could take you to the proposed fourth green at OKOL and show you how it is inspired by a nineteenth century golf green on Minchinhampton Common in the Cotswolds of England.
“Our memory banks are full of these obscure references, but when we find a good green site, we can draw upon these little-known inspirations. Our most important task was to create a routing plan that allowed us to minimise any artifice. We’ve done that well and the layout flows around the site in much the same way in which you would naturally explore it. The golf course fits the site like a hand fits a glove.”
Sports management company IMG will be involved in managing the project and the club, and OKOL will also be part of the IMG Prestige global network.
OKOL Lake Park is expected to host international tournaments, so EGD considered how its routing would need plenty of space between holes and to ensure crowds and infrastructure will be safe from players’ shots.
“In a developing golf market like Bulgaria, and in the specific example of a golf resort like OKOL Lake Park, we’ve sought to design a course that will encourage new players to try the game and to stick with it as they improve,” said Hiseman. “We don’t want the course to be so difficult that novice golfers are discouraged and beaten up, but we also need to ensure that as they improve, they find that the strategic challenge of the course maintains their interest. There are layers to the design, which reveal themselves to the players in different ways depending on ability.
“OKOL is lightly bunkered off the tee, so the player will be able to keep the ball moving forward quite easily, but if you are chasing a par score, you’re going to find the green complexes technically challenging. There are several holes with no bunkers at all, because the natural features do the work for us. We’ve made sure there are plenty of different tees to choose from and now that gender is no longer a determining factor of which tee you play, we trust golfers will seek out the ones best suited to their ability. They’ll enjoy it a lot more if they do.”
A small café and rest station are located next to the thirteenth tee. “The walking trails around the course congregate here and encourage visitors to stop, relax and be thankful for spending time in this unique landscape,” said Hiseman. “I doubt many people outside Bulgaria associate it with this kind of mountain scenery, so it’s definitely going to have a ‘wow’ factor.”