By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published January 23, 2017
Jamaica, once a mainstay on the international golf circuit, has not hosted an international golf tournament in over 20 years. International golf desperately needs to return to Jamaica’s shores if Jamaica is going to maximise its sports tourism potential.
Years ago as a youngster, I watched ‘The Big Easy’ better known as Ernie Els bring his easy and laid-back style to the shores of Jamaica, in what was then, the richest golf tournament in the world, the Johnnie Walker World Golf Championship. He drove and putted his way to the 1994 World Championship title at age 25 on the fairways and greens of the Tryall Golf Club. His imposing six-foot-three-inch South African frame, almost as if still asleep, slumbered across the golf course, making ridiculous shot after ludicrous shot, as he secured his first world championship title by six strokes over Mark McCumber and former champion Nick Faldo.
In 35 events that year, across five continents, he captured five titles, 16 top-five finishes, and 19 top-10 finishes. Unsurprisingly, he was also crowned the 1994 PGA Rookie of the Year title. This white South African became a black boy’s favourite player all because he won this golf tournament in his homeland. This black boy has been hooked on golf ever since.
If Ernie Els made me fall in love with the game of golf, Tiger Woods made me crazy in love with his deft touch on the greens.
Jamaica was once a mainstay on the calendar of events on the tours of the United States PGA (US PGA) and the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). From 1989 to 1991, the LPGA tournament, the Jamaica Classic was held at the Tryall Golf Club and similarly from 1991 to 1995, Tryall Golf Club hosted the golf tournament that crowned the world champion of golf, the Johnnie Walker World Golf Championship.
Tragically, since 1995, Tryall Golf Club has vanished from the map as a destination for official PGA or LPGA golf tournaments. And since 1995, no other golf course in Jamaica has hosted an official international golf tournament. The Jamaica government in recent times has spoken about the importance of a synergy between the sports and tourism industries, with several sports and tourism ministers from successive administrations overusing the term, ‘sports tourism’.
Last week, the Jamaica Open, which was on a hiatus for four years, returned to the calendar of events on the local golf circuit for its 50th staging. The United Kingdom’s Paul Eales won the tournament by a single stroke at the Half Moon Golf Course with 72 golfers from seven countries taking part in the event. It was there that I quickly realised the enormous ‘sports tourism’ potential if Jamaica returns to the calendars of the PGA or LPGA by hosting an international tournament again, like the defunct Jamaica Classic or the Johnnie Walker World Golf Championship.
I am convinced that international golf needs to return to Jamaica’s shores. Mr Godfrey Dyer, chairman of the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), informed me at the just-concluded Jamaica Open that over the past two years, the TEF has contributed 93 million Jamaica dollars (US$ 720,000) to upgrade golf courses in St. Catherine, St. Andrew and Manchester, and to sponsor the return of the 2017 Jamaica Open event. Though that much has been spent, much more needs to be invested by the government and the private sector in golf courses and up-and-coming golfers if Jamaica is to attract the eyes of the international golf world again.
Major international sponsors must be wooed with first-class business plans and organisation, and the major players in the tourism industry need open their pockets and understand how beneficial an international golf tournament or tournaments could be to the industry.
In a frank interview with Mr Dyer, he said, “My (tourism) minister always says ‘anything that brings more heads to bed,’ and when you bring (the) golfers’ heads to bed, the (amount of cash they) spend is higher. So, we like that and we will always support (golf).”
I agree. Golf will bring more heads to beds and with more heads on beds, everyone in the sector will benefit, including the local players and their development.
Strategic planning by the Jamaica Golf Association (JGA) and the individual courses along with the major support from local and international companies and the government will be required to make this possible. Whatever were the problems, which resulted in the Jamaica Open not being held over the past four years, I encourage the JGA to get their house in order because enormous things are on the horizon. Jamaica cannot afford another 20 plus years lying in the out of bounds section of the international golf circuit.
On the last day of the Jamaican Open, there were whispers abound that at least one of the nine 18-hole golf courses locally might try to bring international golf back to Jamaica in the next two years. From my point of view, there is no ‘might’, it must happen if we are remotely serious about ‘sports tourism’. International golf has to return to Jamaica’s shores.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
Zaheer E. Clarke is a multi-award-winning freelance sportswriter, whose golf swing may be more insipid to the eyes than Charles Barkley’s.
Zaheer’s articles have been published by ESPN Cricinfo, The Western Mirror, The Jamaica Observer, Trinidad Express, Essentially Sports and many others.
This blog article was also published in the Western Mirror on January 23, 2017.