The number of golf courses in Israel will double in the coming years with a new set of greens and bunkers planned in the desert around the southern resort town of Eilat.
Israel’s only 18-hole golf course is in Caesarea. It was built in 1961 by the Rothschild family, who commissioned a great American golf designer, Pete Dye, for this “world-class tourist gem”. He has since returned to refresh the course. A second nine-hole course has been integrated next to the main course, in Caesarea. But another nine-hole course in Gaash, near Netanya, has closed.
In early September, the Tourism Ministry and the Israel Lands Authority told the Israel time that they were launching a public tender for a new golf course and hotel north of Eilat. According to Hezi Magen, president of the Association Sportive du Golf, local golfers participated in the discussions.
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The total area of the project is approximately 1,229,000 square meters and the successful developer will be required to build housing and commercial space near the course. There are plans to add 560 new hotel rooms, a shopping complex, a golf course covering approximately 600,000 square meters and adjacent space for a golf academy.
California, Nevada and Arizona have already demonstrated the potential of golf courses in a desert landscape. With this project, the Negev will enter the game.
Israel Lands Authority Director Yaakov Quint has seen a growing demand for hotels and leisure activities in Israel and believes that this project not only strengthened Eilat as a vacation spot for international tourists and national, but will also create a “one-of-a-kind golf resort with exclusive décor” that will be recognized around the world. Promoters have until May to submit their proposals and the winner will sign a six-year contract.
In 2009, then-Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov identified golf as a way to attract top-spending tourists to the country. Working with the Israel Lands Authority, the Tourism Ministry has planned 16 new golf courses across the country, to be built over a 15-year period at a cost of NIS 760 million, estimating that the investment could increase the number of tourists by 20%. At the time, golf tourism in Europe, the Middle East and Africa totaled over NIS 9 billion. Land in Eilat, the Dead Sea, Tiberias, Savyon and Rishon Lezion were in the works. But the plans were quietly dropped.
The golf tourism industry continues to grow – 15 billion shekels last year and 16.5 billion shekels forecast for this year. “Golf tourists” travel all over the world to play on different courses. They often stay longer than other tourists and therefore spend more. But they have a choice of some 33,000 existing golf courses around the world.
Golf is always well represented as more than just a game. Some say it’s no coincidence that Silicon Valley, California has 32 golf courses. Golf courses are places where business deals are made, and young entrepreneurs might find that an additional golf course in Israel could prove a place for new international deals.
Ten million tourists by 2030, such is the ambition displayed by the Ministry of Tourism. This year, the budget allocated to tourism infrastructure amounts to 300 million shekels. Seeking to attract new visitors and diversify what Israel has to offer, golf is back on the agenda.