Over the weekend the Cayman Islands’ profile and local golf scene got a boost via the presence of professional golfers. With positive feedback coming from the visitors indications are there is a new entry to the island’s sports tourism product.
The Blue Tip Golf Course at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman hosted a two-day tournament last weekend. Dubbed the inaugural “Friends Invitational Pro-Am,” eight international players hit the links alongside local players. They were 2008 Mercedes-Benz Championship winner Daniel Chopras, FedEx Cup contender Brian Davis, Danish Ryder cup hero Soren Hansen, 2010 Czech Open champion Peter Hanson, 2010 Nordea Scandinavian Masters winner Richard Johnson, American Junior Golf Association champion Jeehae Lee, five-time European Tour champion Thomas Levet and 2009 PGA Tour money list player Greg Owen.
Among the notable local golfers competing were junior talent Emily Ribbins and local businessmen Raul Nicholson-Coe and Danny Scott. As it turns out the pros would be right at home in Blue Tip’s foreign confines. Johnson would be victorious shooting a 68 (which is par on the course) and a 65. Davis placed second with scores of 71 and a course-record 63. Owen would finish third with scores of 69 and 67.
For their efforts the top finishers would claim some nice prizes including jewellery from Magnum Jewellers and a Audemars Piguet watch. Making the prizes possible were a list of sponsors in NCB Homes, Deloitte, Red Sail Sports, Magnum Jewellers, Queensgate, Dolphin Discovery, Crighton Properties, Diamonds International, Audemars Piguet and Ogier.
Marcello Santi was tournament organizer along with the Ministerial Council for Tourism Development, the Department of Tourism and Cayman Airways. He states the competition went well.
“The tournament was very successful, everyone wants to come back here,” Santi said. “They didn’t know nothing about Cayman, it was their first time here and they enjoyed it. They relied on me and trusted me for insight into this beautiful place. They have influence on a lot of other people so it’s great that they want to come back.”
Santi, a golf professional himself, also took part in the tournament. Clearly his skills are not far off the upper echelons of the sport as he placed fourth with scores of 67 and 70. Santi states he was content with his showing in spite of a tough course.
“I was actually leading on the first day and finished just two shots under par on the second. In fact everyone was saying to me heading into Saturday ‘hey you’re hosting this tournament and you realize that you’re winning right?’ So I had to correct that. I was very happy with the way I played. The course was totally different each day as the wind came from different directions. The breezes came from the sound on one day and then switched to the opposite side on day two.
“Everything in general was affected from the driving to the putting and short game. As an example I started out using a five-iron on the first day because I was hitting into the wind. On day two I only used a wedge because the wind was behind me.”
The tournament is being pushed heavily as part of Cayman’s tourism product by local government. Among the supporters are the Premier McKeeva Bush, the Minister of Youth and Sports Mark Scotland, Acting Director of Tourism Shomari Scott and Ministerial Council chairman Cline Glidden Jr. One of the initiatives connected to the tournament that they are pleased with was the David Leadbetter Golf Academy providing an interactive learning session for junior golfers ages 6-12 at the North Sound Club.
Santi states that highly-touted academy instructor Sean Hogan made that event memorable.
“Last Thursday Sean, who is one of the best teachers in the sport, taught the kids. He has coached all of the big guys on the PGA Tour like Ernie Els. His clinic was a couple of hours and was good for the sport here. He did a good job introducing the kids to golf. From there he went to the Ritz and gave lessons with all of the visiting players.”