2004: Golf needs Olympic boost

If you happen to own a television set, the weeks ahead undoubtedly will be filled with myriad colorful images from the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad in Athens, Greece.

You want sports? The Olympics offer all kinds, in all shapes and sizes, both mainstream and obscure. Archery. Badminton. Baseball. Canoe-kayak. Fencing. Handball. Judo. Table tennis. In all, there are 28 different sports comprising 37 disciplines.

So where is golf? Somebody at the International Olympic Committee must have forgotten to make a tee time. Alas, no golf is contested at the Games. (Sure, golf is listed by the IOC as a “recognized” sport, but so, too, are Korfball, Tug of War and Wushu. Seriously.)

In fact, the last time golf was staged as an official sport in the Olympics was in 1904. It’s time to scratch a century-old itch, don’t you think?

If you’re a golfer who couldn’t care less whether golf is in the Olympics, you ought to reconsider. Here’s why: Perhaps here in the United States we don’t need golf in the Olympics to spark new interest and grow the game, but elsewhere, the sport could use the boost. One need only visit the biennial World Amateur Team Championships (which will be played this fall in Puerto Rico) to witness the exuberance and enthusiasm players from Slovenia, Latvia or El Salvador feel for our great game.

In many of these countries, the curiosity and passion to play exist, but there aren’t significant dollars to build any kind of foundation. Getting golf into the Olympics would lend added credibility to the game, and would help open doors to national Olympic committees to lure funding to jumpstart national developmental programs. It’s a ripple effect that would make golf a big winner.

“We have over 100 countries now who are members of the International Golf Federation,” says David Fay, the U.S. Golf Association executive director who also wears a hat as co-secretary of the International Golf Federation, the group trying to get golf into the Olympic program.

“Two years ago,” says Fay, “we had men’s and women’s teams from Iran. Who would think?”

Olympic golf would never supplant the game’s four majors, and there has been great debate whether the competition would be better suited to pros or amateurs. (Some of the top men’s pros have expressed indifference to the prospect of Olympic golf, though most top female pros have shown support.) But getting top players to gather for one week somewhere on the globe – anywhere – clearly would be easier and less disruptive for golf than, say, hockey, which interrupts its NHL season for the Winter Games.

Getting golf into the program in Beijing, China, for 2008 appears to be a longshot at best, though Fay said recently the push isn’t completely dead.

The more realistic goal to get golf into the Olympics appears to be 2012. Next summer, those games will be awarded to either London, Paris, Moscow, Madrid or New York.

Could you imagine Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie representing the United States at the 2012 Games at, say, Bethpage Black? Talk about an electric return to the Games.

Seems a little more exciting than rhythmic gymnastics.

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