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Know what we’re great at – then rinse and repeat!

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It is more than timely that the benefits of attracting world-class sport to our shores have manifested in the donation of almost $650,000 to charity by the 2021 Butterfield Bermuda Championship.

In a week that has been dominated by calls from politicians and other commentators to bring back the America’s Cup and its potential to re-energise a floundering Bermuda economy — more on that later — this news from the PGA Tour through its Birdies for Charity programme is more than welcome.

While the $1.1 million that has been raised in the three years of this event has been great, it is the scope of what may be to come that should excite Bermudians — and not only those who consider themselves golf aficionados.

What we do best: the reception Bermudian professional Chaka DeSilva received playing in his first PGA Tour event at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship last year was one of the iconic shots of the tournament (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Drinking in reality: Bermuda’s chances of becoming a host venue for the America’s Cup vanished immediately after Emirates Team New Zealand’s victory in 2017 (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Butterfield has committed as the title sponsor until 2023 and, with the prospect that Port Royal Golf Course may attract a more star-studded field by dint not only of being a stand-alone event but also through the increased prize money, the once fanciful claims of former tourism minister Zane DeSilva that US Ryder Cup star Tony Finau would be on his way to Bermuda might not be so fanciful after all.

As it was, we saw former world No 6 Patrick Reed in 2021, a Masters champion only three years removed from his previous appearance in the world’s most famous team event and a member of the US squad under non-playing captain Tiger Woods that swept all before them in the President’s Cup in Australia in 2019.

We also welcomed Matt Fitzpatrick, Jason Dufner, Graeme McDowell, Noh Seung Yul, Bae Sang Moon, Luke Donald, Padraig Harrington — all top players in their own right, past and present — and a host of others who are working their way up the ranks of the PGA Tour.

So the Bermuda Championship is building up a head of steam where it relates to international stardust. Michael Collins, the chairman and chief executive of Butterfield, was spot-on last week when he said: “The Birdies for Charity programme has increased the potential for charitable impact tremendously.”

The increased popularity of the tournament comes at a time when the country is desperate to attract more eyes and greater foreign direct investment as we endeavour to recover from economic turmoil that has been only exacerbated by two years of a crippling pandemic.

Gratefully, we are approaching the stage where we can learn to live with Covid as new, far less deathly variants elicit an endemic response rather than a pandemic one — even the most patient and self-restrained have found themselves at breaking point with each round of restrictions.

By the time some of the world’s best tee it up at Port Royal on October 20, we should be accommodating a full house as opposed to a restricted few. And that can be only good for the business of selling Bermuda.

It is true that this is not only a job for golf but for sailing (SailGP, Gold Cup, Newport Bermuda Race), rugby union (World Rugby Classic), triathlon (World Triathlon Series), road running (Bermuda Triangle Challenge) — each of which so regularly bring visitors to our shores. And these visitors stay in our hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs, and shop in our stores, adding welcome dollars to the Bermuda economy.

For that reason, David Burt, the Premier, was right —albeit unwittingly — to dismiss the prospect of hosting the 37th America’s Cup when he addressed Parliament in his capacity as tourism minister on Friday.

But where he erred was in playing down those glory days of 2017 as a “rinse and repeat” tourism strategy — just as his Progressive Labour Party and its coterie of landlubbers were wrong to put the America’s Cup on blast at every turn. Except for when they were spotted enjoying themselves at the event.

Who wouldn’t want a return to Front Street being full to capacity for a World Series event and the buzz sweeping the island during a month and more of top-class and innovative sailing on the Great Sound?

Who wouldn’t want to be the next Emily Nagel or Mustafa Ingham, who became household names because of the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup and have now kicked on in their respective sailing careers?

Who wouldn’t want the legacy that has been created by the Endeavour Programme, servicing aspiring, young Bermudians?

Finally, PwC reported that the event delivered a 535 per cent return in projected revenues.

So rinse and repeat me!

What Mr Burt and his colleagues in the Opposition, plus those farther afield who got caught up in this air of fantasy, failed and/or lacked the knowhow to elucidate is that any attempt at bidding for the Cup would have been a sure-fire exercise in throwing good money after bad.

It should not take long for anyone who paid close attention to the America’s Cup cycle between the 34th and 35th editions to sniff out such an eventuality.

A quick history lesson.

Just to win the bid for AC35 required a masterful working of the oracle — pun intended — by Sir Russell Coutts representing the America’s Cup Event Authority and Grant Gibbons in his role as Minister of Economic Development. Getting the cup-holders, Oracle Team USA, to get in bed with Bermuda while royally teeing off San Diego was a masterstroke and the highlight of Michael Dunkley’s premiership. But the key then was that the Americans had the cup, and this was the first time they had defended outside of mainland USA.

Cue Emirates Team New Zealand, the reigning cup-holders. No challenger protested with their feet against the selection of Bermuda as host venue more than the Kiwis. They fought in the boardrooms and in the media before belatedly making their way to the island as the last team to set up camp in Dockyard.

They then went on and won the thing. Rather convincingly. And, again, with their feet, thanks to some outstandingly innovative technology.

So, despite their country incurring a multimillion-dollar loss in hosting a successful defence last year and exclusive talks breaking down with the New Zealand Government for 2024, looking towards Bermuda as a potential host venue for AC37 — effectively “home court” for the Americans — is beyond highly improbable.

Málaga and Barcelona in Spain, Cork in Ireland and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia are the venues in contention, the winner to be announced by the end of next month.

There have been evaluation visits to at least one suitor already. Bermuda started thinking about this seriously — politically and on social media — last week!

Talk about “After the Lord Mayor’s Show”.

Any foolhardy attempt at this juncture would be as embarrassingly dismissed and at considerable expense as England’s attempt to overawe football world governing body Fifa with a holy trinity of David Beckham, David Cameron and William, the Duke of Cambridge in attendance in Zurich in December 2010 when bidding to host the 2018 World Cup — only to be dumped out of the bidding process after the very first round.

The England bid infamously won a mere two votes out of 22 despite being assured otherwise by fat, middle-aged guys in suits only too happy to appear in photo ops pressing the flesh with the most famous man in football, the British prime minister and a future king.

Bermuda would be so lucky.

It is right of our ambition to be on the periphery of conversation for AC37 — but only as a potential venue for a World Series event, not the Challenger Series or the America’s Cup match itself. Not until the Americans regain possession of the Auld Mug and prioritise racing on this side of the Atlantic.

Until then we should stay in our lane and place emphasis on locking down and upgrading what we have already.

The Butterfield Bermuda Championship, and any potential spin-off, is a tremendous place to start.

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Published February 07, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated February 06, 2022 at 3:05 pm)

Know what we’re great at – then rinse and repeat!

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