LONDON (AP) - The European Tour will stage a tournament in Bulgaria for the first time after deciding to rotate the World Match Play Championship between locations across the continent.
After three years at the Finca Cortesin resort in southern Spain, the tournament will be played at the Gary Player-designed Thracian Cliffs Course in Bulgaria beside the Black Sea from May 16-19 next year as part of plans to bring ``the championship to geographical areas of interest'' for its sponsor, Volvo.
``This is a real coup for Bulgaria being chosen to host such a prestigious international tournament with a rich heritage and sporting traditions,'' Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said in a statement on Monday. ``The recent growth of golf in our country will have the opportunity to be showcased around the world.''
The World Match Play Championship was staged at European Tour's headquarters at Wentworth from 1964 to 2007, before the tournament was expanded to a 24-player field in 2009 and switched to Spain.
The event has been won by some of the top names in golf since Arnold Palmer captured the inaugural title 48 years ago. Ernie Els won it seven times between 1994 and 2007, and Nicolas Colsaerts is the reigning champion after beating Graeme McDowell in May.
``This just demonstrates the global appeal of golf,'' said Colsaerts, a member of Europe's Ryder Cup-winning team in Medinah last month. ``I've never been to Bulgaria, but I've heard great things about the country and Thracian Cliffs and I can't wait to defend my title there.''
Organizers declined to say which other courses are in the tournament rotation.
``While these future venues are yet to be announced, it is no secret that we are considering northern Europe, including the U.K., as a possible future destination,'' said Guy Kinnings, global co-managing director of IMG, one of the tournament's organizers.
Bulgaria has no players in the top 1,000 of the world golf rankings.
The Thracian Cliffs Course has been described as the ``Pebble Beach of Europe'' because of its unique views.