Pros can beckon their friends

Marcello Santi feels the recent visit of golf pros will stimulate the presence of more star power in the Cayman Islands. 

The former European Tour star served as organizer for the Audemars Piguet Invitational. Initially dubbed the Friends Pro-Am Invitational, the competition ran for the second straight year on the Blue Tip golf course at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.  

Santi, 42, states the visiting European Tour and Professional Golfers’ Association Tour players will benefit sports tourism. 

“They really enjoyed the Island, atmosphere and people,” Santi said. “They look forward to coming back in 2012. The tournament came at the end of the season for them. Most came from an event in Dubai. 

“(Premier) McKeeva (Bush) is a great guy, always helping with tourism in Cayman. I’m happy he supported it and the government did a great job as sponsors. Whenever things like this happen they are willing to support it and that in turn is great for the Island.” 

The tournament is being pushed heavily as part of Cayman’s tourism product by local government. In addition to the Premier, supporters include the Minister of Youth and Sports Mark Scotland, Acting Director of Tourism Shomari Scott and Ministerial Council chairman Cline Glidden Jr. 

Sponsoring the competition was Cayman Airways, the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, Queensgate, Red Sail Sports, Deloitte, Crighton Properties, Maples and main sponsor Audemars Piguet. 

In total, some 12 pros came down for the event. Among them were Peter Hanson, Kendall Ann Wright, Brian Davis, Thomas Levet, Richard Johnson, Alex Noren, Paige Mackenzie, Greg Owen and Cassandra Marie Blaney. Hanson, who finished seventh at the 2011 US Open, would be the overall winner and receive a new Audemars Piguet watch. Santi states the Swede played great at Blue Tip. 

“Our winner this year was Peter and he is an amazing guy. He is number 40 in the world right now and in his last seven tournaments he has placed in the top 10 six times. Next year he will play in PGA events like the British Open and Ryder Cup. It’s amazing and he is one of the great players in Europe today.”  

Aside from playing at the Blue Tip, the invitational incorporated other activities. There was a junior golf clinic with David Leadbetter Golf Academy instructor Sean Hogan at North Sound Golf Club. Camana Bay hosted a celebrity football match with Italian greats Gianfranco Zola, Daniele Massaro and Pierluigi Casiraghi and Outpost Field in George Town staged a youth football camp with Academy Sports Club.  

Santi states those aspects will continue to be featured. 

“It was amazing, I would like to do more and more every year. It’s great for the country. The golf clinic was amazing and everyone really appreciated it.  

“Absolutely Zola and Massaro can influence thousands of people. Zola has already told friends to come to Cayman for holidays. Once Zola says Cayman is the island to be, everyone trusts him. He’s very reliable and people will come down. 

“The same goes for the golf course, they can help the Cayman scene and influence a lot of people (to come here to play). A lot of sports guys play golf because of insurance issues. That’s why, for instance, a lot of athletes don’t do skiing because if they break a leg they’re in trouble.” 

Last year Santi was part of the tournament field and placed fourth. The 6ft 3in pro sat out this time around, preferring to have a director’s role. He states he wanted to get more local involvement. 

“They (the pros) can always play with me. I wanted a different experience than just playing with me. I wanted everyone here to get a chance to play with a legend. 

“I came here with my wife and kids in the 1990s and I have Cayman status now [for the record Santi has been a Cayman resident since 1994 after first visiting in 1992]. I feel really at home here, more so than in (my native) Italy. Caymanians are great people and I’m happy to be part of them.” 

dmassaro bend

Daniele Massaro will encourage others to come here.

gzola swing

Gianfranco Zola showed good form alongside pros like Greg Owen.

paigem putt

Paige Mackenzie was among the competing pros.