Asked about his approach to life, Marc Harari, the man at the heart of the organization of Israel’s first ever professional Tour golf tournament, said the following: “I’m crazy! If I want, I do.”
One man’s dream became reality this past week, as Israel’s only 18-hole golf course, in Caesarea, was witness to the country’s first ever official professional golf tournament, the 1st Edmond de Rothschild Israel Masters.
The tournament was the result of over two years of blood, sweat, and tears on the part of Harari, a Parisian businessman, and the team at Caesarea Golf Club, headed up by club general manager Lior Prety.
As we spoke on the tournament’s final rain drenched day, Harari was in a somber mood. Having pictured the tournament’s award ceremony in his mind countless times, he was distressed to find the final day’s action curtailed entirely due to poor weather. He apologized for not being “très en forme” when we met, yet it was clear that what he had achieved presents a major milestone for Israeli golf that comes, to a large extent, from his endeavors.
Charming and effusive, Harari oozes a passion for two things: Golf and Israel.
Born in Paris to Egyptian parents who made aliya in 1948 before returning to France in 1956, his love for Israel was reignited by his son’s decision to make aliya. While we talked, he proudly raised his iPhone to show me a photo of his son in full IDF uniform.
His son’s decision led him to discovering the golf course at Caesarea, redesigned a few years ago by renowned American course designer Pete Dye.
With the idea of bringing a professional tournament in Israel already at the back of his mind, Harari regaled his prophetic thought upon seeing the course: “It’s possible to do it.”
The weekend tournament at Caesarea, part of the ALPS Tour for young European professional golfers, provided a home for 50 golfers from 14 countries including the UK, Netherlands and Israel.
Initially set to take place last year, it was canceled as a result of Operation Protective Edge, eventually being rescheduled for this past week.
Speaking with the players, it was clear that they were impressed with the course. Josh Loughrey, from the UK, who ended the tournament second on ALPS Tour’s order of merit, said, “I’ve loved it. I booked a late flight hoping I’d get to the beach on Monday, but didn’t get to in the end. I’ve been impressed with how much enthusiasm has gone into putting this event together.”
Also in attendance at Caesarea was Israel’s No. 1 female golfer, Laetitia Beck, currently on track to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Though not competing, she was at the tournament the whole week egging the players on – one participant even sheepishly acknowledged that she beat him over two rounds that they played together, admitting that “she’d probably be leading if she were participating.”
For Beck, however, there were more pressing issues at hand: Getting more Israelis into golf.
Her forthrightness with regards to the relatively low level of popularity golf has in Israel was reflected in an example she gave: “Yesterday I was talking to someone that works for a bank in Israel and I was telling him that he should try to play the game and get some lessons so that he understands it better. He said ‘No, I’ve tried and what I need is a big ball and some action.’” “For me, this was so typical,” said Beck, 23. “We have to do something to attract people and keep them on the golf course,” recounted Beck. In her view, for Israelis the types of sports sought after are ones that at least on the surface appear to require “action, speed, and strength.”
Her counterpart atop the Israeli men’s rankings, Asaf Cohen, had a slightly different perspective. Participating in both this year’s event in Israel and the ALPS Tour across Europe next year, in Cohen’s eyes Israelis’ problem with golf stems from the misconception that it is a sport for the wealthy.
“In Israel golf looks like a sport for rich people – yet the people who are the best at golf are not the rich people,” observed Cohen, 22, pointing out that he had been training at Caesarea all his life.
His humility is a stark contrast to the case of Beck’s banker, something that became apparent when mid-interview he stopped proceedings for a few minutes to talk to his mother. As an individual, Cohen sets a powerful precedent for the type of golfers that Israel could be producing.
The future of Israeli golf’s development on both a national and international scale, however, is at present unclear. In Harari’s eyes, the best approach is embodied in an old French adage, “To do the first edition is a fight, to make the second one is a challenge.”
For Caesarea’s club manager, Prety, the tournament marked a watershed moment, after which the sky is the limit with regards to the levels of golf that could be seen in Israel.
“If you don’t dream it, it will not happen,” exclaimed Prety.
The building of further golf courses remains the biggest stepping stone for golf’s development. Alon Granot, chairman of the Israeli Golf Federation, described the dearth of courses in dire terms.
“We are focusing on promoting two to three more golf courses in the coming years because without these, Israeli golf has no future whatsoever. Playing golf without the courses is like pizza without the cheese,” he quipped.
In the eyes of both Granot and Harari, the ‘B’ word is the big stepping stone in the way of further courses: Bureaucracy.
Getting the construction of news courses off the ground is no easy task, although the future is perhaps not as bleak as the purview suggested by Granot.
Uri Sheffer, director of the Sport Authority, Ministry of Culture and Sport, argued that while bureaucracy has been a problem, the Israel Masters demonstrated that “if we collaborate with all concerned, and there is good timing following the Masters tournament, there is a momentum. If we will be successful in getting all the stakeholders together and try to move this vision forward, then in the next couple of years, we might see major progress.”
Back in Caesarea, in a similar fashion to the famed Masters tournament in Georgia, the Edmond de Rothschild Israel Masters ended with the gifting of a jacket.
Yet unlike the green jacket of Augusta, the Israel Masters jacket was a dark blue mirroring that of the Israeli flag, and was awarded this year to Jurrian Van Der Vaart, who finished with a -4 total.
As Van Der Vaart placed the jacket it over his shoulders, one could see the sense of pride in Marc Harari’s face: His dream had finally come true.