PARADISE ISLAND, BAHAMAS | The quickest road back to right is admitting you’ve made a wrong turn. It’s also the hardest. Ego, stubbornness, preconceived notions, wishful thinking: the list of underlying factors that keep a person justifying a bad decision is endless. The only real constant is human nature. It’s almost impossible to reason someone out of a position he didn’t reason himself into.
That’s why executives at Tourism Bahamas deserve at least a round of polite golf claps.
For the past six years, the Atlantis resort and the Ocean Club on Paradise Island hosted a January LPGA event. Co-sponsored by Pure Silk, the shaving brand whose parent company also makes Barbasol, the tournament kicked off the LPGA season most of those years. And while a number of players skipped it, preferring to kick off their seasons at subsequent tournaments in Australia or Asia, those who showed up loved the place. The golf course wasn’t terribly difficult, unless the wind blew 30 mph, as it sometimes does in the Bahamas, and between the pools, the beach, the aquarium and the casino, Atlantis was a nice place to spend a week away from the bitter chill of the mainland.
But something happened. By the time the LPGA’s contract hit its final year, Tourism Bahamas had added two Web.com Tour events and stepped in as a co-sponsor of Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge, stretching the golf portion of the budget outside the edges of reason.
The LPGA tournament fell victim to bad timing. Pure Silk was ready to renew. Tom Murray, the CEO of Pure Silk’s parent company, is all in with the LPGA, as evidenced by his company’s recent announcement of Pure Silk as the title sponsor of the tour’s stop at Virginia’s Kingsmill Resort. But Tourism Bahamas needed to unwind some of its commitments. The LPGA was the first contract to lapse.
That was a mistake. And it didn’t take long for executives on the island nation to realize it.
So last weekend, Tourism Bahamas attempted to reconnect and rebrand with the LPGA through an event dubbed the White Sands Pro-Am. It is the first of several make-goods that will, hopefully, lead to another official tournament at the Ocean Course.
“This is a perfect weekend. Get paid, play in a pro-am, hang out at the beach in the sunshine and watch the Super Bowl. How could it get better?” – Megan Khang
I flew into Nassau with Megan Khang, one of 22 pros who attended. “This is a perfect weekend,” Khang said. “Get paid, play in a pro-am, hang out at the beach in the sunshine and watch the Super Bowl. How could it get better?”
That was the consensus. “It’s a great little vacation,” said Stacy Lewis, who had to put up with my golf game for 18 holes. Lewis’ husband, Gerrod Chadwell, was there as well. He is the women’s golf coach at the University of Houston, which will host a college tournament on the Ocean Course in the fall – the second event on Tourism Bahamas’ make-good plan.
Gerrod’s sister flew in to help look after the couple’s 4-month-old daughter, Chesnee. “She’s sleeping eight hours, straight through the night,” Lewis said. “I know it’s unusual but I’m not complaining. It’s been great.”
Gerrod was supposed to play but he threw his back out getting out of an inner tube on the resort’s lazy river ride. So LPGA player Brooke Pancake’s husband, Derek Rende, who used to play on the PGA Tour Latinoamérica, stepped in.
“Dude, you’ve got to come up with a better story than the lazy river,” I told Gerrod. “Squatting a personal best, wall balls … something.”
And so it went from Friday through Sunday. One of the amateurs said, “When I left Chicago it was negative 30 degrees. When I landed here it was 70. That’s 100 degrees of difference. One. Hundred. Degrees.”
Lexi Thompson was as relaxed as I have ever seen her, joking, dancing, chatting with everyone and playing cornhole with fellow LPGA player Kristy McPherson and Natalie Gulbis’ husband, Josh Rodarmel.
Brittany Lincicome, who won the last two Pure Silk events at the Ocean Club, said, “I love coming back here. This is so much fun. Hopefully we can get an official event back since I’ve done pretty well here.”
After the pro-am, the players gathered on the 12th tee, a 155-yard par-3 over water, for a “shootout” worth $5,000. Two brackets, one-shot matches, closest to the hole, winners advanced, with LPGA pro Jacqui Concolino heckling every shot. Lewis was knocked out quickly by trick-shot artist Tania Tare, who almost made an ace. Thompson advanced through a couple of rounds but was knocked out by Alison Lee, who beat Tare in the final.
Lee was mobbed by players, high-fiving and cheering as if this was the Super Bowl.
Sunday night, during the actual Super Bowl, Khang, who hails from Massachusetts, wore a Tom Brady jersey and yelled on every play. “This was the most boring game in history,” she said afterward, echoing the sentiments of most viewers. “But I don’t care. Go Pats.”
So, how did a glorified vacation weekend with a decadent amount of food and drink benefit Tourism Bahamas?
Tare filmed a couple of trick-shot videos before the Super Bowl party. By Tuesday, they had 18,000 views on Twitter and the hashtag #GolfBahamas had more than 25,000 impressions.
“It’s about keeping awareness up, keeping the name out there and keeping some connection with these LPGA girls,” one of the organizers told me. “Hopefully word will spread. Hopefully another tournament will be back here. But for now, it’s about getting the word out and keeping everybody happy.”
By those metrics, the event was an unqualified success.
Top photo: Tourism Bahamas made players feel welcome at the White Sands Pro-Am. Photo: Gabriel Roux
Video: Tania Tare puts on a trick-shot display.
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