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Harnessing the power of golf for Israeli tourism

  • BarryShaked
The words “Israel” and “golf” may not be synonymous, but one South African dreams of turning the start-up nation into a global golfing powerhouse.
by BENJI SHULMAN | May 17, 2018

On the surface this may seem counter-intuitive for a small country with few resources. However, Barry Shaked has forged ahead regardless.

Having made aliya in the 1960s, Shaked went on to build a highly successful retail information technology business outside Tel Aviv. Now he believes that not only are more golf courses possible in Israel, but that they could play a role in the future of Israeli tourism.

“For every excited American wife out there who wants to come to Israel, there is an American businessman who is not interested because there is no golf,” Shaked says.

As for the scarcity of resources, he explains that many Moshavim and towns have unused or unproductive land that could be utilised for golf courses. This would actually reduce water in some cases and be a great support for tourism in the country, he says.

Shaked says he would settle for just three or four courses to begin with, but his ultimate dream is to have 15 world-class golf courses all over Israel. He wants to turn the country into an international golfing beacon. These, he believes, would be especially attractive during the cold European winters, when continental courses are unplayable.

Barry has enjoyed the game since his youth and believes it has also contributed to his business acumen. Contrary to the popular myth, though, he says he has never done a deal on the golf course.

Rather, he explains, being able to observe other people and be observed playing golf gives great insight into how people might behave later on.

“You can tell a lot about a person’s character on a golf course,” says Shaked. “Are they honest? Do they take risks? Do they follow the rules? Have they taken the time to learn the culture of the game?”

And he would know: one of the most crucial deals he ever had to make involved a golf wager. In 1994, he wanted to sell his Point of Sale retail solution to a leading UK supermarket chain. They were ready to sign the deal, but there was a negotiation difference of more than $100 000 (R1.2 million). Instead of negotiating, the retailer’s team said it wanted to take the “difference” to the golf course.

“We were in a difficult situation. We didn’t know if we should win or lose. I don’t like losing, but if we won, maybe they would lose face and not give us the deal? In the end, we won and got the deal,” says Shaked.

He has since taken his passion for the life lessons involved in golf to a new generation, teaching a course, Business and Golf, at the Interdisciplinary Centre Herzliya, one of Israel's leading academic and research institutes.

In addition to character development, his course also covers topics such as how to find a business partner and the best way to pitch new ideas to companies. Naturally, all students also go for a number of golf lessons to help them understand the game and have a practical application of the classroom experience. “Bring your golf clubs, not your CV,” he tells me.

Not surprisingly, Shaked has been extensively involved in supporting Israel’s only golf course, located in Caesarea. The course has an amazing history that involves various high-profile people. It was started in the 1960s by James Armand de Rothschild as a way of developing the tourism potential of the city. He got the idea from the Roman ruins in the area which reminded him of the golf courses of Scotland.

Shaked is not the only South African backer of Israeli golf. An initial supporter of the Caesarea Golf Club was Abba Eban, the legendary Israeli diplomat, who was originally from Cape Town. There is a picture of him in the entrance to the club house on the first tee-off, opening the course. Shaked tells me he thinks that Eban had a pretty good swing, judging by the picture.

Over the years, the course has hosted a number of famous personalities including Sean Connery, Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra and Danny Kaye. The former president of Israel, Chaim Herzog, and his wife were also active members.

In 2009, the course was redesigned by Pete Dye, a world-famous course designer who also specialises in environmentally friendly golf spaces. To achieve this outcome, the course includes grass that grows in salty water and special irrigation to help with drought conditions in the country. No doubt water-stressed countries with a golf culture like our own are starting to take note.

Caesarea Golf Club hosts regular tournaments, including 200 people for last year’s Maccabiah games. It is also ranked in the Global Rolex Top 100 Golf Course Index, an independent golfing guide produced by experts in the game.

Shaked believes the time is right for Israel to push forward with a golf agenda. The sport has been recognised by the Olympics and has developed a higher profile in Israel thanks to golfer Laetitia Beck, who plays in the Ladies PGA and was recently chosen as one of Israel’s sportswomen of the decade by the ministry of culture and sport.

It’s a big dream, but if anyone can score a hole-in-one for Israeli tourism, it is the Israeli entrepreneur from South Africa.

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