Israel finally waking up to the golf boom

Years after neighboring countries caught on, four new courses are under construction.

Eilat golf 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
Eilat golf 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Israel has never been known for its golf. Neighbors Cyprus, Turkey and Egypt have taken advantage of the area's mild climate, perfect for a year-round season, with dozens of golf courses that pull in billions of golf-tourism dollars. Meanwhile, a complicated and long process of zoning changes disinterested many investors from building courses in Israel, which has held the country to one and a half golf courses to this day - a nine hole course at Kibbutz Ga'ash and the 18-hole course at Caesarea which is currently in the process of redevelopment. But one golf-enthusiast has stuck with the process for the last decade, and now his efforts are beginning to bear fruit. Last month, Joseph Bernstein, president of Israel Resorts and Clubs, LLC, received the final agreement from the Israel Land Authority to build two 18-hole championship courses as part of a $150 million ultra-luxury resort in the Galilee region. It is hoped that these courses, coupled with two others currently being approved, will jump-start Israel into the booming golf-tourism market. "For the first time it brings a real golf course to Israel, a real destination resort," Bernstein told The Jerusalem Post. "It brings a whole different type of tourist to Israel." The ultra-luxury resort, Israel By the Sea (, will be located on the plateau of Mount Arbel overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Israel Resorts & Clubs has already built an $8 million water-treatment plant to irrigate the courses, which are set to open in 2011. The golf courses will be available to resort guests and golf-club members. The two resort courses, the Sea of Galilee and Mount Arbel, have been designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., whose last course in Tacoma, Washington, won the bid to host the 2015 US Open. "He's one of the foremost golf architects in the world and it's a branding that will make Mount Arbel a real golf destination internationally," Bernstein said. The links-style courses will capitalize on Arbel's seaside location and the plateau's natural contours. The history of Arbel also adds character to the course. The cliffs of Arbel contain the ruins of a fourth century Jewish synagogue. The mountain was also an assassination site, where Herod the Great killed Jews who went against his rule. "I think it has the potential to be golf art," Jones told the Post. "It's in a location of great historic importance and that in itself is interesting." Bernstein added that he hopes the course will attract "snow-birds" (people living in cold-weather climates) from Europe and the East Coast of the US who would normally take golf-vacations in Florida and the Caribbean. "When they've already been to Israel and seen the tourist thing there's no reason to go back," Bernstein said. "The course will make it a real vacation destination not just a Bible destination." The resort itself fills a void in the Galilee, which lacks the five-star vacation locations necessary to transform the area into a main vacation destination. Bernstein's resort is intended to be a new base in the Galilee, drawing tourists for longer visits. "I think transforming the Galilee is very important, it's kind of neglected," Bernstein said. "If you put in the right amenities it could be one of Israel's hottest tourist locations." Besides the two courses, the resort will also include a world-class spa, a "Chefs of the World" culinary program, an organic farm, a winery, a beach club and a tennis academy. Bernstein is also responsible for the construction and grand opening of another 18-hole golf course in Eilat, also to be designed by Jones - a desert course which is still in the final stages of approval. The Eilat course will be part of the $375 million Aquaria Entertainment City. In addition to the golf course, the entertainment city will include amphitheaters, nightclubs, museums, a convention center, restaurants, boutiques and a water park. The Eilat golf course will be accessible to all players who pay the daily green fee. Bernstein has plans for one more course in the Judean Hills at Kibbutz Beit Nir, located halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in an area surrounded by a nature preserve, Park Britania. Like the Mount Arbel resort, the Judean course will also be connected to a holiday spot. The Israel Land Authority has not given the project final approval and Bernstein is still waiting for the Ministry of Interior to change the zoning permitted use of the land from agriculture to golf. This golf-course blitz comes at a time when the Ministry of Interior is expressing new interest in developing golf tourism in the country. It is in the process of assembling a committee to explore the number, size, locations and costs of golf courses needed in Israel to fulfill its potential for golf tourism. The committee will begin operating in three months, and it will bring even more courses to the country by expediting course approval.