It's Poppy Hills Meets Mount Rushmore Set In The Holy Land

April Fool's Day came early this year?

Here I thought reader Tuco was playing an elaborate hoax until I found the link. And no, it's not from The Onion.

Craig Copetas writing for Bloomberg News:

March 22 (Bloomberg) -- It's a soft 3-iron shot between miracles along the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus of Nazareth walked on water and New York-based Americas Partners LLP General Partner Joseph Bernstein is spending $46 million to build the first 36-hole championship golf course in Israel.

``This is God's proving ground and the most exciting deal I've done in my life,'' Bernstein says of the Galilee Golf Club seaside course atop Mount Arbel. Construction begins after the holy days of Passover and Easter, with celebrated golf architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. sculpting fairways from the ``green pastures'' that inspired the Jewish King David to compose the 23rd Psalm and where the multitudes gathered beneath myrtle trees to hear the Christian savior deliver his Sermon on the Mount.

``It took 10 years to get the Israeli government to approve the deal,'' says Bernstein, whose past real-estate developments include the Crown Building and Americas Tower in Manhattan. ``The project is unique,'' the 58-year-old attorney adds. ``It's like building a golf course on Mount Rushmore, and that doesn't get close to the historical significance of Mount Arbel.''

For Israel, the significance of a championship course with the cachet to lure marquee players such as Tiger Woods, stage professional tour events and host affluent corporate golf outings flows even deeper.

``Mount Arbel is the symbol for the booming Israeli economy,'' Bernstein says. ``The Galilee Golf Club is a leitmotif for a country that has rid itself of isolation to become part of the global economy.''

Leitmotif? Like coterminous and indices, I had to look that one up.

Although Hebrew University Professor Robert Aumann, winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Economics, politely suggests the God of Abraham might prefer a less secular tour guide for the Jewish state, Bernstein is right. International investors in 2006 pumped a record $23 billion into Israel, fueling economic growth by 5.1 percent and pushing unemployment down to a 10- year low in the fourth quarter.

Israel's central bank says foreigners purchased $1.4 billion of property last year and $262 million in the first two months of 2007, and that consumer spending rose 4.8 percent in 2006.

``Our economy certainly works best when everybody is looking out for themselves, but there are two big dangers,'' Aumann says while playing with his grandson in Jerusalem. ``Israel simply being physically wiped out is the first.

Such a minor detail. Why quibble?

The second is the lost character of the Jewish state. Idealism created the state, it's what we strive for, what makes us unique in the Western world. Yet the survival of Israel is paramount.''

Therefore, build a golf course!? 

On July 4, 1187, near the site of the Galilee Golf Club pro shop, Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt, Arabia, Syria and Mesopotamia, crushed the Crusader army dispatched to recapture the Holy Land. Today, Saladin's decisive victory at the Battle of Hattin arouses al-Qaeda, Fatah al-Islam and other jihad groups such as the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades to adulate his name and venerate Mount Arbel's soil.

Bathed in the angst and delirium of fanatics, the ancient battleground is a main terrorist target for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his satraps in the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon. During Israel's 33-day war against Lebanon last summer, Iranian-funded Hezbollah terrorists to the north pocked what the Galilee Golf Club prospectus describes as ``a cozy citadel in the Promised Land'' with 20 Katyusha rockets.

``We'll convert their craters into bunkers,'' says Moshe Shapira, Bernstein's partner in the venture and general manager of Israel by the Sea Resort & Club, a sprawling estate of luxury golf villas and spa residences coordinated by Ritz- Carlton hotel chain co-founder Horst Schulze and scheduled to open in early 2009 alongside the first 18 holes.

Where can I book this now?

The club will accommodate 1,500 full-time and 100 founding members, including former New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams. Memberships range from $37,500 to $150,000, and Shapira says he isn't having trouble finding takers.

``I'm more concerned about what the government intends to do about a peace agreement with the Palestinians and continue Israel's economic growth into the future,'' Shapira says after whistling past the graveyard that doglegs left off a wheat field earmarked to become the 18th fairway.

``Israel must be a country that welcomes everybody's business -- Jews, Muslims, Christians -- and I want all of them to come to Mount Arbel for golf before visiting the holy sites in Jerusalem.''

Remember, 9 days until April Fool's.

``Jews now don't any longer know why they are here in Israel,'' the 76-year-old Aumann frets. ``What people want is a golf course. They pursue this and don't want to join the army and be bothered with all the conflicts. This is not a good thing.''

Says Bernstein: ``Nowadays, all young Israelis want to be Bill Gates. They have a mad sense of needing to achieve. It's not about money and the old stereotypes.''