The Cayman Islands continue to be a favorite spot for international golf stars.
Most visiting players offered positive feedback while competing in the 2014 Cayman Islands Golf Invitational. The two-day event took place over the weekend at the 18-hole North Sound Golf Club and was spearheaded by resident former pro Marcello Santi and the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism.
Former world No.1 David Duval headlined the field of competitors, which included Peter Hanson, Rich Beem and Kim Welch. Richard S. Johnson, 38, is one of the players who has been to Cayman on past occasions. The Swede, who lives in Jupiter, Florida, says local greens have retained their charm over the years.
“This is the fifth year; we had a great time,” Johnson said. “We’ve been here so many years, we know most of the guys that are playing here. It truly is a nice week for all of us to come. We’re all pretty much on vacation; this is a family week. We all hang on the beach and play golf for a couple hours with these guys. It’s very relaxed. We care a little bit, but it’s not very serious.”
The invitational featured 44 players in 22 pairs. Among the locals to compete were Stu Sybersma (Duval’s playing partner), Joey Hew, Chris Kirkconnell and a handful of top amateurs, including Michael Wight, Colin Mackay and Tracy Moore. Thomas Levet was this year’s winner, with the top squad being the Camana Bay team of Nigel Bates, Cameron Graham and Isabel Mendes (formerly Lawson).
A junior clinic featured trick shot specialist David Edwards. The Doncaster, England, native has traveled to more than 50 countries, performed at major events including the British Open and the Ryder Cup, and impressed the likes of Rory McIlroy. Edwards, 59, says he wants to work with Cayman’s youth in the future.
“This is my first time, and the golf course here is fantastic,” Edwards said. “I had the pleasure of touring the course and commentating on the players on the first day, bringing that little bit of fun. I’ve traveled around the world doing the shows and this really ranks up there among the top. I think this is very special. We’ve been well looked after – Marcello has looked after us fantastic and the tourism board as well. We’ve been to a few of the fabulous restaurants, and the thing that has amazed me is there is so much to do – whether it is stingrays or going down to the different bays.
“The only thing I haven’t done is I haven’t done any big game fishing, and if I come back again, that’ll certainly be top of the agenda. I’m very impressed. It’s a great tournament and a lot of friendly people help make the event as well. I’d love to come back. I travel, I just came back from Dubai – I’ve been working with the European Tour at the World Tour Championships in Dubai – so I travel all over. To come over this direction, if there’s an opportunity, would be great.
“What I do is bring a lot of fun, and the other thing is trying to grow the game of golf. I think one of the things you have here in Cayman is you have a few [good] golf courses. As you develop more courses, this place is going to get busier and busier. There’s more and more people playing golf for leisure and developing an opportunity for youngsters and retired people to play when they come down is something. If I had the opportunity to work here, that would be straight at the top of my hit-list.”
Santi has been putting on the invitational for years, with the support of local government and businesses. The event was previously called the Friends Pro-Am Invitational and the Audemars Piguet Invitational. It initially used the Blue Tip golf course at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman as a venue, and it has attracted legends such as Steve Flesch, Skip Kendall and Greg Owen.
Santi, 45, believes his event can help golf in Cayman elevate its status. “I think I’ve got a vision in five to 10 years that the Cayman Islands might become a golf destination,” he said.