Eilat takes a swing with planned desert golf course as Israel tourism expands

Tourism Ministry accepting bids for luxury development to bring new visitors to southernmost city

Aerial view of a golf course in Caesarea. June 16, 2012 (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Aerial view of a golf course in Caesarea. June 16, 2012 (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The number of golf courses in Israel will double in the coming years with a new set of greens and bunkers planned for the desert around southern resort town of Eilat.

Israel’s only 18-hole golf course is in Caesarea. It was built in 1961 by the Rothschild family, which brought in a leading American golfing designer, Pete Dye, for the world-class course. He has since been back to give the course a refresh. A second nine-hole course was also built alongside the main course in Caesarea. But a further nine-hole course in Ga’ash, near Netanya in central Israel, has now closed down.

In early September, the Tourism Ministry and the Israel Lands Authority told The Times of Israel that they were putting out a public tender for the new golf course and hotel in northern Eilat. According to Hezi Magen, chairman of the Golf Association, local golfers were involved in the discussions.

The total area for the development is around 1,229 dunams (1,229,000 square meters, 300 acres) and the successful bidder will be required to construct some housing and commercial space alongside the course. The intention is to add 560 new hotel rooms, a shopping complex, the golf course covering around 600,000 square meters (6,458,346 square feet), and space for an adjacent golf academy.

California, Nevada and Arizona already demonstrate the potential for the desert landscape golf course. With this project, the Negev will enter the game.

Israel Lands Authority director Yaakov Quint sees growing demand for both hotels and recreational activities in Israel and believes that not only will this development strengthen Eilat as a resort for both international and domestic tourists, but will also create a globally recognized “unique golf resort with high scenic value.” Developers have until May to submit proposals and the winner will sign a development contract of six years.

Then-tourism minister Stas Misezhnikov identified golf as a way of attracting higher-spending tourists to the country back in 2009. Working with Israel’s Land Authority, the Tourism Ministry planned out 16 new golf courses across Israel, to be built over a 15-year period at a cost of NIS 760 million ($200 million), believing that the investment could boost tourist numbers by 20%. Total golf tourism at the time across Europe, the Middle East and Africa was estimated at $2.7 billion (over NIS 9 billion). Courses for Eilat, the Dead Sea, Tiberias, Savyon and Rishon Lezion were in the pipeline. And then the plans were quietly shelved.

The golf tourism industry has continued to grow — $4.44 billion last year with $4.8 billion projected for this year (NIS 15 billion to NIS 16.5 billion in 2022). So-called golf tourists travel the world to play different courses. They often stay in locations longer than other tourists, thus spending more. But they have an estimated 33,000 existing golf courses around the world to choose from.

Golf has always been about far more than the game itself. Some say it is no coincidence that there are 32 golf courses in California’s Silicon Valley. Golf courses are places where business deals get done, and Israel’s startup entrepreneurs could find that an extra Israeli golf course may turn out to be a place to seal international deals.

Ten million tourists by 2030 is the stated ambition of the Tourism Ministry. This year’s budget for tourist infrastructure is $85 million (NIS 300 million), and in looking at how to attract new visitors, and to diversify what Israel can offer them, golf is back on the national agenda.

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