2005: Newsmakers - An Olympic effort to grow the game

It seems a very long time ago – close to 20 years – when I was first approached by the then-president of the European Golf Association requesting the PGA European Tour’s support for their campaign to have golf rejoin the Olympics.

Golf has been outside of sport’s greatest show for nearly a century. Many respected figures in our sport feel golf is better off for being away from the political machinations that have seen boycotts, drug scandals and in the extreme example of 1936, the Berlin games shamelessly exploited by Adolf Hitler.

One good reason – perhaps the only valid reason – for supporting golf’s bid to rejoin the Olympic movement registered in my mind after all of these years at our meeting in Copenhagen. Put simply, European golf’s amateur rulers told us “until golf becomes an Olympic sport our national governments will not take us seriously and will not provide any meaningful assistance to help us grow the game.”

That was, and remains today, a most-powerful argument for golf’s pro-Olympians and it enabled me to carry the PGA European Tour’s support in principle throughout most all of these years. The European Golf Association has been a strong partner since the tour’s inception at a meeting in Madrid in August 1971. The Spanish and French federations participated in that meeting and were influential in having virtually all of their western European colleagues agree to put their National Opens into the then-fledgling Tour. Their voice was, and remains, influential and they are committed to having golf inside the fold.

During late ’80s and early ’90s there was much less enthusiasm in St. Andrews (Royal & Ancient), Far Hills (USGA), Palm Beach Gardens (PGA of America) and Ponte Vedra Beach (PGA Tour) for the idea of golf joining the Olympics. Golf had its Olympics four times each year – at the majors. And then the Ryder Cup also had taken off to say nothing of the arrival of the Presidents Cup. Slowly, however, the climate changed.

The European Golf Association lobby never slackened and they took their case to the rest of the world, where very quickly other emerging territories bought into the idea – desperate for government funding to help assist the game’s development. The Royal & Ancient together with the U.S. Golf Association began to see possibilities and commenced more serious studies of the issue.

By 1997, during the Ryder Cup matches at Valderrama in Spain, a powerful delegation from golf’s power-brokers – now including the PGA Tour and the PGA of America – met with Juan Antonio Samaranch, then-president of the International Olympic Committee. Samaranch was positive at that meeting that the IOC would like to accommodate golf – provided the best players participated. That meant, of course, a professional event and perhaps at that time golf was still not absolutely sure whether the Olympics were right. Tennis had rejoined the games and mixed views greeted its return – a good number of the best players entered, but an almost equal number of stars stayed away. Prime-time television was nearly nonexistent as the traditional disciplines of track and field, swimming, gymnastics, boxing and cycling dominated TV screens and the written media.

Would golf fare any better?

To date, the issue has not been put to the test. Samaranch retired and was replaced by Jacques Rogge from Belgium. Rogge maintained his predecessor’s pursuit of golf but in pledging to contain the size of the modern Olympics agreed that before any fresh sport be admitted – one from the existing schedule had to be voted out. Easier said than done.

Golf’s time may be soon. In Singapore July 6-9, the IOC will not only vote on the city to play host to the Summer Games of 2012 but also will vote either on status quo for their schedule or to evoke change and admit another sport or two. Golf is close to the top of that list.

It should be ready to answer the call if selected for the same reasons given to me back in Copenhagen. It may just help further grow the game.

I must declare a modest conflict of interest – my daughter is working the London bid. What price a double? If not London, then there are equally good venues for golf in Madrid, Paris, New York and, yes, even Moscow.

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