Golfing in the Balkens
It’s not a region that immediately comes to mind for golf outings, and given world history of the past century, there’s some discomfort in hearing the names. That, however, is ancient history, and for the global golfer, some interesting venues are opening up where we least expected them – places where Mother Nature has provided superior resources.
Taking a break from my current journey through the states and Mexico, I thought of another trip I took some years back, through the former Yugoslavia and down to Thessaloniki, Athens and the islands within nine miles of the Turkish coast. At that time, golf had no real presence in this part of the world, but if I were to retrace my steps today, I could have a lot of fun.
Albania, for example, was closed off for forty years of communist xenophobia, but with the present democracy, interest in golf has sprouted. The natural Albanian advantage? Gorgeous Adriatic coastlines, beautiful mountains and 280 days of sun, sun, sun. Lalezit Bay (most of us don’t know these names yet, but we will) hosts the first Albanian course, the La Perla Golf Club, established in 2010, 30 minutes from a major airport. As the economy improves, golf’s fortunes expect to improve with it.
Romania’s history with the game is a little more extensive, with six courses in existence, most notably, at least in terms of seniority, the Diplomatic Club in Bucharest. They also have two seaside courses, one American designed layout, the “Paul Tomita” Golf Club (18 hole), and the 9 hole Lac de Verde. That may not seem like a national movement toward the game of golf, but Romania has founded an annual amateur national championship with BMW. It might behoove us to put away visions of full moons in dark forests with howling wolves and sinister castles. However, bring garlic, just in case.
I once found myself stranded on a railway platform in the Macedonian wilderness after a mechanical breakdown. They rescued us in a van which was, I believe, hand-fashioned by Alexander the Great himself, complete with clucking chickens and no muffler. How could there be golf in Macedonia, land-locked between Kosovo, Serbia and Bulgaria? In the summer of ’12, the Macedonian Golf Federation hosted the first Macedonian Amateur Open at the St. Sofia Golf Club, completed in 2011. The first 18 hole course is underway, and an outreach program to locate and train students has commenced. For venues, Macedonia’s fifty lakes and sixteen mountains over 6,500 feet don’t hurt. The courses may not be up to the standards of Macedonia, Ohio yet, but the game is happening.
I never thought Greece needed to add anything for tourism, and golf isn’t immensely popular yet, but that may be changing. Many courses are in the planning stage, and several good ones exist. Greece even has its own magazine entitled “Golf and Tourism in Greece.” The nation that gave us western civilization offers some of the most exquisite natural surroundings for the world traveler, and they’ve made the most of it. That includes the Afandou Golf Club south of Rhodes, the Corfu Golf Club, Costa Navarina of Messinia, the Glyfada course of Athens, the Porto Carras Golf Club of Halkidiki, Porto Elounda of Crete and the Crete Golf Club. Golf seems to be the perfect game for a national based on philosophy, art, introspection and intense expression. Colorful language on the course is, I would think, something entirely apart from our meager western curses.
We’ve seen the game of golf bloom in places we never thought imaginable in the past decades. Thinking of both the emerging former states of Yugoslavia and historic Greece, to see it bloom in the Balkans makes perfect sense.