Paul Clarke, Gleaner Writer
The 49th annual Jamaica Golf Open Classic will tee off this morning at the Half Moon Golf Club in Montego Bay, St James, with a strong field of local and overseas-based professionals.
Heading the list is 2011 winner Ross Cochran, a British Senior Open Championship winner; Gary Halburg, US Champions Tour player; and Gene Jones, qualifier for the US Champions Tour.
The three-day event unofficially started yesterday with a clinic for aspiring young golfers. Officials of the Jamaica Golf Association (JGA) and minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister, Natalie Neita-Headley, were in attendance at the session, which was conducted by the visiting professional golfers.
Neita-Headley said that Jamaica's slice of the sports tourism market is assured, even as the country strives to develop modern sports infrastructure.
She was guest at the Jamaica Open golf clinic held at the Half Moon Golf Club yesterday.
"Our athletes have done so much. Many persons have suggested we use Usain Bolt more as a catalyst to get sports-loving people to come, but he and others have done so much already," Neita-Headley said.
"What they (athletes) have done in track and field, football, netball, cricket, among other sports, is phenomenal. We hardly can ask for more."
Even after all the splendid achievements by track stars, particularly Bolt, Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Shelly-Ann Fraser, Brigitte Foster-Hylton, the country still has one main stadium - built in 1962 - where competitive track events are able to be held.
A modern state-of-the art facility would be ideal for Jamaica, according to Neita-Headley, but noted that she cannot commit.
"While I cannot commit to the building of a new stadium, we have to upgrade the old one, but we are in dialogue with local investors on the issue. We have to bear in mind that it's a process to get to where we want to," she stated.
In relation to the Jamaica Open, she said its value is in bringing in a number of high-end spenders to Jamaica for the tournament.
"We want to target them in a big way as they are high-end spenders. We must capitalise on this to promote facilities and events to get people to come."
The sports tourism thrust, mandated to market Jamaica as a sports destination, is led by a committee - established in conjunction with the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) - which is headed by Chris Dehring.