Prepping for the Olympics

Rio de Janeiro is the site of the 2016 Games, where golf will make its return to the Olympics.
Rio de Janeiro is the site of the 2016 Games, where golf will make its return to the Olympics. ( Associated Press )

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Olympics in Brazil are six years away, and golf has only one shot to make a good impression before another vote to determine whether the sport makes it beyond the 2020 Games.

More than finding (or building) the right golf course in Rio de Janeiro is making sure golf is embraced.

Golf in South America has been growing slowly but steadily over the last 10 years, producing such stars as two-time major champion Angel Cabrera of Argentina and Camilo Villegas of Colombia.

Which makes the Tour de las Americas, among golf’s smallest circuits, more important than ever.

“This process needs to be speeded up a little bit because of the Olympics and because of the globalization in golf. And we can say with the crisis of the economy, it makes new markets more attractive,” said Henrique Lavie, commissioner of the Tour de las Americas.

“The U.S. PGA Tour has been very successful in what they have done in Latin America,” he said, mentioning tournaments in Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and a recent Nationwide Tour stop in Colombia. “This is a great opportunity to look closely at that market. And they are talking to the Tour de las Americas on how to do it. I think there’s real interest, and we’re excited about it.”

U.S. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in March that golf needs to get to South America to develop interest, whether that’s the Presidents Cup (which has an opening in 2015) or a regular tournament.

One proposal under consideration is to alternate a World Golf Championship between the United States and South America during the next television contract that begins in 2013. Lavie said he spoke to U.S. tour officials two years ago about Brazil, which has a burgeoning economy and will host the Olympics in 2016.

“Brazil will be a strong leader in the near future, and taking a world championship there is great preparation for the Olympics and a great measure to test the market in terms of the ability to get a big sponsor,” said Lavie, who was based in Venezuela.

As for the golf course, Lavie said nearly a dozen architects have shown an interest in building the course to be used for the Olympics. His biggest concern is that the Olympic course is open to the public.

“I think that’s probably mandatory,” Lavie said. “A public golf course can make a big difference. I mentioned at the Presidents Cup the beauty of Harding Park (in San Francisco) being public, because such an event going to a public place means a lot to the game.”