It is no secret the Cayman Islands are an ideal setting for golf and sports in general. The latest group to acknowledge that were visiting professional golfers.
For the second straight year the Blue Tip golf course at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman staged the Friends Pro-Am Invitational. Dubbed the Audemars Piguet Invitational, the golf tournament attracted stars from the European Tour and the Professional Golfers’ Association Tour.
Among them was Richard S. Johnson, 35. The Stockholm native states he enjoyed being here.
“This is my second time here as I was in Cayman for last year’s event,” Johnson said. “I’m taking everything a little at a time. It’s a fantastic place that’s great for raising a family.
“(Competition-wise) I relish playing a challenging course. Blue Tip was fantastic with the wind. As a result this event was a great showcase. From what I’ve seen hope for Cayman golf is with the juniors. The future is with the kids, not with the old guys. For example Emily Ribbins is a great girl with a lot of talent. She can golf.”
Johnson was one of 11 visiting pros that teamed up with about 33 local amateurs. Organizing the tournament was resident Italian golf pro Marcello Santi. Junior prodigy Emily Ribbins, 15, was among the Cayman players, most of whom were businessmen like Raul Nicholson-Coe and Norm Klein.
Like his peers, Johnson has a history of success. The Swede’s claims to fame include winning the 2010 and 2002 European title and the 2010 Nordea Scandinavian Masters event. He states 2011 was not great for him.
“Trust me this year wasn’t successful. This was my worst season as I hurt my shoulder in January and played injured. 2010 was the year as I won the Scandinavian event. I’ll be better off in 2012.”
While some of the pros like Johnson were on their second trip, most had never been to Cayman before. Some like Kendall Ann Wright, 20, did not even know where Cayman was located.
“To be honest, I didn’t know about Cayman before,” Wright said. “I had to Google it and do some research. This is my first time here and the people are great. Everything is beautiful and the area and hospitality are definitely good. I will definitely tell people about this place and come back here.
“The closest thing to this is Puerto Rico. Though it’s not the same out there as it’s more sketchy.”
Wright is one of the top young talents in the US. The Orlando, Florida native plays on the Ladies Professional Golfers’ Association Future’s Tour. Wright dominated the junior circuit in the Southeast from 2007-2009. The Sugar Hills, Georgia resident states her opinion of Cayman golf is that it needs more support to grow.
“People (in Cayman) need to play more golf. I know it’s not as popular as other sports. They need to get out there as it’s a good atmosphere. With the temperature you can play whenever. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Indeed most of the pros liked playing at Blue Tip, a course designed by Greg Norman. Among those singing its praises was Alexander Noren, 29, of Sweden. The 2011 French Open winner states Blue Tip is one of the best.
“This is my first time and I gladly took the opportunity to come,” Noren said. “It was a great and it was a super course. Blue Tip was so much tougher than I could imagine, especially with the wind. It’s the best nine-hole course ever.”
For the record the invitational is being pushed heavily as part of Cayman’s sports 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.
The invitational included a junior golf clinic with David Leadbetter Golf Academy instructor Sean Hogan and a celebrity football match with Italian greats Gianfranco Zola, Daniele Massaro and Pierluigi Casiraghi and a youth football camp with Academy Sports Club.