After more than a century-long hiatus, the sport of golf will return to the Olympics beginning with the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The much-anticipated addition became official Friday when International Olympic Committee members in Copenhagen, Denmark, voted in favor of golf’s inclusion along with rugby sevens. The two sports received the approval of the IOC Executive Board in August, but weren’t guaranteed admission until they won the entire IOC’s support.
The outcome led to exultation – and likely relief – for the world’s golf leaders, who worked under the banner of the International Golf Federation and lobbied 18 months to earn the blessing of the IOC.
Though the IGF made a concerted effort to a show a united front for its cause, golf’s return to the Summer Games wasn’t without its detractors.
From a competition standpoint, some questioned the need for Olympic golf, considering the sport’s highest honor is linked to its four majors. From a business perspective, naysayers scoffed at Olympic advocates who, they said, gave the impression that the sport’s addition would ignite a global golf boom.
Such concerns and persistent perceptions that golf is an elitist sport likely factored in the vote tally, which approved golf 63 to 27 with two abstentions. In contrast, rugby was voted in 81-8 with one abstention. The margin of victory, however, mattered little to IGF officials, who spent the past week wooing the vote of IOC members, campaigning from formal meetings to hallway handshakes. Instead, golf’s leaders reveled in the opportunity earned: A chance to draw the world’s attention to their sport every four years.
“We started the day with a great deal of trepidation, which is natural. . . . because there is always a danger that it might not happen,” said Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A and joint secretary of the IGF. “It’s a historic day for golf and the future growth of the game.”
News of golf’s addition to the Olympic program spread quickly at this week’s Presidents Cup. Many of the world’s top players expressed their support and began contemplating playing for Olympic gold. The IGF has proposed a 72-hole individual stroke play format for men and women.
“It means a world-class athlete like Ryo Ishikawa, an (18-year-old) teammate of mine this week at The Presidents Cup, can have the opportunity to win an Olympic medal for his country, something none of us in golf would have thought possible when we were growing up in the sport,” Mike Weir said.
Added Phil Mickelson: “Everybody is very excited that golf became an Olympic sport, and we are working hard on our games so that over the next six years we are able to make the team and represent our country in the Olympics.”
For golf’s leaders, the focus now quickly shifts to finding an appropriate venue for the sport’s Olympic return. For all of its natural beauty, Rio is not a golf destination. In fact, the entire country of Brazil only has approximately 100 courses, and it’s questionable whether any of them are truly championship-caliber. Only one within the city’s borders might meet competition criteria, and two other courses in the surrounding region could warrant consideration.
Limited options explain why there’s already much discussion about building a new facility, and that could lead to PGA Tour Golf Course Properties unveiling a TPC-branded layout in Rio, Golfweek has learned.
“It’s a possibility,” confirmed David Pillsbury, president and chief operating officer of PGA Tour Golf Course Properties. “We will be evaluating all the courses in Rio de Janeiro and talking to prospective partners in Rio about building something similar to TPC San Antonio, with a resort, a couple golf courses and a location that would be ideal to the Olympic city.”
According to PGA Tour executive Ty Votaw – one of the architects of golf’s Olympic bid – key leaders from the IOC, the host city and the IGF will work collaboratively to determine a location or authorize the construction of a new course.
The prospect of designing an Olympic venue, especially for such a watershed moment in golf’s history, is sure to attract architects eager to bid on the project. The biggest names already were at the front of the line.
“Nicklaus Design would be very interested in creating a Jack Nicklaus Olympic Golf Facility for Brazil,” said Paul Stringer, the course design firm’s senior vice president, in an e-mail.
Course architects won’t be the only ones seeking to capitalize on Olympic golf. From agents to TV executives and from corporate sponsors to equipment makers, the race is now on to cash in on the summer sports spectacle.
After all, the modern Olympics bears little resemblance to the Summer Games in St. Louis that last hosted golf in 1904. Back then, Canada’s George Lyon topped a 77-man field to win gold, but only the U.S. and Canada competed.
In 2016, athletes from more than 200 nations will descend upon Rio – and the world will be watching golf’s return.
– Brad Klein, Jim McCabe, Adam Schupak and Alistair Tait contributed
Though still subject to modifications, the International Golf Federation has proposed:
Format: 72-hole individual stroke play format for men and women
Field: 60 players selected from the Official World Golf Rankings. The top-15 world-ranked players would be eligible, regardless of the number of players from a given country. Beyond the top 15, players would qualify based on rankings, with a maximum of two eligible players from each country that does not already have two or more players among the top 15.
Current world rankings from both the men’s and women’s games show that at least 30 countries would be represented in both the men’s and women’s competitions, from all continents, under this proposal.