The Cayman Islands, Tiger Woods, Ed Belfour and the Ritz Carlton

Happy holidays from the Cayman Islands!  I am down, down south visiting friends and family, foregoing the traditional cold and snow in exchange for heat and flip flops.  It is an easy exchange to be sure, made even easier with the recent addition of TSN to the Cayman television lineup.  

Before I jump into my little story, I will give a bit of necessary background.  Prior to moving to Calgary, I spent a bunch of years in Cayman living the good life.  I made a number of good friends and fell in love with an island girl.  That should give the context for the story and explain why I was in Cayman over the holidays. 

After partaking in some Christmas caroling on Christmas Eve, we went over to the Ritz Carlton for a late dinner at their poolside restaurant.  The Ritz was something that was being developed late in my time on the island and opened shortly after we moved to Canada.  It represented the most significant development ever built on the island and forever changed construction in Cayman.  Whether it was a change to the good or bad depends on who you ask. 

When I was about to move to Cayman, I read about a rule that the tallest building could not be higher than the tallest coconut tree.  I am not sure if that one was ever true, but it certainly was a pretty good approximation of what I found when I moved down to the island.  The tallest buildings on the island were about 4 stories tall. 

All of that changed when the Ritz came to town.  It may have been corruption, it may have been progress, but the Ritz talked the government into a 7 story building.  And then they built7 stories on top of the first story which was itself 2 stories high.  And they built it right up against the main road to maximize the beachfront (breaking another rumoured law).  

What the Ritz had going for them was timing and money.  The island was desperate to recover after a major, major hurricane and the Ritz quickly became a symbol of the recovery.  They played that card to perfection and ended up with a huge and impressive resort unlike anything the island had seen. 

The Ritz also raised the bar in terms of real estate prices.  There were ocean front condos going from $1 million to $10 million, bringing in all types of folks with money to burn.  This group included the one and only Ed Belfour, former goalie for the Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs.   I have no idea how expensive a property Eddie bought, but he was such a curious newcomer to the island.  Here was a rough and gruff pit bull terrier from small town Manitoba who is best known for love of booze, women and the back seat of police cars.  He was not the type of clientele that I would have thought it was theoretically possible to run into while having Christmas Eve dinner at the Ritz Carlton.

At the same time that the Ritz was getting built and Belfour was buying his place, a mini version of Tiger-mania swept over the islands.   It was April 2005, a couple of days after Woods had won his 4th Masters title.  It was that Masters where he hit that incredible chip on the 16th hole that went out to the far side of the green, trickled back towards Tiger and the hole, appeared to stop and then dropped in for the birdie.  It was followed by some comically bad high fiving between Tiger and his caddie and followed later by a playoff victory over Chris DiMarco.

Anyways, on the Tuesday after the Masters, a big yacht arrived out in the harbour.  This was not unusual, as the island would periodically welcome the rich and famous for a visit.  Much to my surprise, the yacht that arrived was ‘Privacy’, a boat name now known by the masses as belonging to Tiger Woods.  The surprise was that he got down to Cayman so fast.  The second surprise was that he stayed a little over a month before returning to the PGA Tour in May at the Memorial Tournament up in Ohio. 

If you are reading this for tantalizing tales of Tiger Woods’ womanizing or Tiger Woods’ infidelity, feel free to read on.  But, I will save you a few minutes.  Tiger lived up to his boat’s name and was rarely seen on the island.  There were rumoured sightings at restaurants from time to time, but I suspect he spent most of his time on the boat or in the water diving.

The only real confirmed story I have about Tiger during that stay was his desire to play a round of golf with the local golf pro.  One of his people called up the Britannia golf course, which was a Jack Nicklaus designed course at the Hyatt resort, looking for a game.  I was a member at the course for part of my time on the island.  It was actually a 9 hole course that was played from two different sets of tees. 

The head pro was a guy from Canada who personified what the world perceives a Canadian to be: nice, polite, good natured and an individual that did not take himself too seriously.  He was in fact a really, really good golfer.  Not a big guy, nor a big hitter, but someone who could land his ball on a $5 dollar bill 275 yards down the fairway.  Britannia was a super tight course that wasn’t long but demanded accuracy. 

The pro was a guy that took care of people when they played the course and he took care of his members.  I remember one time a buddy at work got a call late one morning from the pro asking if he had time to come out and play with him, Bob Tway (one time major winner) and Bob’s son.  How cool is that!  You readers can probably sense where this is going….  We are not talking about Bob Tway here; we are talking about the world’s best golfer, perhaps the best golfer who ever lived!   When the story came out, we all wondered who had gotten the call to play and secretly were ticked off that we did not receive the call.

The shocking kicker was that the pro at the course told Tiger not to waste his time coming to play!  A once in a lifetime chance to play with the world’s best and the pro instead gave his honest advice even though it cost him the experience.  Britannia had been beaten up by the hurricane the fall previously and had been running without water or maintenance equipment.  Those of us that played did so with a $10 donation but not with any expectation of a good time.  Tiger would have hated playing the course so it was the right call.  That said, I am not sure I am selfless enough to have made that call.  I think I would have played that round with Tiger. 

I was reminded of all of this while having dinner at the Ritz and thinking about Eddie Belfour.  Back in 2005 when the Ritz was going up, there is not a person on the island that would have batted an eye at the story of Tiger buying a property.   We would have all taken pride that our island had attracted such a resident.   Tiger was the Ritz.  He was class and success and money; a rich dream that we masses could never expect to realize but might hope to experience for a brief moment.  Ed Belfour is a guy we might have beers with at the beach bar, not someone who lived a life of luxury.   Eddie bought in at the Ritz and it cheapened my view of the place.  Eddie the Eagle is the reason I have no second thoughts about crashing the hotel for a meal or a drink whenever I am on the island visiting.  The truth is that the resort is posh, posh, posh and I should not be allowed anywhere near it.  And yet I feel like I can go there.  If Ed Belfour can live there, why can’t I stop by for a bowl of soup?

If it had been Tiger who had bought in instead of Belfour, I am not sure I would have had that same level of confident bravado.  I probably would have viewed the place as being one for Kings and Queens, movie stars and rock stars, CEOs and investment bankers.  It certainly would not be a place for a guy in shorts, a t-shirt, flip flops and an Oilers ball cap.  I am not sure I ever would have visited the resort had I held that perception of the place.

All of that said, in hindsight the Tiger Woods of the world are not owed their private palaces of paradise to mingle amongst their own kind.  Tiger’s recent shocking fall from grace has shown that we all have a little Ed Belfour in us, no matter how we portray ourselves.   That is to say that we are all regular people who are mostly good and sometimes bad.  None of us, no matter what our social status, have the exclusive right to the ‘good life’.  If a great resort like the Ritz leaves their doors open for the masses, good on those of us who stop by for a visit.  Who knows, we may just end up classing up the joint a little bit…



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2 responses to “The Cayman Islands, Tiger Woods, Ed Belfour and the Ritz Carlton

  1. Thanks Jay! Quite a fun 15 seconds or so of fame yesterday.

    What were you doing down in Miami?

  2. Jay

    Hey Jonathan, congrats again on getting a story quoted in Sports Illustrated!

    I used to live in Florida, so I know what it’s like to return to Canada from a warmer place.

    That must have been something living in the Cayman Islands. Great story!

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