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IMG play down fears over Match Play venue

Alex Dimond May 2, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
Nicolas Colsaerts is the defending champion © PA Photos
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Organisers of the Volvo World Match Play have moved to play down fears about the new Bulgaria venue's readiness to host the event in two weeks' time.

Thracian Cliffs, an ambitious development on the Black Sea, will host the 48th edition of the renowned matchplay tournament from May 16-19, after being awarded it last October by the European Tour and event organisers IMG.

Dubbed 'the Pebble Beach of Europe' in some quarters for its distinctive coastal layout, it will be the first time a European Tour event has been held in Bulgaria.

However, there have been difficulties in the build-up to this month's staging, with IMG - whose founder, Mark McCormack, came up with the tournament idea in 1964 - admitting that the clubhouse for this year's event will be a temporary structure, built less than a month ahead of time.

With construction still going on in parts of the resort - although away from the course and main development - other building sites will have to be covered up for the week of the event. However, IMG insists they knew of these issues when they decided to bring the tournament to Thracian Cliffs and are operating with the long term in mind.

"The venue are doing everything they can to get the course ready," Ross Hallett, vice-president of golf at IMG and the project director for the tournament, told ESPN. "The infrastructure is in place. There is nothing they need to do; in the last few weeks the resort came out of its winter break and it is being all looked after.

"There is no big clubhouse this year, but we knew that a long time ago. We're building a temporary clubhouse - [the company doing that] have been here for two weeks so there is no problem there. We're all on track."

Hallett added: "We've had a team out here for a couple of weeks now and everything is fine. We'd always like longer, and obviously we're in a country that hasn't hosted a major championship before - but there's nothing going on here that is causing us any serious concern.

"When you run an event in China, or Korea, or these emerging countries, it's always going to be more challenging than being in the UK. You're dealing with people who want to showcase the course and the venue because that's important to them. There are always challenges ... but nothing we weren't aware of a long time ago."

2013 is scheduled to be the first of three years in which Thracian Cliffs will host the Volvo World Match Play, with the resort then expected to be added to the tournament's rotation - in similar fashion to the Open Championship - for future years.

Organisers say they do not expect to deviate from that blueprint.

"We're staging it this year and the plan - obviously we haven't gone any further than the three years, but the plan is it would stay as one of our courses on our rota of the Match Play," Hallett confirmed. "Bulgaria is developing - I'm sure we'll come here next time and there'll be twice as many houses and a clubhouse and everything else.

"We didn't have that luxury this year, but the decision was made to come here on the basis of that anyway."

A significant part of the reason why organisers decided to bring the event to Bulgaria was for the spectacular layout at Thracian Cliffs, with designer Gary Player saying at its launch that "you will not find a golf course like this anywhere on the planet".

First visits to new venues around the globe - most recently the Turkish Airlines World Golf Finals at Antalya Golf Course last October - have invariably led to issues with the standard and presentation of the golf course, with the greens in particular often taking a few years for new tournament venues to get right.

While Thracian Hills may not be in condition to rival Augusta National this year, Hallett believes the course will prove a hit for its unparalleled location and design.

"The course is fantastic, it will look spectacular on TV," Hallett said. "Every hole has a sea view, the course is in good nick. It is May and [there was] a cold winter, but in the last two weeks it has come on a huge amount and in another two weeks ... again, we have no concerns about the quality of the golf course."

In December, Bulgaria's Minister for Physical Education and Sport, Mr Svilen Neykov, expressed his belief that hosting such a significant professional tournament would demonstrate Bulgaria's suitability for golfing holidays.

"We have worked hard to grow golf in our country and the extensive media coverage this championship will deliver will give us a wonderful opportunity to showcase our credentials as a golfing destination all around the world," Mr Neykov said.

A quality 24-man field including the likes of Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and defending champion Nicolas Colsaerts is expected for the event, which took place at Finca Cortesin in Spain for the last three iterations after playing for the last time at its traditional venue, Wentworth, in 2007.

"Having played all around the world since I turned professional in 1994, it isn't often I get to visit a new country so I am definitely looking forward to visiting Bulgaria," Poulter said when confirming his participation. "Having seen the photos of Thracian Cliffs and heard many great things about the course, I think it is going to be a very special week."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Alex Dimond is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk