The ravages of Hurricane Dorian hit home for former Bahamian tennis pro Mark Knowles – his sister Samara lives on Abaco, his stepfather owned a hotel in Hope Town; they were completely wiped out along with thousands of other Bahamians. Knowles could only watch the devastation helplessly from New York, where he was at the U.S. Open. He said it killed him not to be here.
“We know how beautiful The Bahamas is, and what [was] also hard for me when I was in New York was just seeing the destruction, because we know about the beauty that our country has, and to see it devastated like that…to see people suffer is just really hard to stomach,” said Knowles.
He’s here now!
The Bahamian tennis legend has joined forces with Baha Mar to host the Baha Mar Cup, a one-of-a-kind tennis fundraising event at Baha Mar to benefit victims of Hurricane Dorian, November 7-10. As part of Baha Mar’s ongoing dedication to continued relief efforts, all proceeds and winnings from the Baha Mar Cup will go directly to storm victims and support of the long-term recovery of The Bahamas as the country moves forward to rebuild the communities on The Abacos and Grand Bahama, according to Baha Mar officials.
“We know what type of people Bahamians are – they come together…they help one another,” said Knowles. “[The Baha Mar Cup is] a real opportunity to give back to the community. Baha Mar has always been about giving back to the community and this is a really nice platform. The Bahamas was devastated by Hurricane Dorian, it’s a real opportunity for us to come together and bring down a lot of tennis pros from across the globe to come down and really get behind this effort. It’s going to be a tremendous event and I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.
Karin Salinas, Baha Mar’s senior vice president, marketing, said Baha Mar is committed to sustained relief and rebuilding efforts on the neighboring islands.
“We are bringing our international network of friends and supporters together at Baha Mar to raise funds, awareness and champion The Bahamas on a global stage,” said Salinas.
The Baha Mar Cup fits into the Baha Mar Foundation’s mission which is built on the three pillars of community, culture and conservation. The foundation reflects the property’s commitment to building a strong future for The Bahamas. Through volunteerism and monetary donations, it is the foundation’s goal to champion sustainable conservation efforts, celebrate the diverse cultural traditions and artistic expressions of The Bahamas and strengthen the community through improvements in education.
“This is a no-brainer,” said Knowles, a professional tennis coach who serves as tournament host. “It’s a real special opportunity to use not only the Baha Mar resort, but also The Bahamas as a platform to show people the beauty that we know we have and [that] it’s better in The Bahamas, but it’s going to be even better in The Bahamas after all the relief work. I am honored to share the beauty and warmth of my country with the world as we come together to help the people of Abaco and Grand Bahama to build an even better Bahamas,” said the former tennis pro.
“So, this is a real special opportunity for me to join with Baha Mar and be part of this Baha Mar Cup, and not just this year, hopefully this will continue to have a longstanding relationship which will be very important,” he said.
“I’ve always wanted to give back to The Bahamas – always wanted to help the community and I’m a very proud Bahamian. A lot of my great results across the world, throughout my professional career, was because of the support I got from my people here at home, and so I want to continue to do that. I want to have a legacy after I’m long gone, and I want to see the next champions come from The Bahamas from a tennis perspective and I also want to see our community continue to grow.”
The Baha Mar Cup will feature a pro-am tournament pitting professional tennis legends against devoted fans, exhibition matches with appearances from surprise celebrities, Baha Mar’s official UTR (Universal Tennis Rating) tournament, The Baha Mar Futures Cup and other events held throughout Baha Mar’s Racquet Club’s nine tennis courts, including hard, har-tru clay and grass surfaces.
The event, which will air on the Tennis Channel, is already attracting tennis talent and star power. To date, 15-year-old American tennis superstar Coco Gauff will join tennis legends Andy Roddick, a former world number one; Tommy Haas, former professional player and Olympic silver medalist; and James Blake, retired professional player and current president of the United States Tennis Association Foundation; as well as country music favorite Charles Esten, known for his star role in the hit television series “Nashville”, who will perform live at Baha Mar on Friday, November 8.
