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Teen Tourney Plans Belie Writer's V.I. Golf Assault

Aug. 26, 2004 – More than a hundred young golfers from 50 countries are expected to be enjoying a visit to St. Croix and playing on the Robert Trent Jr.-designed Carambola Golf Course in the first week of November.
The golfers and their fellow travelers will get an up-close view of St. Croix – and so may millions of TV viewers. Plans are in the works to have the Teens on the Green World Championship finale televised by CBS Sports for airing early next year in a slot before a major PGA tournament, according to Renny Roker, Teens on the Green founder.
Roker held meetings with potential sponsors of the tournament Monday night at Carambola Beach Resort. He said that everything "went well" at that meeting and that he is in the process of finalizing the details of financing for the event. This will be the fourth year of the Teens on the Green finale being held at the St. Croix golf course.
While Roker was promoting the tournament on the West End, Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards was talking about it in Christiansted. The Tourism Department is one of the prime sponsors of Teens on the Green.
Richards told members of CHANT — which stands for Crucian Heritage Arts and Nature Tours — that the week the young golfers are on the island would be a good time for the group to present one of its special event. Discussion centered on a production of "MokoEvolution," a dramatization of the history of moko jumbies. A performance of the program in February in Frederiksted attracted about 200 people.
Roker has been making the rounds promoting the tournament. At the end of July, he presented a proposal to the Senate Finance Committee. He said the golfing event in the last three years has promoted a positive image of the Virgin Islands worldwide, notably through TV programs featuring St. Croix. He asked the senators to "provide $250,000 for the CBS broadcast and $145,000 for PGA Tour Productions."
He said afterward that he knew most senators supported his proposal, but he had little confidence that the government could help financially, because of time constraints and the scarcity of funds. He said pursuing private sponsorship for the broadcast and production costs was the best way to go.
According to Roker, Teens on the Green might already be contributing to a rise in tourism in the territory. He says the CBS broadcast could boost the number of visitors another 12 percent.
"When you combine the CBS telecast, the individual qualifier telecasts in each country, plus the international telecast of the finale, all talking about St. Croix," he said, "it is easy to understand the increase in visitors this can deliver."
For more information about the youth golfing program, visit the Teens on the Green Web site.
Golf Writer Takes His Swings
This is a good time to be polishing the image of golfing in the Virgin Islands.
Earlier this year, as Roker approached the first tee at the Carambola course, he joked to a golfing partner, "Did you bring your bodyguard?"
He was referring to an article posted on the Caribbean Golf Web site a couple of months ago headlined "Take your clubs, wallet and bodyguard".
In the 43-paragraph article surveying golf course in the Caribbean, writer Tim McDonald, a former writer for the V.I. Daily News, had barely a good word to say about any of the islands.
In the three paragraphs he devoted to St. Croix he warned: Steer clear of St. Croix.
"St. Croix, home to the Carambola and Buccaneer golf courses, is my least favorite island in the Caribbean," those paragraphs began. He continued:
"One of the three main U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix once had a bright future as a cruise ship destination. But lethargic government officials refused to do anything about increasing complaints involving crime against cruise ship passengers and their crews. So the cruise ships finally left, the economy went south and now there is more crime than ever. Most airlines steer clear as well. You should, too, unless you absolutely have to play Carambola, a very nice course. Consider hiring a bodyguard."
Roker generally is laughing when he talks about the article, but on the inside he is angry.
"Everyone in the Virgin Islands should be mad about that article," he said. And there are others who are mad – and calling McDonald to account.
Island's Golf Pros Say It Isn't So
Rand Middleton has been general manager of the Carambola Golf Club for just six weeks. "What a jerk," he said of McDonald. "He has no basis for what he wrote."
Middleton said there are many positive things going on at Carambola, which is in the process of changing ownership. He said the club has a beautiful swimming pool and "the nicest tennis courts on the island." He said the resort is emphasizing more of a country club atmosphere. However, he said he doesn't want residents to think of it as being "exclusive." He cited relatively low summer greens fees for island residents. This writer has played courses on the mainland that have higher greens fees and don't have the elegance of the Carambola course.
