BlackSeaRama Pro-Am 2019
In July, I accompanied 3 Broadway members over to Bulgaria to play in the 2019 BlackSeaRama Pro-Am. I was joined by Rod Brindley, David Patten & Jim Titley to play in the PGA of Europe-run event. The tournament consisted of a team competition (best 2 scored from 4) and an individual professional competition. The event was based at the BlackSeaRama resort and was made up of 3 tournament rounds at Lighthouse GC, Thracian Cliffs GC & BlackSeaRama GC.
Our first round was at Lighthouse GC and we were the 2nd group out at 7:40am! We were playing and seeing the course for the first time and the goal was to score something in the 80's to get us off to a good start. We somewhat carefully plotted our way around the Ian Woosnam-designed course that featured a lot of water and was literred with deep fairway and greenside bunkers. Everyone managed to contribute on our way to a score of 81 points which was an excellent start and we found ourselves comfortably in the top 10 after Day 1. (much to the pro's surprise considering the standard of golf during the practice round)
For the 2nd round, we headed to Thracian Cliffs GC which has been dubbed as 'Europe's Pebble Peach'! It was easy to see why as the course was built on a narrow strip of land between the cliffs and the Black Sea. Visually, the course is stunning, with every hole staking a claim to be the course's 'signature'. Dramatic elevation changes, a 20-25mph wind and lightning fast greens made for an enjoyable but incredibly difficult day. We very much scrambled our way to 75 points which certainly felt like a victory considering the difficulty of the course! We clung onto 10th place after 2 rounds and the talk afterwards and over dinner included a number of expletives and deflammatory words directed at course designer Gary Player. (on a serious note, the course was spectacular)
The 3rd and final round was played on the resort where we were staying - BlackSeaRama. We had played the course the day before the tournament for our practice round and were quietly confident of our best score of the week (well, 3 of us were). We did get off to an excellent start and after a front 9 of 44 points we were right on track for something in the mid to high-80's. However, we did unfortunately stall on the back 9 and rather limped home for a total of 79. Perhaps down to a combination of fatigue and mental tiredness but certainly not due to drinking too much, eating too much or wasting all the good shots on the driving range, chipping green and putting green. All-in-all, a total of 235 points for the week was more than respectable and the team did very very well indeed. We finished t-18th and were also the highest placed team from the UK! (yes, we were the only UK team but still....)
Both competitions ran alongside each other as the Professionals competed against each other for the coveted individual title. The field was mainly made-up of European professionals with only 4 from the UK competiting. Within the field were several current and former European Tour and Challenge Tour players as well as a number of full-time playing club professionals. From a competitive point of view I went into the event very lightly-raced and even though I'd played some golf with friends and members in the run-up, it had been a little while since I had the self-inflicted pressure of a scorecard to deal with!
In the first round at Lighthouse GC, I shot 69,-2. It was some steady stuff on the whole and a largely uneventful round that contained 3 birdies, 1 bogey and 14 pars. I did feel as though my play deserved a lower score (yes I should know better) and I missed a few opportunites but deep-down I was very satisfied to have played my way into the tournament after the 1st day.
The 2nd round at Thracian Cliffs GC saw us encounter an already tough course in very difficult conditions. I shot 76,+4 and despite a disappointing bogey, double-bogey, par finish was very pleased with my score. From the Black tees where I played from, the course measured over 7000 yards and although they employ the course rating & slope system, the SSS equivalent would be 77! The average professional score for the day was 81.05! I ended the day in solo 3rd place, 2 shots behind 2nd place and 5 shots behind the leader. Gary Player certainly copped some flack but in a very light-hearted way. The course was incredible and right-up amongst the best I've played, punishing yet rewarding and in the most beautiful setting.
The final round tee-times were done in reverse order and so with me sat in 3rd place, we weren't due to tee-off until 1:10pm with only 2 groups behind us. This led to a long morning of heel-kicking, multiple breakfasts, and an un-healthy amount of coffee! My goal for the day, starting 5 behind the leader was to cement my place in the top 3. The 2 guys ahead of me were very experienced former European Tour players and I knew they'd take some catching. In an ideal world, I wanted to get to the total that the leader started the final round on, -3 and so needed a final round 67,-5 to force him to shoot under par to beat me. Perhaps down to all the coffee, I started extremely well and found myself -4 through 7 holes. The course then got tougher as the wind blew and the back 9 especially played more difficult. As the coffee wore off, birdies became much harder to come by and I managed to par my way from the 8th to the 16th. The Par 5 17th was the most realistic birdie chance for some time and after a driver and a 3 wood to the fringe just short of the green, I was well aware that an up and down birdie would get me to the -3 total with one to play. That was the plan but I managed to go one better and chip-in for eagle. Now at -4 for the tournament, I was very much 'in the mix' and tried to compose myself ready for the 18th. One thing I didn't want is a 20 minute wait on the tee of a 257 yard par 3 across the Black Sea, back into a left-to-right wind with a forced carry of 200 yards and OOB and bunkers everywhere. I did manage to make contact with my 3 wood (yes, honestly a par 3) and got it pin-high just off the green. After a nerveless chip and a putt, I'd shot 66,-6 and had posted -4 as my tournament total. Over the next half an hour, we watched the 2 players who had started the day ahead of me come unstuck on the brutal 18th and I was left as the champion by 1 shot. The next hour or so was taken up by the prize presentation and several interviews including one via a translator, live for the Bulgarian national 7 oclock news. As a team we then attended the gala dinner and enjoyed a relaxed evening reminiscing about the week whilst being entertained by some very uncoventional local dance routines.
All-in-all, regardless of the outcome from a personal point of view it was a fantastic week and I know that Dave, Rod and Jim thoroughly enjoyed every minute. The tournament was a huge event in the PGA of Europe calendar and for Bulgaria and as a result the organisation, the venue and everything else that goes with it was second to none. Having been on a number of similar trips to various countries over the years, this trip would rank very very highly on that list! On a personal note I'd like to say a huge thankyou to Dave, Rod & Jim for their company and support whilst we were there.
To anyone who may be interested in finding out more about similar events then please don't hesitate to ask and I'll happily provide you with some information. I know the guys above would speak very highly and positively about the experience and they'll also provide an insight into how the week works.