Bulgaria is one of the youngest golfing nations in Europe. The Bulgarian Golf Association (BGA) was founded in 2001, with the country opening its first golf course in 2004.
The BGA has since grown to 1,000 registered players and 10 golf facilities and has no plans on slowing its upward trajectory.
Bulgaria has become a regular host of EGA Championships in recent years and is improving its performances on the international stage with each passing season.
Three years ago, with the help of The R&A, the BGA employed Stanko Marinov as the country's first Bulgarian National Team Coach, which has been a key element of Bulgaria's recent golfingsuccess.
In an interview published in The R&A's Developing Golf Magazine earlier this month, BGA Secretary General, Seth Underwood, and Stanko Marinov shared details about their journey so far:
How has a homegrown National Team Coach helped junior development?
Stanko Marinov: When I started to work with the Association in 2016, there were ten or 11 juniors. My job was to start the Junior Programme to find and develop new juniors. From that point, the number of juniors began to grow, the level of the players went up, handicaps went down. We now have up to 35 juniors practising seriously, and, in total, we have around 60, not including the beginners. The kids realise how great golf is and what opportunities it gives – especially for scholarships in the United States.
Seth Underwood: The results over the last three or four years, for such a small country, have been fantastic. The funding from The R&A has really gone towards supporting Stanko's salary. Quite honestly, without their support, we wouldn't have achieved those results.
What does the Junior Programme involve?
SM: Kids can come to practise at St Sofia Golf Club for free. We give them different exercises to do – chipping, putting, a game. And we give them goals, playing from different tees on the golf course, playing for different points, playing with three clubs or five clubs. We’ve also started to work with a sports psychologist, and we have a physio and a lady who is responsible for recovery.
The Bulgarian Ladies' Team, alongside Stanko Marinov, with the Silver Medals at the 2023 European Team Shield Championship, Greece
How do you encourage beginners to come to a session?
SM: For the beginners, it's fun. We play different games, so they can have fun and enjoy the time with the rest of the group. Sometimes we organise mixed teams with a good player and a beginner playing against another good player and a beginner. Absolutely everyone is welcome. And we find when a junior is happy after a session, they share with their friends, and they bring their friends to try it too. I believe if practice sessions are fun, and they really love it, they come back to get more experience in golf.
SU: We've been getting them to come to the golf course and to the driving range because we think that's the best way of trying to create the interest – for the ones coming for the first time, they see the other kids playing, and Stanko tries to make it fun, chipping and putting in a relaxed way, with no pressure.
How important is it to develop homegrown coaches?
SM: I think it's probably more valuable when you're a local guy and giving the new information to the juniors in our language because, while most of the kids know English, they're not very experienced in the language. So they will understand more quickly if you speak to them in Bulgarian. Our country is very new in this sport, we are trying to create some traditions, and I think it’s much better to have Bulgarian coaches.
What successes have you achieved since Stanko became National Team coach?
SM: When I started, there was only one girl who had won a tournament outside our country, and then the first Bulgarian boy won the Hungarian Open in 2017 and won points for the World Amateur Golf Ranking® (WAGR®). Since then, we have 17 boys in the WAGR® and five girls. I'm very proud, it's a huge privilege to be part of this process and these achievements.
SU: In the last three years, we have six boys and girls that have gone to university in the US – two on a full scholarship – and this season, our best player has already been accepted into Kansas University on a full scholarship, and he doesn't graduate until next May. For such a small country, that’s incredible and something we’re really proud of.
Are you looking to take on more homegrown coaches?
SU: This summer, we took on Damyan Gulev to help Stanko. He has started his PGA training and is working with the feeder level players – where we start to identify the potential players that will replace those that are graduating and going off to university. When Damyan graduates, we'll then have two qualified coaches, and maybe at that stage, then we can look at developing it further.
SM: I’d really like to motivate another one of the guys from the National Team, who are thinking about coaching, to start the PGA training programme, with the view to taking on the National Team Coach role in the future.
What are your plans for the future?
SM: We haven't seen a Bulgarian player playing on the tour, but we’re hoping to. My dream is to keep working with the good guys with potential for reaching some of the tours in Europe or the States – to keep practising with them, to keep teaching them and to learn from them as well.
SU: Our focus really has got to be on getting the best out of our National Team, continuing to develop that feeder programme, and really show that, for a small country, what results we can achieve in European Golf Association events, and with the players that are going on to study in the US. Also, with the help of The R&A, we have created a ladies’ golf club, with a whole programme of events and around 43 members, which is fantastic, so that’s something that we really want to support and try to develop.
Interview text: The R&A Developing Golf Magazine