The deep-blue water that surrounds the islands is an idyllic setting for scuba diving, the 600 registered banks form a worldwide financial hub, and tourists flock to the Caribbean locale to escape bitter winters.
The movie the “The Firm” was filmed in the Cayman Islands, home to nearly year-round perfect weather, myriad water activities and various rum concoctions.
Golf is not big on the list of priorities.
While the islands are technically a British Overseas Territory with Queen Elizabeth serving as head of state, there are few ties to the home of golf and the game’s ancestral roots in the United Kingdom.
And while Tiger Woods’ yacht, Privacy, is registered in the capital city of George Town — and Woods has been known to be a frequent offshore diver in the islands — that’s about as close as it gets to any kind of major golf connection.
The three Cayman Islands—Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman—have but one 18-hole golf course.
And from that location on Grand Cayman’s North Sound has emerged perhaps the most unlikeliest of Masters participants.
Aaron Jarvis grew up amid the hustle and bustle of George Town, where tourists descend from cruise ships by the thousands and football is by far the most popular sport.
It wasn’t until he was nearly a teenager that Jarvis took up golf, but next week he will become the country’s first-ever player to compete in a major championship.
“It didn’t really hit me for a few days,” Jarvis said during a recent interview while home in Grand Cayman. “When I had time to think about it, the feeling was ‘Oh my God, this is really going to happen .'”
Yes it is. Next week, Jarvis will likely be grouped for the first two rounds with a former Masters champion. He will try to play practice rounds with some of his heroes, perhaps Brooks Koepka, whom he recently met during a marathon cramming session at Augusta National. He plans to play the Par 3 Contest with his brother, Andrew, as his caddy.
He will be yet another prime example of what Augusta National was trying to accomplish when it launched the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in 2009 and followed with the Latin America Amateur Championship in 2015.
By winning the LAAC in January, Jarvis, 19, earned his spot in the Masters, which each year offers an invitation to the winner of the tournament – as it does with the Asia-Pacific event.
To have a player win who hails from a country such as Cayman and its lack of golf pedigree offers the opportunity to spread the game to a place that is less familiar with the sport.
“He is the epitome of what they envision,” said Zach Parker, Jarvis’ coach at the Leadbetter Academy in Orlando. “His hope is to inspire other kids to play golf in the Cayman Islands or the Caribbean. And it’s inspiring the way he has embraced this opportunity. He’s really carrying it. He’s going to enjoy the experience, enjoy the crowd. He’s a charismatic kid who will be himself.”
Jarvis is a freshman at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He didn’t take up golf until 2013 after watching the Caribbean Amateur Championship come to Grand Cayman, where his brother competed.
Soon he began venturing to the North Sound Golf Club — the only 18-hole course on the island and the only place with a driving range.
Sure, Greg Norman designed nine holes at a course that adjoins the Ritz-Carlton Resort, meant for hotel guests and members. And long ago, Jack Nicklaus had a flirtation with Grand Cayman. Not only did he design a course (that has since been abandoned due to damage from a hurricane years ago) but a golf ball.
(Ever heard of the Cayman ball? It was Nicklaus’ long-ago idea to have a golf ball that traveled short distances for a places that didn’t have enough land to build regulation courses; it was used at Cayman’s Britannia Golf Club.)
Without traffic, Jarvis said it took him about 10 minutes to get to the course, and that is where he began to find himself on many days.
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“It’s all we needed and we didn’t’ know better,” Jarvis said. “It was a course to play and practice at. The older guys sort of took me in and it was an opportunity to get better.
“They had a junior membership program, we could walk the course for free, and that was it. We were on the golf course every day, school ended at 3 pm and some days we’d be there until 8 or 9 at night. We had a lot of fun messing around, but we did what we could do to get better.”
Grand Cayman is located approximately 400 miles south of Miami and about 100 miles from Cuba. The problem for Jarvis or anyone from the islands is a lack of competition. He would play in tournaments throughout the Caribbean, and there were local events at his home course.
But this was nothing like the American Junior Golf Association with its plethora of opportunities.
Although there are just 71,000 residents who live on Grand Cayman, there is still a golf federation to help develop the few who take up the game. Several years ago, the federation reached out to the Leadbetter Academy to ask for support, and twice a year representatives would visit the island.
“Aaron was one of those young players at the time,” Parker said. “He really responded well to coaching.”
Jarvis moved to Florida as a junior in high school in 2019 so he could be closer to coaching while attending school. Two years there led to him enrolling at UNLV, where he is a freshman.
“The evolution has been incredible,” Parker said. “He was pretty raw in handling adversity and managing his way around the golf course. He wasn’t this highly ranked junior golfer. He doesn’t have an AJGA win. He wasn’ t an all-American. But in February of 2021, he played in a pro event in Ocala (Florida) and made eight birdies in a row. That really opened his eyes up to understanding and learning that he can play. He really kicked it in. Started to play well enough to get invited to some bigger tournaments. And he just continued to get better.”
Jarvis went to the LAAC at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic with every expectation that he would contend. His visited with Parker in Florida first and headed to the tournament with a confidence the believes someone not ranked among the top 1,000 amateurs in the world at the time.
He took the attitude that it was him against the course, and he tried not to dwell on those he was competing against.
A final-round score of 3-under-par 69 was good enough for the victory, although he had to sweat it out at the end as four players had a chance to tie him at 7 under.
Jarvis knew exactly what was at stake, but not all at home did. It took some time for the accomplishment to resonate and for what it will offer to become apparent. In addition to the Masters, Jarvis also earned a spot in the Open at St Andrews this summer, plus tee times in the US Amateur field and in final qualifying for the US Open.
For now, the focus is on Augusta National, and those who qualify are allowed five practice days on the course in advance of tournament week. Jarvis went for two days in February and again for three more days last week.
“It was pretty special seeing it for the first time,” Jarvis said. “The course was long and soft which it won’t be for the tournament obviously. It was nice to see what shots I need to play as much as can. It gave me some great experience.
“When I was there, I was like, ‘Oh my Gold I can’t believe I’m in here.’ I thought it would get more normal but that’s going to take some time.”
Last week, he returned to Augusta National to play practice rounds Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It was 27 holes the first day and 36 each of the last two. While there, he ran into Koepka who was getting a look at the course before heading to the WGC event in Texas.
Jarvis introduced himself, and Koepka offered some wisdom, encouraging the young am to reach out again next week. And later in the day, while playing the par-5 15th, it was Koepka who was up ahead and waiting beside the green.
“Aaron hit (his second shot) it to 8 feet and made eagle,” Parker said.
Jarvis was back a few weeks ago in Grand Cayman, where friends, family, fellow golfers, coaches and local dignitaries were on hand to have a celebration party for him. Among those in attendance was Martyn Roper, Cayman’s governor and the Queen’s representative to exercise her executive power.
It was a festive occasion, one meant to help mark a historic occasion that will see the flag of the Cayman Islands flying next week at Augusta National.
“Golf isn’t the biggest sport here,” Jarvis said. “Playing the Masters and the British Open can hopefully offer some inspiration, get more kids involved. And it’s extra motivation for me to keep working hard.”