“I am proud to join the global tennis community for a weekend of exceptional tennis at Baha Mar, which will directly benefit relief and rebuilding efforts for those affected by Hurricane Dorian,” said Gauff, who most recently upset Venus Williams in three sets at the French Open – which she followed up with an appearance at Wimbledon, where at 15-years-old, she was the youngest professional player to compete; and the U.S. Open where she played against world number one and defending Champion Naomi Osaka.
Esten said he is honored to bring his music to The Bahamas for resort guests and tournament participants at the charity event.
“The Bahamas is a special place, and I can’t think of a better way to lend support, a helping hand and make people feel good through my music,” said Esten.
“It’s going to be a tremendous event and I’m really looking forward to it,” said Knowles.
The Bahamian tennis legend recalled his phone “blowing up” with texts from people asking what they could do to help, and not just from people in the tennis community, as soon as the storm hit. With that massive outpouring of concern from people globally, he said it was important for him to come up with a plan – and the ability to join in with Baha Mar and come up with the Baha Mar Cup to create a platform to give back, he said, was important.
Since Hurricane Dorian’s passage, Baha Mar has encouraged guests, friends and the communities to donate directly at www.BahaMar.com/Dorian. Additionally, Baha Mar urges those traveling to The Bahamas to #PackWithLove and bring an item or two to be shared directly with victims of Hurricane Dorian – shoes, baby items, books, educational supplies, stuffed animals and small toys. To date, Baha Mar has donated $2 million in support of immediate disaster relief and long-term recovery for the islands.
Knowles – who carried the Bahamian flag for more than two decades on the professional circuit, achieved the ranking of number one doubles player in the world, won multiple Grand Slam titles and is also a five-time Olympian – said hosting the tournament to raise funds means everything to him. He’s proud to continue waving the flag in a unifying fundraising effort with Baha Mar.
“You have to be Bahamian to understand what it’s like to come from a small country. We remember those days of us playing Davis Cup against the United States and taking on the goliaths of the world and we see with our track and field stars achieving gold medals, we see with Buddy Hield in the NBA…I still talk to Mychal Thompson on almost a weekly basis…Bahamians stay pretty close together. We’re a close-knit bunch because we know how hard it is to make it on a global stage. We don’t just do it alone, we do it with the support from everybody here, so it means the world to me. It’s something that I’m very proud of and fortunate and I’m honored to be a part of the Baha Mar Cup and I really encourage everyone to come out and lend their support.”
Knowles said the event will be one junior players will appreciate for a long time to come as a tennis clinic will be hosted for them, showcasing fun drills and an opportunity to get close and personal with the stars.
“I still remember when I was a kid – I’m an old man now as we know, but I remember clear as yesterday when Bjorn Borg (a Swedish former world number one tennis player) came to Lyford Cay and I still remember I drove through those gates and saw him crossing the road right in front of me, and he was my idol growing up. Just that little connection when you’re a young kid and have aspirations, it really goes a long way.”
As he prepares to host the Baha Mar Cup, life has come full circle for Knowles, who grew up at the Emerald Beach Hotel and then Nassau Beach Hotel tennis courts; the Baha Mar courts are in the same general vicinity.
“If anything’s ever my home, this is my home. I probably spent more time on these grounds than anywhere else in the world, because my formative years were spent here every single day, hitting on the wall at Emerald Beach and then on to Nassau Beach so it’s really special to look around here and see what an incredible place this is, first of all. It’s just pretty amazing to think back to Emerald Beach days, but it’s a beautiful tennis facility here [at Baha Mar] and what I love most is that Baha Mar is really about giving back to the community, and also from the tennis angle it’s really special,” said the father of three.
For the record, Knowles’s son Brody, 11, loves tennis as much as his dad, and anytime they’re in The Bahamas, he says, they play with the juniors at every court because Brody wants to play on everything – grass and hardcourt. If there’s one thing he doesn’t want his son to take from him, it’s that legendary Knowles temper.
“He’s got a competitive temper in him, so we’re working on that, and I try to tell him – do as dad says, not did,” said Knowles tongue-in-cheek.
For more information on tickets and participating in The Baha Mar Cup tennis tournament visit www.bahamar.com.