Intrepid Romanian entrepreneur opens nation’s first 18-hole golf resort

by Sean Hillen

While influential others – including rich individuals, investment fund managers and real estate developers – dilly-dallied over whether to build Romania’s first 18-hole golf resort, Ioan Popa took the plunge and dipped into his savings for the necessary 15-million euro investment.

The result: what was once brick barns, a car-breakers’ yard and garbage sites has now been transformed into an impressive, undulating sweep of reshaped land stretching more than 56 hectares, of which seven is real estate, including 17 stand-alone villas, driving range, putting area, club-house, restaurant and conference center.

Theodora Golf Club Romania

View over Theodora Golf Club’s stand-alone villas, driving range, putting area, club-house, restaurant and conference center. Photos by Theodora Golf Club

Theodora Golf Club, named after the 60-year-old entrepreneur’s daughter who is deeply involved in the resort’s operations, was opened last year after two years of construction in central Transylvania, with the inauguration ceremony being led by His Excellency President of Romania Klaus Iohannis. It is based on a US and Czech golf course design, with one million euro alone spent on equipment including 75,000 euro for a Toro Workman. Around 1,400 sprinklers feed the grass, all operated by mobile phone.

Praising members of the Popa family for their initiative, President Iohannis, said, “You have managed to make a unique investment in Romania. A public facility that is not for profit and puts Romania on the world map. Through this investment, Romania literally enters the global golfing arena.

Klaus Iohannis Theodora Golf Club, golf course romania

His Excellency President of Romania Klaus Iohannis (center) praises the Popa family for what he described as “a unique investment in Romania.”

Boasting the longest par in Europe – par 6 – 735 meters, this special feature has enticed avid golfers from countries such as Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Belgium, Canada and the US, as well as throughout Romania itself. Clients range from former high-level ministers, including at least one former prime minister, and bankers to investment fund CEOs and business development directors at major multi-national corporations.

The golf club is located in Ciugud, a commune that gained a strong reputation by attracting the considerable European funds for various projects for its villages. It is also close to the pretty, historic town of Alba Iulia, where Transylvania united with Romania exactly one hundred years ago.

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Well-kept fairways bring out the best in golfers.

The 1,900-metre-high Apuseni Mountains provides a picturesque backdrop as does the River Mures, which borders one side of the golf course. With an eye to detail, Ioan directed his architects to design a series of artificial lakes and a dam along the river to prevent flooding. He is proud of creating gainful employment for local workers, 10 full-time on the golf course itself and 50 in other departments.

Speaking during an interview, Ioan, who became a multi-millionaire through development of his international poultry company, Transavia, has been passionate about golf for 12 years after playing at a smaller course in the nearby town of Sibiu, said, “We started from scratch and no-one believed we could do it. It took a lot of effort and many long working days but we are very proud of what we have accomplished together.

Theodora Popa golf, sean hillen golf courses

Theodora Popa congratulates a young winner at the golf club’s final tournament of 2018, with club manager, Iulian Strajan, standing beside her and Alexandra Popescu, events manager, announcing the gifted young player’s achievement.

Added 28-year-old Theodora, who has studied business and marketing at universities in Cluj-Napoca and Oxford, as well as Columbia Business School and IMD Business School, Lausanne, “My father has always paid great attention to detail and so it was with this golf club. Aside from supervising the actual construction, we also had to teach all our staff about the game itself. It was a big challenge, a big commitment, from everyone concerned.” Helping father and daughter in developing the project is Vlad Opris, resort manager; Alexandra Popescu, golf and events manager; and Iulian Strajan, golf course manager.

Contented clients include Nicolae Kovacs, Secretary General of the Romanian Golf Association (RGA), who said, “Ioan is a model pioneer. In building this club, he has accomplished what many others have talked about, but never done. In doing so, he has provided a great service in helping develop golf in Romania today.”

playing golf in romania, theodora golf course

A series of waterways and artificial lakes creates added ambience.

Robert Matthis, 67, from Clinton, North Carolina, a former company production manager for Smithfield Foods, now living in the Romanian city of Timisoara, is also delighted. “It’s terrific having a high-quality club like this. I’ve been playing golf for many years in many different places and the layout and fees here compare very favourably to other countries. I’ve also met many new friends here and enjoyed many great outings,” he said.

Theodora Golf Club, has hosted 20 tournaments this year including a creative wine event at which six wine cellars were created on the course and the winner was the team who drank most. In addition to its 100 registered members, the club also invites local schoolchildren to learn the noble ‘Game of Kings.’

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A relaxing ambience awaits guests at the golf club’s well-designed villas.

Each of the villas, complete with spacious foyer and lounge, is named after the flower that is cultivated around each and include hydrangea, fern, chrysanthemum, magnolia, jasmine, petunia, rose, hibiscus, lilac, daisy, iris, rosemary and lavender.

The View Restaurant & Terrace with a menu created by chef Florin Matei, overlooks the course and has a capacity of up to 150 seats inside behind walls of glass and 90 seats on its outside terrace. A conference hall nearby can host up to 150 people. A full-service spa is now under consideration.

gourmet restaurant theodora golf club

An enjoyable lunch on the terrace accompanied by a glass of crisp white wine, champagne or an exotic cocktail, is a strong attraction at Theodora Golf Club.

Inevitably, golf – as it has in so many other countries – will develop rapidly in Romania over the coming years and Ioan Popa has already cemented his reputation as a leading pioneer in this sporting endeavor.

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