Native son's success on tour a boost for golf in the Caribbean

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

In Trinidad, they love their music, sports and partying, not necessarily in that order. Golf, it so happens, is pretty far down in the pecking order.

But, Trinidad native Stephen Ames' recent tie for sixth at the MCI Heritage and win at the 2004 Western Open each gave the twin-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago a major shot in a minor sport.

"Maybe a few thousand people (in Trinidad) know what I've achieved," Ames told reporters.

That's changed, though. Ames' win was met with a media splash in his homeland.

"It was the front page story here, with a lot of photos," said Keith Clement, assistant sports editor of The Guardian, one of the island's three major newspapers. "It was the leading story for all the Trinidad papers - even when the West Indies cricket team is playing in England. That should be an idea of how big it is because cricket is sacred here in the West Indies."

Indeed, Trinidad native Brian Lara, captain of the West Indies, is revered in his homeland, and receives constant media acclaim. Most Caribbeans know the West Indies team, drawn from all the Caribbean islands, by heart and follow their every move in test matches as well as exhibitions.

Following the sport, and anguishing over its defeats, is a national pasttime.

Golf finishes maybe seventh in the Trinidad sports pantheon, behind games like cricket, soccer and basketball. There are only four 18-hole golf courses in the two islands, two on Trinidad and two on Tobago, about a 20-minute flight away from its larger cousin.

There were more than that when Ames was growing up in Trinidad. Luckily, he lived a chip shot away from one of them.

Ames estimated there were about 1,000 golfers in the islands when he started, and maybe 3,000-4,000 now.

Ames turned pro in 1987 and joined the PGA Tour in 1996, after competing for a while on the European Tour. The last couple of years, he's been getting more attention in his homeland press, particularly the last year, his best thus far.

His two-shot win over American Steve Lowery in the 2004 Western was his eighth Top 10 finish in 16 tournaments.

"His win was the talk of the day on Monday for sports fans in general," said Marina Nunces, general manager of the St. Andrews Golf Club on Trinidad. "I went to a high school on Monday and one of the teachers said to me, 'Hey, how about Ames?' Given how well he's been doing this year, there was already growing interest."

Prior to the Western, the closest he ever came to winning was a second-place finish at The Players Championship in 2002.

"In the past, I've been very frustrated, impatient, those kind of things," he said. "Now I realize I had opportunities in the past where I've played well and didn't win."

So recognition has come slowly for Ames, who now lives in Calgary and has Canadian citizenship.

"There are people who follow my career, but I'm not given the recognition of my career on what I've done," he said after his win. "Achieving what I've achieved here, maybe I will get the recognition."

According to Clement, sports fans in Trinidad are becoming increasingly aware of Ames.

"Golf is one of the rising sports in Trinidad and Tobago and all because of Stephen Ames," Clement said.

Will his success on the PGA Tour have an impact on the sport in Trinidad?

"It may well have, especially among the youth," Clement said, mentioning the Trinidad junior team. "This is going to be a great motivator for those athletes, to ... do well."

Ames praised junior golf in the country and said he helps out whenever he can.

"There are a lot of good junior players coming out of Trinidad right now. I've put a few hours of my time in there trying to help them as much as I can, and Nike has helped me in that respect, giving them clubs and balls," he said, adding that he enjoys going home to put on youth clinics.

Ames owns a restaurant in Calgary, and after his win, he closed it to serve champagne to his family and friends who have stuck by him through the years.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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