Golf In The OlympicsSeptember 23, 2008
By John Steinbreder
David Fay, executive director of the United States Golf
Association, traveled to Beijing this past August for the 2008
Olympics, but he did not go only as a spectator. He was also
there as part of a global effort to make golf a medal sport for
the 2016 Games. So were Peter Dawson, secretary of The Royal
and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (the R&A), and Ty
Votaw, executive vice president of the PGA Tour, both of whom
met in the Chinese capital with officials of the International
Olympic Committee (IOC). Their goal: make golf one of two new
sports the IOC is expected to add to its summer lineup in 2016.
That will be no easy task for the USGA's Fay and his
colleagues, who are members of a group recently formed by the
International Golf Federation (IGF) to
spearhead the initiative
. And they realize theirs will be a long and frequently
political journey that does not end until the IOC votes in
October, 2009, on which sports make the cut. But it is also one
that those on the IGF's Olympic Golf Committee - which also
includes representatives from the PGA of America, the European
PGA Tour, the LPGA and Augusta National Golf Club - feel is
important on a number of levels. For one thing, they view it as
the best way to grow golf around the world, as inclusion in the
Games will induce individual countries to fund development of
the sport in their lands. And they like how the Olympics can
put golf on an even more global stage every four years.
It is also a trek they think they can complete with success.
"Golf has so much to offer the Olympics in terms of the number
of participants on all continents, strong women's and youth
programs and the culture of integrity," said Fay.
As executive director of the IGF's Olympic Golf Committee,
Votaw is leading the effort to make that case - and he has a
busy time ahead of him - beginning with a presentation this
November to the IOC Programme Commission, which is charged with
evaluating the seven sports under consideration for the 2016
Games, and then continuing with one in June to the IOC
executive board and its president. In between, Votaw's
committee must complete an extensive questionnaire for the
organization. Then, it is on to Copenhagen, Denmark, in
October, 2009, when the 115 or so members of the IOC
representing some 70 countries will decide on the site for the
2016 Olympics as well as the two new sports.
Tokyo, Madrid, Chicago and Rio de Janeiro are the final site
candidates, and karate, rugby sevens, roller sports and squash
are vying with golf to be one of the two new sports selected,
as are softball and baseball, both of which were dropped after
Beijing and will not be part of the 2012 Games in London.
| ||"I think that golf as an Olympic
sport is exponentially more important to the game of golf
than the majors."|
-- Phil Mickelson
"It's a tough, very political process," said Votaw. "We got
very good feedback in Beijing, though, and we feel good moving
One of the keys to the success of this bid is the support of
the world's touring pros. "The IOC has made it clear that it
requires new Olympic sports to have a significant number of the
sports' top players participating," said Fay. "We have the
commitment of the leading professional tours. The importance of
the tours' support can't be overstated."
The involvement of the PGA, European PGA and LPGA tours speaks to
that point. But what about the players themselves? Phil Mickelson
has come out in favor of the idea, saying: "I think that golf as an
Olympic sport is exponentially more important to the game of golf
than the majors. And the reason for that is it would bring in 168
different countries and their Olympic foundations, and all those
revenues would go toward the growth of the game."
Vijay Singh, a recent inductee to the World Golf Hall of Fame who
learned to play growing up on the tiny island nation of Fiji, has
also voiced his support. "I think golf would be a great thing for
the Olympics," he said.
Peter Dawson of the R&A said he had heard similar sentiment
among other touring pros. "We have been getting it universally from
the top women players, and we are hearing it increasingly from the
What those touring pros are no doubt hearing from leaders like
Dawson and Fay is how much their support, and the subsequent
acceptance of golf in the Olympics, would mean for the game.
"Being part of the Summer Olympic program will be important in
places where golf is in its early development, because it is
clearly the most effective way to get national Olympic committees
to invest money in a sport they otherwise would not," said
Fay. "Look at what happened with tennis in Russia once it was added
to the Olympics. It spurred the Russian government and national
Olympic committee to provide funding, and a look at today's tennis
world rankings confirms that was money and resources well spent.
So, our view is that if you are looking to grow the game in parts
of Asia, South America, Eastern Europe and Africa, getting golf on
the Summer Olympic program is vital."
"And if that happens," added Votaw, "the entire industry benefits,
from equipment makers to course designers to travel companies."
Industry watchers argue that increased government spending is only
one of the benefits of making golf an Olympic competition. Another
is the overall exposure golf would receive. The fans who watch the
U.S. Open Championship or other majors on television, or follow an
event like the Ryder Cup, are in most cases already familiar with
the game. But millions of people who watch the Olympics know little
or nothing about golf, and the sense is that seeing stars like
Tiger Woods and Lorena Ochoa competing in 2016 would only build the
sport up further.
Interestingly, golf is no stranger to the Olympics. It was included
in the 1900 Summer Games in Paris and also those played in St.
Louis in 1904.
More than a century later, the leading organizations in golf are
trying to get it back in. "I think we can make a very attractive
case," said Fay.
John Steinbreder is a freelance golf writer based in Redding,
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