Cayman’s only 18-hole public golf course, The Links at SafeHaven, has been controversially sold to Ritz-Carlton Hotel developer Michael Ryan who has not given a clear indication if members will be able to use it in the future.
This has led to widespread speculation that it will be exclusive to Ritz-Carlton guests and freeze out SafeHaven members leaving them no golf course to use – apart from the Britannia.
The Britannia was designed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus and although it costs roughly the same to play there, if a compromise is not reached at the Links then hundreds of golfers will not be able to use Britannia’s as it won’t be able to accommodate the demand.
The Links is set against North Sound just off the West Bay bypass and close to Seven Mile Beach. It is one of the best courses in the Caribbean. Initiation fees start at US$500 up to $5,000 for full membership and annual subscriptions are between $1,500 and $2,200.
At a special members’ meeting on Wednesday the golfers were promised a refund of their fees when the deal is finalised on 26 October but it’s not really the money they’re worried about, they want a place to play their favourite sport.
Links golf pro Sean Wilson was not available to make a comment but many members were.
Even though some golfers at the Links on Saturday were cagey about giving their names, the general feeling was one of despair. One member said: ‘If it doesn’t reopen it’ll be quite sad because the major part of what people do on the weekend is play golf. I’ve only been on the island a year and been a member since I came. Golf is my main sport. Now I can’t play golf I’ll only be able to watch it on TV.’
Links regular golfer Dan Beckett said: ‘It’s a pity. Shame it’s been sold. I don’t really know the details of the deal but I’m hoping that we’ll still be able to play here.’
South African member Werner Wenhard said: ‘The course had been on sale for a while but that was what I heard after it had been sold. I’m worried about my fees. It’s expensive for me. I took the membership out when the course was opened again last year. It was over $1,000.
‘But I’m more worried about the course being closed. There won’t be anywhere for us to play anymore. The Britannia is only nine holes and the fees are already high. So there’s no decent golf left for the normal guy. This is the only sport I play.’
Fellow South African Gerharv Michau has been a member for four years. Golf is his No.1 sport too. ‘We paid the initiation feel thinking we were going to be members for as long as we wanted to,’ he said. ‘We’ve only just finished paying it. They’re talking about giving back some of it but I don’t know yet. That’s the membership fee not the initiation fee. Now this is a good opportunity for someone to develop the dump or some place like that. The dump is a big eyesore and places all over the world convert their dumps into golf courses.’
Michau added: ‘If they’re going to redo the course I’m worried that Mr Ryan is going to use it exclusively for the Ritz-Carlton. I think they’re going to develop more resorts around the course with all the additional land he’s bought so who knows what they’re going to do?’
Another golfer said: ‘What are the youth going to do? Some are going to end up not participating in sport. This is a fabulous sport to keep the youths out of the bars and not using drugs.’
Michau added: ‘What about the young Tiger Woods out there? There needs to be an outlet here for him to develop that talent but there won’t be one.’
The Links has a number of women players. Renee Brough is one of them. She said: ‘I’m disappointed that the golf course is sold and if the Ritz only allows guests of the hotel to play then I’ll be extremely disappointed. This is my No.1 sport. Like many people on the island it’s a recreation we do every week and on the weekend. Now we’re very limited where we can play and a lot of people won’t be able to play anymore at all. It’s unfortunate.’