The first hole at the Caesarea golf course is a dogleg right with bunkers on either side that, with the wind behind you, plays at 5,770 miles, longer than your standard opening hole.
Caesarea 17th tee to green and clubhouse
Well, for Israeli club members it doesn’t play quite that long but for a small group of Canadian and American golfers, getting to the tee box at the first hole in Caesarea is something more than a short drive to the local country club.
About a dozen North Americans will venture on to the new Pete Dye-remodelled course in early October as part of the first ever Friends of Tel Aviv University Golf Mission to Israel. They will play two rounds of golf at the Caesarea Golf Course, which was recently named as one of Rolex World’s Top 1,000 Golf Courses.
The rest of the mission will mostly consist of traditional activities, but not entirely, said Vanessa Valkin, executive-director of Canadian Friends of Tel Aviv University (CFTAU), Toronto chapter. In addition to golf, participants will enjoy cycling in Jerusalem, a visit to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, viewing of Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv, meeting with Israeli venture capitalists, visiting TAU and attending a sports event. “The only lazy thing they’ll do is an afternoon at a wine farm, tasting and dinner,” Valkin said.
The impetus for the unusual mission came from CFTAU board members Jeff Wagman and Phil Hart, who are golfing afficionados, she said. While golf sets the mission apart from other organized visits to Israel, those who don’t wish to test their skill on the course can instead relax with a spa treatment at the golf club or visit the nearby Ba’hai Gardens in Haifa and the ancient Galilean city of Tzipori, she said.
Valkin acknowledges that interest in the mission has been modest so far. “It may be that people ask, ‘do I need to go to Israel to play golf?’” she suggested. But golfing is only one of the activities and the course is unique in that it is near the ancient Herodian city, which features numerous excavations and ruins.
Valkin said the golf mission is in keeping with a new trend of including unusual experiences in Israel.
Last spring, many visited the Dead Sea for an outdoor opera concert at Masada, she noted.
“People want to support Israel, visit in Israel, but they have familiarity with it. They want to do different things. That’s why we offered something different and fun.”
That’s something Jerry Adler is happy to confirm. “The general sense is that Canadian Jews and non-Jews are going to Israel for umpteen different reasons” and not simply to show support and boost morale in time of conflict,” said Adler, manager of marketing and public relations for the Israel Government Tourist Office.
Recent missions have included a cycling trip and visits with a cultural aspect – concerts, opera, dance recitals and museums – are proving popular.
This year the Jewish National Fund is focusing on the “greening of Israel,” he said.
“[Israel’s] Ministry of Tourism is celebrating 100 years of green,” highlighting how Israel reclaimed desert and conducted ecologically sound development, including water purification and relying on locally grown produce. “We’re trying to show the world that Israel is one of the first regarding being green and having a small carbon footprint,” he added.
For Hart, the mission is a way of bringing more attention to TAU, which boasts an enrolment of 30,000 students. “We’re trying to create a little more awareness in the GTA by coming up with interesting programs that no one’s done before,” he said. “My goal is to make sure we do missions every year or every other year and put a good slant on it and make it interesting. We’ll do things people don’t know about.”
Tel Aviv University was established in 1956. Its faculty is known for research into many fields, including particle physics, astronomy, cell biology, biotechnology, genetics, agriculture, fibre optics, as well as in the humanities, social sciences, medicine and law. CFTAU supports the university through fund raising and by raising its profile locally.