By Tony Jimenez
(Reuters) - Bulgaria will host a European Tour event for the first time when the 2013 World Match Play Championship is staged at the Black Sea resort of Thracian Cliffs.
Organizers said in a statement on Monday that the move from Andalucia in Spain, where the tournament has been staged for the last three years, to Bulgaria was part of a plan to rotate the venue of the championship that has been in operation since 1964.
"This is a real coup to be chosen to host such a prestigious international tournament with a rich heritage and sporting tradition," Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said in a news release.
"The vast media coverage will deliver a reputable boost for Bulgaria and our tourism industry. The recent growth of golf in our country will have the opportunity to be showcased around the world."
Some of the biggest names in the sport have won the World Match Play - Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Greg Norman, the late Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and South African Ernie Els who has lifted the trophy a record seven times.
Player designed Thracian Cliffs and the course has been described as the 'Pebble Beach of Europe', a reference to the spectacular championship links in California.
Nicolas Colsaerts, a member of Europe's triumphant Ryder Cup team in Chicago last month, will defend his World Match Play title from May 16-19.
"I've never been to Bulgaria but I've heard great things about the country and Thracian Cliffs," said the Belgian golfer.
Per Ericsson, president of event management for sponsors Volvo, said future venues for the tournament would be announced at a later date.
"While our focus is firmly on delivering a magnificent 2013 championship at Thracian Cliffs, we then plan to rotate the World Match Play between a few very special venues around the world," he added.
Bulgaria has a population of 7.3 million but there are just six courses and about 600 golfers in the country.
Former international soccer players Hristo Stoichkov and Krasimir Balakov are regular participants in local tournaments.
Bulgaria was named the undiscovered golf destination of 2012 by the International Golf Travel Market.
(Additional reporting by Angel Krasimirov, editing by Justin Palmer)