Putting Israel on the map

The Israeli Minigolf Association hopes a miniature-golf course in Ashdod will tee off a local interest in the leisure sport.

Zeichner with Detwiler, US ProMiniGolf Assoc. president  521 (photo credit: Courtesy of Noam Zeichner)
Zeichner with Detwiler, US ProMiniGolf Assoc. president 521
(photo credit: Courtesy of Noam Zeichner)
For Noam Zeichner, miniature golf is about more than the expansive putting greens, majestic waterfalls and bright red windmills that make the activity an outdoor oasis for adults and children alike.
Rather, it is about introducing and popularizing “leisure sports” and recreational activities, to Israel – terms that don’t even exist in the Hebrew dictionary.
“There is no expression for ‘leisure sport’ in Hebrew,” says Zeichner. “Minigolf is all about family recreation and leisure sport. So we have a problem of how to define the project in Hebrew.”
The project to which he is referring is his relatively new organization, the Israeli Minigolf Association, which he founded in 2010 in Kfar Hess, a moshav north of Kfar Saba. The first course under the association’s jurisdiction will be opening in Ashdod in December – with about half a hectare (approximately one and a quarter acres) of waterfalls, streams and lushly cultivated gardens, according to the organization. The Israeli Minigolf Association plans to eventually administer a competitive miniature golf league under the jurisdiction of the World Minigolf Sport Federation (WMF), in which it has been a member since August, and has also joined two American organizations – the US ProMiniGolf Association (USPMGA) and the World Putters Association.
Initially, a colleague of Zeichner approached him intent on building miniature golf courses surrounded by a mall-type landscape, which would require commercially zoned land. While Zeichner loved the idea of building min golf courses, he said he saw the future courses as something more minimalistic, sites that would blend into nature rather than necessitating the construction of an imposing, commercially zoned facility.
Zeichner wanted to target a middle class, mid-sized city for his first course.
The municipality of Ashdod was receptive to his strategy and endorsed constructing a facility on land zoned for sports, Zeichner says.
“I chose Ashdod as the first because it’s the fifth city in terms of size in Israel – with average people in terms of income,” he says, noting that there is also a sizable presence of Russian and French immigrants who have “habits of recreation and leisure sports” which are much less common among native Israelis.
The Ashdod site will be adjacent to a newly renovated municipal park that contains an amphitheater and a large pond, all of which will be in view from a balcony at the new mini-golf course. On the site, which will be established by Zeichner’s miniature golf company Sagot Golf, will be two full-sized miniature golf courses complete with sprawling greens and fountains.
“The idea is to build a miniature golf site that even in the US would be referred to as fantastic,” Zeichner says.
Also within the course will be a kosher café-restaurant – which will be closed on Shabbat, although the golf courses will be open – which Zeichner aims to promote as a place for companies to hold internal events.
“It will be fabulous,” he says. “Instead of having a dull presentation in a closed building you can conduct your presentation in a place that is beautiful.”
Also currently in the planning stages are facilities in Eilat, Beersheba, Holon, Tel Aviv and Acre. Haifa will likely follow, according to Zeichner.
Miniature golf does exist in Israel, but is not quite as popular as Zeichner envisions and certainly does not encompass the “complete industry” of networked courses that he would like to establish.
One of the country’s few major existing courses, Mini Golf Herzliya, has already joined the Israel Minigolf Association. A second course, Mini Golf Parod at Kibbutz Parod in the Galilee, is not yet a member, but Zeichner says he hopes to form some kind of collaboration with its owner.
Some other smaller facilities include Mini Golf Extreme in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood as well as courses in Rishon Lezion, Ariel and Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park.
Not only is Zeichner aiming to popularize miniature golf and leisure sports among Israelis, but he hopes Israel’s courses will be recognized in the international community as an additional touristic incentive. Already, the WMF has decided that its 2013 World Cup Competition will take place in Israel, coinciding with that year’s Maccabiah Games, according to Zeichner.
During a recent visit, WMF president Dr. Gerhard Zimmermann told Metro that he is working to get the cup officially connected to the 2013 Maccabiah Games.
This relationship would likewise benefit the federation, as it would be able to forge connections with countries where it currently has no contacts but where it would like to expand the presence of miniature golf, Zimmermann says.
He adds that he was encouraged by a meeting with the Tourism Ministry in which officials informed him that they support the idea of popularizing miniature golf in Israel as a mode of generating tourism.
“[The Israel Minigolf Association] here has great plans to build mini golf on a high quality level, and we are very happy that the mini golf here starts on such a great level,” Zimmermann adds.