Colonel Henshel then volunteered that he had never seen Ben-Gurion looking so well. He did seem to radiate good health. He was taller than I had imagined and younger-looking than his photographs. Teddy Kollek brought over some picture books of Israel for which the Prime Minister had written the text, and he autographed them. It occurred to me to pursue the subject of bringing hurling over from Ireland, but I thought better of that.
Instead we said goodby and went on to the YMCA in Jerusalem, a branch founded in 1878 by the British. We inspected one of the three indoor basketball courts in Israel and visited the indoor swimming pool and then took the elevator up into the tower to look over into the old city of Jerusalem, which is Jordan territory. I was told that, as an American, I might conceivably get permission to enter old Jerusalem, but if I did, the Jordan authorities wouldn't let me come back. I settled for the view from the YMCA tower and for coffee and sandwiches in the lounge of the King David Hotel.
Israel's first golf course is at Caesarea on the Mediterranean between Tel Aviv and Haifa. There are gently rolling hills, oak and centuries-old carob trees dotting the fairways and a clubhouse site high on a hill overlooking the blue sea. The greens have been constructed and the fairways cleared, but an attempt to plant both with English grasses turned out to be a costly failure. Now, however, the club people are in consultation with American experts skilled in growing grasses in the sands of California and Florida, which have climates comparable to Israel.
The golf course adjoins the ruins of the old Roman town of Caesarea, where archaeological excavations have uncovered tile floors of what was once a courthouse as well as evidences of the hippodrome where horse races and chariot races were held more than 2,000 years ago. Giant statues have been uncovered and great Roman columns lie along the roadside.
Herschell Benjamin, a former major in the British army who now raises cattle on his farm near Caesarea, is secretary of the new golf club. He told me in Tel Aviv that, hacking around the unfinished course, he had once taken a divot that laid bare a Roman coin. This seemed incredible, sitting in the lounge of Hotel Dan, and so Herschell Benjamin said, "Come to Caesarea and walk around the course with me, and I'll guarantee that you'll pick up a piece of Roman pottery at the very least."
A little later, walking up the hill to the clubhouse site, Herschell Benjamin stopped and pointed to the ground at my feet. There it was: a fragment of a Roman pitcher handle. I put it in my pocket, and as we walked along Benjamin told me how the golf course idea was born. All the land as far as I could see, he said, had been purchased by the late Baron James de Rothschild of England. He envisioned a hotel and villas, a youth hostel and, being an enthusiastic golfer himself, the course that now was being created. When he died, his widow and the others of his family determined to see to it that his wishes were carried out.
There are a variety of opinions about Israel's first country club and golf course. Some people say it is a good thing, a good tourist attraction. Others say that it is downright bad taste in a country with so much more serious work to do, a country in which everyone is so heavily taxed that a box of Kleenex is a luxury item.
"In America," said one man, "keeping up with the Joneses is the aim of most people. Here it is exactly the opposite. In America everyone wants a new car every second year. Here an old car is a badge of honor. Ostentation is something to be avoided at all costs. Why, I believe that if a Tel Aviv businessman joined the new golf club, he would hide his golf bag from his friends." Herschell Benjamin scoffed at such talk. " Israel is growing up," he said, "and it's time we had our own golf course. Some of the critics, I think, are guilty of reverse snobbery."
Anyway, the golf course is there, beautifully there, and when American skills solve the grass problem, there doubtless will be a line waiting at the first tee.
Another day we went to Haifa, which is called the San Francisco of Israel. It is 60 miles north of Tel Aviv and, rising on the side of Mount Carmel, it commands a magnificent view of the harbor. It is the home of Technion, the engineering school that is Israel's equivalent of MIT. As we toured the campus of Technion, inspecting its fine dormitories, library, classrooms, all in the modern design that is found all over the country, two glaring deficiencies stood out. There is no gymnasium (Hebrew University at Jerusalem also lacks one), and the only playing field is no more than a sandlot. We stopped a while at the sandlot to watch a pickup soccer game, and the players exhibited the careless skill of youngsters who had grown up with the game.