Golf fans get their turn to enjoy international competition this week and Cayman have never had a better chance to win.
The HSBC 52nd Caribbean Amateur Golf Championships started yesterday at the North Sound Club.
The previous night there was a grand opening ceremony where all 10 countries competing had their national flags raised followed by a cocktail party and buffet dinner.
Welcoming dignitaries included Minister of Sport Alden McLaughlin, governor Stuart Jack, tournament co-ordinator Cesar Rivera, tournament director Bob Slatter, tournament chairman Ambrose Gouthro, HSBC CEO Gonzalo Jalles, Ritz-Carlton developer Michael Ryan and Robert Woods, Cayman player and president of the Cayman Islands Golf Association.
The Cayman Islands usually finish in the bottom three of these championships with champions Dominican RPuerto Rico and Trinidad & Tobago usually dominating. Barbados often finish high up too.
Woods said: ‘With home advantage and having our best team in years I feel we have a good chance of finishing in the top five at least. Winning would be fantastic but the big three play in tournaments like this all the time whereas we don’t.
‘I’ve been playing well above my usual game in practice and hope to reproduce that in the tournament.’
The men’s team of Woods, Ali Hall-Jones, Michael Wight, Johnny Widmer and Joel Dodson are playing for the Hoerman Cup. Hall-Jones is the Cayman champion. He is only 18 and based a lot in Eastbourne, a seaside town in southern England, so is used to windy conditions which often occur at North Sound.
Widmer, also 18, has progressed steadily and is one of the region’s best teenagers as well.
Cayman’s women team of Nitty Howe, Siobhan Ribbins and Samantha Widmer are in the George Teale Memorial Trophy.
Other Cayman teams are the mid-amateur of Colin MacKay and Trent Riggins playing for the Ramon Baez Trophy, seniors Robert Chilman and Stephen Heal in the Francis & Steele-Perkins Cup and super seniors Andy Newton and Don Stewart battling for the Higgs & Higgs Trophy.
Cayman coach is Kevin Mumford and their manager is Sean Wilson who is the director of golf at North Sound.
Wilson said: ‘This is Cayman’s best chance. They have home field advantage but that can work against you if you play a bad shot unexpectedly and allow it to play on your mind.
‘The team is well prepared. Ali has been in the UK for most of the summer. He won the club championships here in May and has the right mental attitude and obviously enjoys practising.’
Hall-Jones is in a rich vein of form. He also won his club championships in Eastbourne on a three-hole play off. Last year he finished his ‘A’ levels and has spent the time since focusing on improving his golf.
Hall-Jones is one of the first wave of graduates from the UK’s first golf academy in East Grinstead. Hall-Jones has the luxury of being able to bounce between here for a couple of months with his father, Stephen and staying with his mother and step-dad and sister in England.
He’s looking to go to a US college next. These championships are ideal to gauge his progress.
He said: ‘The championships being held here is a huge advantage for us, especially on the greens because you need to know the slopes and breaks. The thickness of the rough is unusual here too.
‘As a whole team we’ve all got pressure but we’re all strong players.’
Becoming a tour pro is Hall-Jones’s ultimate ambition. ‘But even a director of golf at the North Sound club would be great,’ he said. ‘Which ever one I fall into will work for me.’