McDonald's article did not just run down golfing on St. Croix; it took swipes at St. Thomas, the home of Mahogany Run Golf Course, too. In the single paragraph devoted to the island, he wrote:
"St. Thomas, the other island in the chain along with St. John, has Mahogany Run. It's another nice course, but be prepared for rude and sometimes even hostile treatment from many island residents once you leave the course and venture into the outside world. It's a common occurrence; so don't feel as though it's just you."
Meanwhile, it appears that golfing is growing in popularity on both islands. Nevin Phillips, golf director at Mahogany Run, and Tim Johnston, golf pro at Buccaneer Golf Resort on St. Croix, both said recently that the number of rounds being played on their courses is increasing. Phillips said the number went up slightly two years ago and then increased significantly last year.
Both Johnston and Phillips said Hurricane Hugo was a setback for golf in the Virgin Islands and that the course managers are still trying to get back to the numbers they had before September of 1989. Johnston said the Buccaneer course operates at about 50 percent of its potential in tourist season and about 25 percent in the off-season. Phillips said while Mahogany Run often has all its tee times filled during the season, there is still a lot of room for growth.
Johnston said had not read McDonald's article. Phillips said he had and found it sad. "What if someone was planning a Caribbean golf vacation, read that article and did not come?" he wondered. "They would have missed out on a wonderful time."
The feedback McDonald received prompted him to write a second article that was published on June 21.
Someone identified as Linda of St. Croix wrote: "Apparently Tim McDonald has the inside on how to not buy drugs or get arrested in the Caribbean."
McDonald responded: "Forget the split infinitive, Linda makes a good point. It is hard not to buy drugs in the Virgin Islands. Every time I went to Coki Beach on St Thomas, where I lived for too long a time, I got a minimum of three aggressive offers to buy dope. This came despite the fact that the cops were not 20 feet away — most of whom were lounging around at one of the rum bars, drinking on duty, incidents that were captured on film by the Virgin Islands Daily News, by the way."
He quoted Dana of St. Croix as writing the following: "I am a resident of St. Croix, and the comments that were made of my island was (sic) absurd. St. Croix is no different from any other island in the Caribbean when it comes to crimes."
responded: "Yes it is. It's worse."
Further quoting Dana: "This so-called journalist makes it seem like St. Croix is your trip to hell."
McDonald's response: "I think hell would have friendlier people and less thieves." (See "Golf Concerns".)
Same Publication, a Different Story
Caribbean Golf online now has an August article about golfing in the region that has an entirely different tone. It says about the Virgin Islands: "There are only three golf courses in the islands, but they can be the icing on the cake of a memorable Caribbean vacation."
The golf courses described in this article are all of 18 holes.
Carambola Golf Course was developed by Laurence Rockefeller. The club is the recipient of Golf Magazine's Gold Medal award and annually hosts the Konica USVI Golf Classic featuring LPGA professionals. The course features rolling terrain, 94 bunkers and an ambience where ocean meets rainforest.
Mahogany Run, designed by George and Tom Fazio, opened in 1980. It is a 6,022-yard, par-70 championship course in a valley overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It's well known for The Devil's Triangle, three tough holes perched on a cliff. The course recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation which included the installation of a new desalination plant and irrigation system, re-grassing of the greens and renovation of the bunkers. Informal scratch tournaments go on throughout the year where visitors can play against local players. Mahogany Run is open to the public and is accommodating to hotel and cruise ship guests.
The Buccaneer golf course, designed by Bob Joyce, sprawls across much of the Buccaneer Hotel's 340 acres. From the hilltop buildings all the way down to the shoreline, it's known for its views. The par-70 course encompasses 5,810 yards of fairways, bunkers and water hazards. Recent renovations include the addition of a three-hole walking course, water station and landscaping improvements.

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