Olympic Golf – a Game?
At least in my family, the debate continues as to whether golf is a sport or a game. The verdict tends to swing towards “game.” Well, for the 2016 Olympics in Rio
de Janeiro, that’s just fine, because they’re called the “Olympic Games.” In that year, we will be reintroduced to “Olympic Golf,” an aspect of the games that has been missing since 1900 and 1904, when they were included in the Paris and St. Louis Olympics. That’s the era of my great grandparents, and my first mental image was an attempt to imagine what the equipment and attire must have looked like.
Twenty two golfers participated in the 1900 games, ten women and twelve men. France sent nine golfers, with one from Greece. Between the two games, American Charles Sands and Canadian George Lyons made off with the gold. In the second go-round, the U.S. women did very well, with Margaret Ives Abbott, Pauline Whittier and Doria Pratt taking the medals. Seventy seven golfers competed in the 1904 games, and Canada’s gold medal performance was all the more impressive, as only three golfers were present from that country, as opposed to seventy four Americans.
Golf was not considered again until 1996. The Olympic Committee dropped the idea, believing that there wouldn’t be enough interest from touring players. That seems not to be the case today. Many, including Tiger (if he hasn’t decided to retire by then at the age of forty), have expressed great interest. Lorena Ochoa would like to come back, and many of the leading women feel the same. Many of today’s prodigies will be in their prime by then, although some, such as Nick Price, have expressed a preference for true amateur golf – old school.
Others take exception to the intended format in Rio, which is based on the standard 72 hole tournament structure. Some feel that the spectator who is not an addicted golf watcher might have trouble with four days of stroke golf, instead of the head-to-head competition and elimination that match play provides, such as in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. One difference between the Games and Sunday is that there will be no cut.
Separate tournaments for men and women are planned, with sixty participants in each. The top fifteen players in the world will receive automatic invitations, with two more per country, unless they are too-well represented in that top 15. The rest will be decided through the IGF rankings. All medals will be individual in nature, with no team awards.
The Golf Channel is already very excited about Olympic Golf for 2016, and will broadcast full minute, 30’ and 15’ spots over the coming seasons, starting now in London. They will even cover construction of the course, which has not yet begun. Gil Hansen has been tapped for the design, and will receive ongoing input from Amy Alcott. The proposed name is the Rio 2016 Golf Club. Asked if there might be a chance for change of format, Ty Votaw suggested that the tour might be open to it in post-2016 play, but it is felt now that there might not be enough time for elimination match play.
The Olympic Games, as an institution, is both a global competition and celebration. Golf is, of course, a global game. Being reconsidered for inclusion in long past due, and it has been suggested that with a temporary fading of new golfers, perhaps in part, due to Tiger’s recent troubles, it’s a good shot in the arm. A gold medal should look good in the trophy case, and the tours are ready to join in.