North Sound Golf Club feels it is ready to handle changes to Cayman’s greens.
The only 18-hole golf course in the Cayman Islands figures to face steep competition within the next three years, with the proposed 18-hole Ironwood development coming to fruition and other local venues – such as The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s nine-hole Blue Tip course – looking to improve their offerings. For Jeff Sauvage, North Sound’s general manager, it all equates to more business for Cayman.
“Each course helps golf in Cayman, it will be good for each property in the long run,” Sauvage said. “If there is an 18-hole equivalent at Blue Tip or Ironwood, you can go to travel conventions and sell Cayman as a golf destination. We’re not on the radar at the moment. We need an 18-hole equivalent to North Sound. Once Ironwood comes on, that will be an exciting development. Ironwood will be good for Cayman. Initially, it will draw people from the other courses, but it will draw more visitors and that’s good for everyone.
“I hear Blue Tip is looking to expand its course, and Britannia is trying to renovate its course. Everyone can work together for the benefit of the sport; it can all work together to benefit Cayman. North Sound has good relationships with all of the properties and while these courses are all competitive from a golf standpoint, we can still partner together.”
The progress of the Ironwood resort facility, situated in the Eastern districts, is particularly intriguing. The Arnold Palmer golf course, dubbed the Cayman Golf Club, is expected to cover 20 acres and include comprehensive practice facilities, including a full-length practice range, a teaching area, and chipping and putting greens. Ironwood officials, including developer David Moffitt, have repeatedly said the project is slated for completion by 2017. Aside from golf, the $360-million endeavor will incorporate a town, residential and commercial center.
So far, Ironwood has enjoyed a great deal of hype and appeal. During Arnold Palmer’s recent visit to Cayman, the course sold out its “Ironwood Founders” golf membership program. The memberships – spanning individual, corporate and non-resident categories – were invitation-only and capped in order to increase their exclusivity. Palmer, who is putting his name to a Caribbean golf course for the first time, is expected to operate and manage the club on a long-term basis, similar to his home course, Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida.
Ironwood spokesperson Denise Gower said the memberships speak to the popularity the club will have in the future.
“The success of this release and the speed with which the memberships sold out not only bears testament to the regard in which Arnold Palmer and the courses built by his globally renowned Arnold Palmer Design Team are held, but also to the growing confidence in the Ironwood Development as a whole,” Gower said. “We are delighted that Mr. Palmer is giving his personal support to Ironwood and is intending to continue to visit Cayman, not only throughout the construction period, but through to completion and beyond.”
Blue Tip, designed by legend Greg Norman, also figures to make an impact on local golf. The Cayman Islands Golf Association, according to president Paul Woodhouse, will be hosting public trials and qualifiers for national teams headed to international competitions next year. In the future, Blue Tip is slated to become an 18-hole course.
Sauvage says all of Cayman’s golf venues will face significant challenges in the future.
“There is a keen interest in [all] sports in Cayman. Everyone seems to do multiple sports. Cayman is a beautiful place and a great venue. Tourism numbers are up and there are lots of opportunities out there. Golf is an untapped platform in Cayman. But there is a lack of familiarity with golf in Cayman, and there is a high cost of doing business. Water is expensive and soil conditions make it a challenge to build high turf grass.”
Whether or not North Sound remains relevant in the years to come might boil down to its history. The facility has a track record of staging celebrities like Nick Price and did so again this month. North Sound hosted the 2014 Cayman Islands Golf Invitational, organized by resident former pro Marcello Santi and the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism. The two-day event attracted former world No.1 David Duval and notables such as Peter Hanson, Rich Beem and Kim Welch.
The invitational featured 44 players in 22 pairs. Visiting pro 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 showcasing English trick shot specialist David Edwards was also held.
Sauvage, a Professional Golfers Association of America-certified instructor, says competitions like the invitational will help the sport grow on these shores.
“I feel it’s in its infancy stages. You have a nice platform to build upon, a developing sport. Cayman is not a golf destination per se, you have to recruit people to help develop that aspect. At North Sound, we’ve doubled our registration numbers so we have good local numbers to build on. As we get more exposure and turnout with that, we’ll get tremendous reach. The recent tournament went around the world and everyone knows that North Sound can deliver quality golf.
“Can Cayman be a golf destination? Absolutely. We’re just in the infancy stages, and the economy can tap into golf long-term. The net worth of golfers is generally high, and the high-end properties are something they’re looking for. There can also be more of a Caymanian initiative where you introduce golf to the kids and the local schools so that the game reaches all of Cayman – not just expats. They [school kids] are our future members 20 to 30 years down the road.”