What will golf’s future be at the Olympics?
By Andrew Whiley
A voice from the south
In September of 1904, at St Louis in Missouri, a Canadian golfer won the gold medal for golf at the Olympics.
His name was George Lyon. He was the winner of the individual event.
There was also a team event. That was won by The Western Golf Association players from the United States. Second in the team’s event A won was The Trans-Mississippi Golf Association while third was the USGA team.
As you are reading this article, you will likely be busy watching the Rio Olympics and it’s amazing athletes. Hopefully, New Zealand will be on track to win 10 gold medals with Lydia Ko winning the ladies’ golf competition and Danny Lee or Ryan Fox bringing home a medal too.
But should golf really be at the Olympics? With some of the world’s best players pulling out, I wonder how many of the top 20 male players will be there? Can they really blame the Zika virus for their withdrawal, or is this just a convenient excuse?
I believe the Olympic organisers have actually failed in two aspects when it comes to golf at the Olympics. Firstly, it should be a strictly amateur-based event. Secondly, the golf course should have actively been played on over the last two years.
Adam Scott was the first top player that I heard who openly admitted that maybe the Olympic organisers got it wrong with having professionals play, rather than the world’s leading amateur golfers. Scott’s comments highlighted that having amateur golfers would have been the best way to grow the game on the global stage.
When you look at the schedule of the world’s greatest golf circuit, the PGA Tour, trying to accommodate the Olympics was always going to be difficult.
The Olympics come in a soft period of the schedule where players would be taking a couple weeks off after the majors, before heading into the tour playoffs.
I also note some of the international players that have qualified have dropped out to focus on keeping their tour card. Think about it; if Tim Wilkinson is sitting at 115 on the money list and knowing he needs to stay in the top 125 to retain his card, would he be keen to head to Rio to play?
I would think he would decide to stay and focus on keeping his card for next year? Job security would come first!
The Olympic golf course was finished in November of last year and a test event was held in March of this year, where the best player to play was ranked 588 in the world.
The organisers had hoped to get some of the world’s best there to experience the course and to assist the organisers to gain experience in handling the logistics of hosting a major event. The delay in opening the course was due to legal issues over land ownership and environmental issues. The course had been scheduled to open in 2014.
The course designer is Gil Hanse, who really isn’t a household name in golf course architecture but has an extensive resume in renovating golf courses. I know the PGA Tour wouldn’t play a major event on a golf course that hadn’t been tested and players rarely enjoy playing a new course.
The grow-in at Rio was better than anticipated but it will be interesting to see how the course does play and how quickly the course can mature. After the Olympics, the course will be handed over to be used as a public golf facility to grow the game in a country that has no golfers ranked in the top 500.
Time will tell with regards to this year’s Olympics and how successful the golfing event will be. Roll on the 2020 Olympics in Japan and seeing golf continue on the list of sports. However, will it be pros or amateurs playing? One also hopes that Zika will not have spread there too.