With a highly successful 56th Jamaica Open Golf Championship now in the record books, tournament organizers are looking ahead to see how they can elevate the event and solidify Jamaica as the top golfing destination in the Caribbean – a reputation it has previously enjoyed.
While the list of former Jamaica Open champions includes golfing great Roberto De Vicenzo, the tournament lost some its luster after it ceased to be a fixture on the PGA-sponsored Caribbean Tour in the mid-1960s and most of the tournament contenders in recent years have been mini-tour players.
“We would like the Jamaica Open to partner with the Latin American Tour or become a Korn Ferry Tour stop or maybe even a DP World Tour event,” said Jodi Munn-Barrow, President of the Jamaica Golf Association (JGA). “We have a great foundation here and certainly have the golf course and a desirable location. We just need corporate sponsorship investment and a bit more involvement from the necessary partners. I really hope in five years I can say, ‘Well, I am so happy to know that we are once again at that level where we have the best golfers coming to play in Jamaica again.’ “We have a decent purse of $100,000 for a small association. It has grown in the last few years, and we are hoping that it will grow even more and then maybe, step by step, we can elevate the Jamaica Open.”
From 1991-1995, Tryall played host to the prestigious end-of-year Johnnie Walker World Golf Championship, which was billed at the time as “the richest golf tournament ever held”. This limited-field event initially offered a purse of $2.55 million, and its winners included Fred Couples (1991 and 1995), Nick Faldo (1992) and Ernie Els (1994).
“When we hosted the Johnnie Walker World Golf Championship, Jamaica was known as being the top golfing destination in the Caribbean, and that’s where we would really love to be,” said Peter Chin, a former president of the JGA who is now chairman of the Jamaica Open’s organizing committee.
“Because of the Johnnie Walker World Golf Championship, we were top of mind with golfers from a tourism perspective, and we should have continued with the promotion of the wonderful golf courses that we have in Jamaica, but we didn’t follow through. If you look at the outstanding success of the Dominican Republic, they have a PGA Tour event there, they have a Korn Ferry event there and they continue to push and push on the tourism front. We were leading as a golfing destination at one point, and that doesn’t mean that we cannot rise again.”
The Corales Puntacana Championship was first played in 2016 at the Puntacana Resort and Club in the Dominican Republic as a Web.com event before it transitioned to a PGA TOUR event in 2018.
Asked whether the JGA had been liaising with other tours about a possible relationship with the Jamaica Open, Chin replied: “Up to about three years ago, we had the Latin American Tour at nearby Cinnamon Hill for two consecutive years, so we don’t see that being a problem if we approach them. I am sure the players would also love that because it would be a great location on their schedule. So, I don’t foresee a problem getting that tour, or even the Mackenzie Tour, involved because all of these tours want more stops. We are hopeful – if we can generate sponsorship – because that is key. You need a sponsorship so that you can get the purse money to attract these players and both those tours have a minimum purse to be recognized. So that’s what we need to do.”
This year’s Jamaica Open, held at picturesque Tryall Club just outside Montego Bay from October 29-31, was won by Orlando-based American Andrew Arft in wire-to-wire fashion after a tightly fought battle on the challenging back nine.
The stunning 18-hole, 6,836-yard layout at Tryall, designed in 1958 by the renowned golf course architect Ralph Plummer, has long been regarded as the best course in Jamaica. Most of the players who know the course well accept that the first 13 holes are generally scoreable, whereas holes 14 through 18 can be extremely challenging, especially when the wind is up.
“You can be leading with quite a few under par, and then reality hits from about 14, and you have to hold on,” said Munn-Barrow. “And luckily, the wind wasn’t too fierce this year because, if the wind were up, those last three holes would have been even more difficult than they were.”
The Jamaica Open’s presenting sponsor for the last four years, Aqua Bay Resort, is also focused on raising the profile of the tournament. During this year’s trophy presentation, Scott Summy, the owner of Aqua Bay, said: “We really want to elevate this event and make it much bigger. We think it’s a hidden secret and look forward to 2024.”
Summy’s words were music to Chin’s ears.
“We are very happy that Scott wants to have a discussion with us to see how we can lift the profile of the Jamaica Open and what we can do to make the event better,” said Chin. “Long before my time as president, Jamaica was a stop for the Mackenzie Tour, and that’s where we would like to take it for starters, to make it be a stop on one of those tours so that the profile of the event can be elevated.”
Chin also knows that potential support from the Jamaican government is a crucial factor.
“We need to get that bang from government and from major sponsors to make the event possible and sustainable,” said Chin. “It’s very easy to have an event once or twice, but to have it as a regular stop and to know that you have a long-term sponsor, whether it is government or otherwise, is a very different story. Look at the facts – the government has funded the golf development in the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic. They have made a conscious effort to support these tour events that are being held there, and that’s what we need to have: a long-term commitment to make sure that the Jamaica Open is sustainable and long-term.”
The 2023 Jamaica Open, which serves to showcase the vast potential and the beauty of the island nation, received significant support from both the Jamaica Tourist Board and the Tourism Enhancement Fund, who share the Jamaica Golf Association’s vision. Other sponsors included both Digicel Business and the Grand Palladium Hotel.