By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
AS he glanced over the nine-hole golf and driving range facilities at the Baillou Hills Sporting Complex, Mark Lawrie said the Bahamas Golf Federation has all of the ingredients to being one of the top destinations to visit in the region.
Lawrie, the president of the Latin American and Caribbean region of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A), was in town for a few days to meet with the BGF after visiting Exuma where he watched their youth development programme under the supervision of Nelson Ranger.
Lawrie, who first got started in golf in Argentina over 30 years ago, said after he was promoted to the Chief Executive of the Argentina Golf Association for 15 years, he was invited to become a member of R&A in 2001.
But in 2014, the Chief Executive of the R&A wanted to set up a branch in the region and Lawrie was given the task of becoming the first director of the R&A Latin American and the Caribbean with the task of growing the sport in all of its 35 affiliates in the region.
“Basically our idea is to help. How do we help? We help through various mechanics like the Latin American Championships, the Women’s Latin American Championships, the Women’s Amateur, the Latin American Amateur and we help out with regional events,” Lawrie said.
“We try to create platforms and to work with the regional bodies to bring a better awareness of the sport to those in the region. We know that golf is not a readily accessible sport, but we know with facilities like the Balliou Hills Driving Range, we can allow more people to play golf and so we will try to help in whatever we can to help governments in the countries to realise the need for them to assist.”
After watching the programme in Exuma and once he’s done consulting with the BGF, Lawrie said a decision will be made on how best R&A will be able to assist the Bahamas with its programmes moving forward.
Anthony Hinsey, the first vice president of the BGF, welcomed Lawrie back to the Bahamas.
“There’s like coming down and seeing for yourself what is going on,” Hinsey said. “So we’re glad that he can come here and get a first hand glimpse of what we are doing and how we can access the funding that is available to assist us in the development of our programmes.”
Over the past two years since the coronavirus pandemic broke, he was meeting via Zoom with the BGF, including its president Lynford Miller and Hinsey, but it’s good that with the protocol restrictions eased up a bit, he can finally come to the Bahamas and get a first hand view of what they discussed.
From what he’s seen so far, Lawrie said he’s been rather impressed. “I think you have a phenomenal opportunity with this facility here,” Lawrie pointed out.
“If the Bahamas Golf Federation can continue to develop this programme, looking 25-30 years ahead, there is a good chance for golf to continue to grow in the Bahamas.”
He commended former president and businessman Craig Flowers, who invested countless amounts of money into developing the property from scratch to where it is today.
“It’s good to see how this has evolved,” Lawrie said. “Hopefully the federation can take it to greater heights, bring more people in, publicise this more and even create an academy where they can allow people from the islands to stay.
“We would certainly like to help in whatever capacity we can. You don’t have many places like this in the Caribbean where land is scarce, to be given a piece of land and to be able to create a golf facility. This epitomises what we are trying to tell all of the golf affiliates in the region.”
Like other islands around the rest of the region, Lawrie said golf associations are finding it more and more difficult to be able to utilise the private clubs or high end resorts to practice and stage their events.
So the Bahamas finds itself in an unique position in that they have a public nine-hole and driving range that the local players can take advantage of at a much cheaper rate than they would at the private clubs and resorts.
“If we can eventually get more kids to play, like they are doing now in the National High School Tournament, I think the Bahamas has a great opportunity to expand the game at this facility,” he pointed out.
“You have a great location for flights coming in and out of the USA and so this is a huge opportunity because the Bahamas also has a lot of talent. When you look at the success you have achieved in cricket, basketball, track and field, swimming and boxing, the same could be done in golf.”
With all these tools at their disposal, Lawrie said he doesn’t see why the BGF can’t be a role model in the region for golf.
“For a country to grow, you need to create depth and a wide base so you can select the cream of the crop,” he said. “But the beauty of this game is that you can play from the age of five and even if you have an impediment, you can still play.
“I think this is the only sport that is designed for more family intervention. A father could go out and spend about five hours a day on the golf course with his kids. There’s not that many walks in life that can present that opportunity like golf does.”
Lawrie said it’s hoped that when they wrap up their decision with the BGF, they will devise more opportunities to get more families and more women involved in the sport as they make it user friendly and encourage more people to come out and participate.
Once he’s done in the Bahamas, Lawrie said he intends to visit some of the other associations in the region to see how best he can assist them in the development of the sport on their respective islands.
Lawrie is expected to be on hand to view some of the action in the BGF’s National High School Golf Championships that will continue today with the private high schools competition at the Balliou Hills Sports Complex.
Then the nine-hole golf club and driving range will come alive on Friday when both the finals of the primary and high school segments of the weeklong tournament will conclude.