After years of wishing to travel to Israel — an interest developed by 16 years of a Catholic education and meetings with people from EL AL Israel Airlines and the Israel Ministry of Tourism — I used my annual birthday trip as a reason to visit. Over cocktails with my brother, Gerald; his wife, Shelley; and my wife, Michele, I brought up this pent-up desire, and the gods set in motion a wonderful trip.
The Caesarea Golf Club is the only 18-hole course in the State of Israel, so it is a must-stop for golfers touring the area. A vibrant membership has seen the course grow and develop and then redevelop. On the first tee, golf professional Peggy Halfton welcomed us. Born in the U.K., Peggy has been a part of Caesarea for 39 years, so she knows the course and the history.
Most tourists come to the town of Caesarea to see the Roman ruins, beaches and what is left of King Herod’s reign, including a magnificently preserved aqueduct, his palace and Ancient Caesarea. As a significant port in ancient times, it played a vital role in the “Roman machine.”
The course officially opened in 1961 and was entrusted to the Rothschild-Caesarea Foundation. Baron Edmond de Rothschild, known as the father of the Jewish settlement, encouraged relocation of Jews from all over the world to the land of their forefathers. The settlements needed economic streams, agriculture and proper housing, and Caesarea benefited greatly.
In 2007, Pete Dye redesigned the course to conform to the natural setting and put Caesarea on the golfing map. The design sculpted holes around indigenous and established foliage; trees that had to be removed were replanted. Dye created 7,185 yards of immaculate paspalum fairways and added his signature fairway and “eyebrow” bunkers among the natural sand dunes of Caesarea. After our departure, the course hosted its first professional tournament when ALPS (Austria, France, Italy and Switzerland) brought its tour to Israel. Professionals hope to encourage golf as a sport in Israel for locals and tourists.
Staying at the Dan Hotel Caesarea is convenient; you can walk to the course via a path. On our first full day in Israel, Gerry and I took on the only 18-hole course in the Holy Land.
Hole 1 | 409 yards, par 4
Peggy asked if we wanted to be paired in a three- or four-ball, and I suggested we go off as a twosome, as we had lots of notes and pictures to take. That left Gerry and me on our own launch and attack on the ancient lands in the somewhat modern sport of golf. We teed off with a nice set of Callaway clubs, and I became fond of the rescue 4-wood Razr X.
This hole is a dogleg right typical of Pete Dye. From an elevated tee box, I drove a ball hugging the contour on the left side. I prayed the ball stayed in play — after all, this was the Holy Land — and the power of prayer came though. The ball nestled on the cart path left. Gerry hit a “breakfast ball,” landing in the center of the fairway. A few lucky chips and we both made the green for bogey, putting the first golf hole in Israel in the books.
Hole 3 | 544 yards, par 5
A long and wide-open fairway leads one to pull out all the stops and heave a ball high and far. I felt like Caesar, ready to conquer the course, but instead sent a pop-up high and short. Gerry found the various Pete Dye bunkers, including the hole-long waste bunker on the right side of this fairway that takes a sharp right turn.
I used all I had to clobber my 3-wood and make up for my meager distance off the tee. I shimmied when I should have stayed straight, positioning the shot far left, again barely staying in play. I then took the Callaway Razr and landed just shy of the green. An over-the-top chip and a two-putt turned a near disaster into a Pete Dye legend. The last time I saw Gerry, he was using some unholy language at the eyebrow bunker near the green!
Hole 16 | 460 yards, par 4
A team of four hand-picking weeders were walking down the fairway and removing large, invasive crab grasses attempting to take over the fairways. Trusting ladies, they barely moved out of harm’s way when we took our shots off the tee. I had a nice, clean hit, but it landed in the waste bunker lining the right side. The hole is another Dye dogleg right, and even balls hitting the fairway might roll into the large bunker due to the fairway’s left-to-right slope. I decided to lay in a wood, as the ball was sitting up well in the sand, and landed on the left side of the green near a mogul. A simple chip had me up and walking away with par. Gerry took an extra shot, getting to the green and carding a bogey just as an Israeli Air Force F18 overhead let off a sonic boom. I thought it was in celebration of my game.
Hole 18 | 475 yards, par 4
The finishing hole is all uphill and ends at the clubhouse remote bar and restaurant, which teeters between the first tee and the 18th green. Your goal is to amass your centurions into play and climb this hill to the green at the top. All the while, the fairway slopes left to right, causing errant balls to stay in the Holy Land forever. I was lucky, as my tee shot landed left and nearly in the brush but miraculously bounced out. Gerry took a more challenging route and placed a nice new ball in the dense brush on the right. My shot to the green was right in line with a tree overhanging the left side. As the old saying goes, trees are 80 percent air, but in Israel some of that remaining 20 percent might be green olives. I flew through the tree, hitting soft leaves and a few agreeable olives, landing short of the green. Urged on by cheers from the bar, I chipped on the green and two-putted for a bogey. Gerry lost a stroke in the brush but recovered with a double bogey.
Although we were on a strict schedule to make our way to Acre, we stopped to admire the magnificent views through the bar window down the first fairway. We patted ourselves on the back for playing golf in Israel and checked off yet another unusual round off the beaten path.
Caesarea Golf Club
P.O. Box 4858
tel 972 4 6109600
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