Golf: Caesarea aims for the top with redesign

After 40 years of memories, Israel's only 18-hole golf course is preparing for a major renovation.

golf 88 (photo credit: )
golf 88
(photo credit: )
After 40 years of memories, the Caesarea Golf Course, Israel's only 18-hole golf course, is preparing for a major renovation. Over the next 12-16 months the course, which was opened in 1961, will be completely redesigned by legendary golf course designer Pete Dye in a project costing an estimated $8 million. Higher-quality Seashore Paspalum grass will be planted throughout the fairways and greens, the course will be extended by nearly 600 meters to 6,800 meters and the layout of each of the holes will be changed. The renovation comes after golfing in Caesarea was interfered with by Highway 2 for a second time. The highway was first extended to run right across the course back in 1969, forcing the construction of new holes and the hurried revamping of the irrigation system. And at the start of 2007 work began on a new on-ramp, a road which will be part of an interchange with the nearby town of Or Akiva, cutting through the course. Presently, golfers at the fourth and fifth hole can enjoy attractive greenery on one side and a concrete freeway on the other. By the start of 2009 this will no longer be the case. Andy Santos, head golf professional at Caesarea, said the irrigation system was in need of a rehaul, prompting the renovations. "We would have to tear up the golf course anyway, so we may as well renovate while we're at it," he said. However, the Caesarea Development Corporation is turning this necessity for renovation into an opportunity. The golf course will be expanded away from the highway and get a giant facelift to include elevations, different placement of bunkers and extra moundage down the fairways. Dye, the designer of the new course, was the recipient of a PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. He has a long and impressive résumé of golf courses. Among his most famous are Kiawah Island in South Carolina, TPC at Sawgrass, and the Brickyard Crossing course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Tim Liddy, the chief architect under Dye for the Caesarea project, said the proposed new look will be similar to Kiawah Island. This would indicate that the new course will have bunkers and sand-traps like lines of teeth, holes right next to water, rolling hills, and sharp contrasts in shades of green. However, Dye intends to make Caesarea a "unique course, with the mystique of Caesarea," according to Santos. Expect also a state-of-the-art training facility, with an improved driving range, a more forgiving course for beginners and a bigger challenge for golf veterans. The Paspalum will replace the current Cucouya, a species that "most professionals would rate as their least favorite grass to play on," remarked Santos, who added that it is prone to causing injuries as the thin grass makes it hard to balance, causing players to slip. Paspalum, on the other hand, is thicker, making for better traction. Of particular interest to Israelis is the fact that Paspalum grows very well in heat and has a high salt tolerance. This means it can be watered with saltwater. As for Santos, he will always have fond memories of the golf course, including a private lesson he gave to Aura Ambache, wife of the late president Chaim Herzog. The Caesarea Golf Course has been a cornerstone of the Caesarea community since Fred Smith was commissioned to design the course back in 1951. The privately-owned town, property of the Rothschild family, began construction on the course in 1958 and finished in 1961. Since then, many celebrities, as well as politicians, have teed off at Caesarea, including Sean Connery, Michael Douglas, and Sylvester Stallone. The course has been home to many Israeli national tournaments, but no international tournaments, something Santos hopes will change when the course is renovated. "I would love to see a world-class facility here," he said, adding that what he would really love to see is an international tournament on Israeli soil. Santos describes the current status of Israeli golf as "on a sharp rise, especially since 1999, when the nine hole Ga'ash golf course opened. Since then, the number of Israeli golf memberships has doubled. "I would love to see it triple, something we may expect in another 10 years," he said. The construction will take 12 to 16 months to complete, including the grass' growing season in May to July, when Paspalum grows rapidly, more so than other grasses. During the construction, nine holes will still be open for play, something which will slow down construction but allow the Caesarea course to continue to stay open all year round.