North Sound delay buys time

Last week it was announced that the
North Sound Golf Club in Grand Cayman would remain open for the time being. The
news has produced mixed feelings among Cayman’s golf community.

To most participants in the sport
the move is mercurial as golf’s future is unclear. Among the vocal golfers is
Joel Dodson. The KPMG accountant has been arguably Cayman’s best male player
over the last 12 months. In his eyes it’s good the course is open now though
doubts remain.

“It’s great we have another year to
play golf on the island,” Dodson said. “For the future we’ll have to see. North
Sound is just an important place, for me personally and the people who play
golf there regularly.

“It’s an important part of our
lives. When that gets taken away from us it will be a significant inconvenience.
We will be asking ourselves what we will do now. Golf is what we do in our
spare time. Some people prefer to go to the beach or play other sports while we
like to play golf every weekend.”

Last week Dragon Bay Developer Mike
Ryan announced that the development of a new golf course in the area, to
replace the North Sound Golf Club, was being delayed. Cayman’s only 18-hole
championship golf course was scheduled to close on 16 November to accommodate
the conversion of the nine-hole Blue Tip at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman
facility into an 18-hole venue.

Ryan stated that the transition
would be smooth for local golfers.

“We’ve decided to keep the North
Sound Club open, but we may, at some point in the year, move into transition
mode,” Ryan said. “It’s great for them (the North Sound Club members). They get
a chance to golf on the Blue Tip.”

One of the tricky parts of the
transition is in the area of membership and membership fees. The North Sound
Club, which is owned by a development company that Ryan is part of, is open to
the public and membership status is at a manageable fee. The paperwork around
the proposed Blue Tip facility is clear in regards to public access to the
course. The understanding at this point is that the venue would be available to
only North Sound Club members along with the guests of the Ritz-Carlton or residents/owners
of Residences of the Ritz-Carlton and Dragon Bay. The cost of membership has
not been defined.

That situation is disturbing to
resident Judy Van Liere. The President of the Cayman Islands Golf Association
the last two years, Van Liere states a members-only stance would be negative
for the sport of golf in Cayman.

“This is the third time they’re
extending the North Sound Club being open,” Van Liere said. “When Ryan’s group developed
the property they gave us a year. Then they gave us another year. They’ve had
it in mind for at least three years to use nine holes at North Sound for the
Blue Tip and the other nine holes developed into some other facility.

“I think it’s a big problem and
it’ll be surprising if the Blue Tip is open to the public. I think we’re going
to lose our only public course open to members of the Cayman community. It
poses a problem with all of our events and competitions. At least for now we
know where our team will train for our four major events next year; namely the
Island Games, the Caribbean Amateur Golf Championship, the Caribbean Amateur
Junior Golf Championship and the Cayman Amateur Golf Championship. So I’m relieved
in that sense.”

A stalwart in those matches is
Dodson. The Vancouver native has won three Cayman Amateur men’s titles in the
last four years and held his own in the other international events. He states
the absence of a public golf course would regress the sport back to the days
immediately after Hurricane Ivan six years ago.

“After Ivan there was no
competitive golf here in Cayman for two years. It was difficult. People who
were avid golfers had to find other things to do. A lot of us played at Britannia
because that was the only half-decent place for golfers at the time. Golf is a
lot like any other sport where the more you play the better you get at it. It
also has a very social element to it.

“Following Ivan practicing was
hard. You have to remember to get through an 18-hole course you need at least
four hours. You can’t take an hour like you would with football. The problem
was we didn’t have an 18-hole course.”

Going forward the North Sound Golf
Club is expected to communicate the specifics regarding membership renewal to
members in the near future. The club’s associate professional Mike Touchette
has a positive take on the short-term future of golf, stating the sport can
still develop between now and the opening of the other golf course.

“I think golf in Cayman is strong
at the moment,” Touchette said. “With the news of the North Sound Club
remaining open another season, it will allow golfers of all levels to continue
working on their games and to compete in local golf association events. I
couldn’t be more happy for the North Sound Club members, residents of the
island and of course all of the visitors.”

Ultimately Van Liere (who awarded a
trophy to Ian Brellisford, the men’s title winner at the recent President’s
Trophy golf tournament) is adamant that the closing of the club, regardless of
the date, will be traumatic for golf as it has been the perfect venue for the
sport’s growth.

“The North Sound Golf Club plays an
integral part because it is a public course. It’s the best place to train our
golfers for events here and in the Caribbean. No one is sure how government
concessions to the Blue Tip will play out, how much membership will cost and
ultimately if it will be fully private.”

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