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By: Kevin Morales

Jarvis win highlights junior golf's upswing

Aaron Jarvis
Aaron Jarvis lines up a putt during the 2021 Coach Invitational. Photo: Courtesy of Cayman Islands Golf Association

Aaron Jarvis’ victory at the 2022 Latin America Amateur Championships certainly qualifies as one of the most improbable upsets in regional golf history.

Nineteen-year-old Jarvis was competing in that tournament against a field of golfers with more robust resumes and higher world rankings – Argentina’s Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira was the tournament’s top-ranked player at No. 38 in the world – so few expected him to contend for the title.

Yet with dozens of ESPN cameras watching his every move on an internationally broadcast final round, Jarvis battled back from a bogey and double-bogey on the eighth and ninth holes to shoot a 3-under-par 69 for his final round and win the tournament at 7 under par.

“It has been a pretty crazy ride,” Jarvis said.

He became the first Caribbean player to win the Latin America Amateur Championships. He also punched his ticket to prestigious tournaments like The Masters and The 150th Open, where he’ll play against professionals the likes of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy.

“It's unbelievable that somebody from the Cayman Islands is going to go play in the Masters and play in The Open,” Cayman Islands Golf Association President Jonathan Joyce said. “I don't even think any of us thought that was a possibility. But here we are.”

Although Jarvis earned the victory with his skill, he — and other young Cayman golfers who are reaching new heights — have benefited from the combined efforts of a golfing community that has focused on improving the sport over the past decade.

Justin Hastings and Aaron Jarvis
Justin Hastings, left, and Aaron Jarvis have led the upswing of junior golf from the male side. Both have earned scholarships to universities with top-golf programmes. Photo: Courtesy of Cayman Islands Golf Association

PLACE IN HISTORY


Previous winners of the Latin America Amateur Championships hail from the following countries: Mexico (population of 129 million), Argentina (45 million), Chile (19 million) and Costa Rica (5 million). The most recent census estimates put Cayman’s population at just less than 70,000.

Not only are these countries more populated, but they also have strong golfing cultures with more courses and resources available for their players.

“Historic doesn't even describe what has happened,” said Brad de Schiffert, owner of The Golf Lab. “It hits that Cinderella story peak, that amazing moment. I think it's going to take a couple of years for people to realise that we did that.”

While Jarvis deservedly is grabbing the global headlines, he’s flanked by other junior golfers who are also achieving at unprecedented levels for Cayman.

Two years ago, no local player had ever signed a scholarship offer to golf at the National Collegiate Athletics Association Division I level – the most competitive division of college sports in the United States.

By next year, Cayman will have three.

Jarvis is in his freshman season at the University of Nevada Las Vegas while Justin Hastings – who finished tied for 22nd at the Latin America Amateur Championships – is a freshman playing at San Diego State University. On the women’s side, Holly McLean recently gave a verbal commitment to golf at the University of Oklahoma.

“These aren't just division ones, these are like the best ... schools that have a golf programme out there,” de Schiffert said. “This is an insane accomplishment for these kids.”

Cayman currently has five players listed in the World Amateur Golf Ranking men’s rankings – Aaron Jarvis (827), Justin Hastings (951), Payten Wight (2,152), Andrew Jarvis (2,492) and Giles Hobday (3,785).

“I think part of the success is just having fun and enjoying it each day and going out and competing with each other,” Jarvis said.

Jeff Sauvage
North Sound Golf Club General Manager Jeff Sauvage

WHERE IT ALL STARTED

Ask local coaches how any of this is possible – how a group of kids from a small island in the western Caribbean with just one 18-hole course and one nine-hole course could possibly be competing at this level – and they’ll point to one tournament nine years ago.

“They deserve all the credit for everything that they've achieved,” said Jeff Sauvage, North Sound Golf Club general manager. “But I think it goes back to when North Sound [Golf Club] hosted the 2013 Caribbean Junior Amateur Championship.”

“We saw an influx of junior golfers after that event.”

When those young players showed an interest, Cayman’s golf community rallied around them.

At The Golf Lab, de Schiffert prioritised working with the junior players. At The Golf Guru, owner Kevin Hinton reserved time specifically for the junior players to work with the simulator. At The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, golf pro Tim Dwyer has served as national team coach for several years.

“I think the level of coaching has just grown on the island,” Hinton said. “They’re experienced coaches.”

It didn’t stop with coaching, either. The senior players began to play more often with the younger players, while volunteers organised and ran competitions. The Cayman Islands Golf Association focused on the youth game while also establishing relationships with top international training outlets like the Leadbetter Academy.

“Everybody was involved,” de Schiffert said. “It takes a village and it really did.”

North Sound Golf Club
The North Sound Golf Club is the only 18-hole championship course in the Cayman Islands.

THE NORTH SOUND GOLF CLUB

The North Sound Golf Club played a pivotal role in the development of Cayman’s junior golf programme. As the islands’ only 18-hole championship course, it serves as Cayman’s only option to host international tournaments like the Caribbean Junior Amateur Championship or the Caribbean Amateur Golf Championships, which Cayman won as a team in 2018 thanks in large part to the contributions of the junior players.

The course originally was created in 1993 as The Links at Safehaven. It became the North Sound Club in 2007 and then the North Sound Golf Club in 2013 after being purchased by Dart.

“When Dart purchased the North Sound Golf Club, it reactivated a lot of things at the facility level with some influx of capital and reinvestment back into the club, which provided us the platform to host these types of regional international events,” Sauvage said.

The club continued to partner with the Cayman Islands Golf Association along the way to use the facility as a training ground for Cayman’s up-and-coming players.

“The programmes that we had at North Sound were more of an introductory, ‘we'll show you how to play golf. We'll kind of show you the game,’” Sauvage said. “Really those kids, particularly Aaron and Justin and Holly and even Aaron's brother, Andrew — who's a very good golfer in his own right — did everything to move their game forward. All we really did was provide them a fun, safe environment to learn the game.”

Jarvis said that being able to use the North Sound Golf Club facility allowed him — and his fellow junior golfers — to continually improve.

“To go out and walk [a round of golf] for free, to take a cart if we needed to ... I think that played a big role in allowing us to go out and have fun and be ourselves on the golf course.”

THE NEXT STEP

As Jarvis spoke with throngs of reporters following his Latin America Amateur Championships win, he made one thing clear: He hopes to use this win to help build momentum for the sport in Cayman.

“He said all the right things in his interview," de Schiffert said. "He's talking about bringing golf to the island."

With Cayman set to host the 2023 Caribbean Junior Amateur Championships, Cayman’s coaches hope the next class of top-tier junior talent will begin to emerge. There’s still more to be done, with more facilities at the top of the wish lists:

“We do need another golf course,” Hinton said.

Given the rise of Cayman’s young players over the last decade, punctuated by Jarvis’ historic win in front of a global audience, all signs point to the junior programme continuing its upswing.

This article appears in the March 2022 print edition of Camana Bay Times.

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