Seven of the island’s young golfers, ranging in age from 7 to 12, took part in international golf tournaments in the United States at the end of December.
Six players attended the Doral-Publix Junior Golf Classic at Trump International Doral in Florida, which featured 560 golfers from around the world.
The tournament was organized as part of the First Tee program, which focuses not only on teaching children the game of golf, but also the life skills and values that go with it.
The First Tee has established nine core values that represent some of the many inherently positive values connected with the game of golf – honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment, according to organizers.
The entry form required the players to provide evidence not only of their golfing ability, but also their academic performance before they could be considered for a place in the field.
The competitors had one practice round to try to get the measure of the courses and then two days of competition, played in flights according to age.
Cayman was represented by Justin and Andrew Hastings, Holly and Sam McLean, Aaron Jarvis and Danny Lyne.
There were good performances all round, but top honors for day one went to Danny Lyne in the 7-and-under category. He came in with a score of 1 over par. Danny has been playing only for about a year and is described by his parents as “golf crazy.”
Conditions on the second day were very testing with cold temperatures, strong winds and a course setup featuring very fast greens. Aaron Jarvis maintained his form and came in with a pair of 79s for the tournament, and Justin Hastings and Holly McLean improved on their day one scores.
Gary McLean, one of the parents who attended the event, reported back that “the standard in the tournament was absolutely incredible; it was like a major tournament with kids playing from all over the world.
“It was a superb experience for them as they saw firsthand how good the standard is at the top level of junior golf,” he said. “In the age 8 division, the record for 9 holes was broken by a boy who shot 27. The previous record, 28, was held by 4-time major winner Rory McIlroy.”
In a separate event at Orange Lake in Orlando, Derek Peene placed fifth in the 9-12 age group against golfers from the U.S., U.K. and Puerto Rico, with a 92 on the first day and a 90 on the second day.
For some of these young people, it was their first experience playing in an overseas competition. Even for the old hands, such as Aaron Jarvis and Justin Hastings, who have represented Cayman at the Caribbean Amateur Junior championships, it was only their fourth or fifth time.
CIGA Junior golf coordinators James Walton and Siobhan Ribbins were delighted that the juniors had this experience.
“It is a huge credit to them that they handled it as well as they did and it is all part of the learning process for playing competitive golf,” Walton said. “One of the goals for the association for 2016 is to give the juniors as many opportunities as possible to experience top level overseas tournaments.”
The juniors themselves are also keen to build on the experience. Many of the parents echoing the same sentiment – that their children have become more determined than ever to practice and get better. If further evidence were needed, the course, practice range and putting green at the North Sound Golf Club was busy with juniors honing their skills over the holiday period.
Another very welcome benefit of the thriving junior golf scene in Cayman, which has grown exponentially in the two-and-a-half years since the Caribbean Amateur Junior Golf Championships were held here, is that it is bringing other family members and, in particular, parents into or back into the game.
CIGA President Paul Woodhouse, speaking about the association’s plans for 2016, said, “We see the promotion of family golf as an important driver going forward. This is effectively piggy-backing on the success of the junior program – already increasing numbers of mums and dads can be seen out on the range and/or on the golf course.
“We would like to encourage this and would propose offering some family clinics and courses in which kids would bring along parents, siblings, etc., to learn alongside them.
“I recently witnessed a 9-year-old boy giving his mum a lesson on the range – both of them were loving it … and it was great to watch.”
The Cayman Island Golf Association is run by volunteers and is entirely dependent on annual membership dues, tournament entry fees, corporate sponsorships and various other donations to fund its programs and send teams to international events.
A full program of events is planned for 2016, beginning on Jan. 9 with round one of national team qualifying. For details, contact the secretary, Emma Woodhouse, at firstname.lastname@example.org.