WITH the London Olympics in full swing thoughts are naturally turning to the inclusion of golf in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.
Golf has not been part of the Olympics since the 1904 Games in St. Louis and since its reinstatement by the International Olympic Committee in 2009 there has been much discussion about what the format for the competition should be and who should be allowed to play.
One thing generally agreed is that the inclusion of golf in the games will be a huge boost to the game internationally, particularly in less developed countries.
Australian golfer Greg Norman is one of those who believe that while golf is struggling in developed countries such as Australia and the United States it will get a considerable boost in Rio.
“Golf is growing quickly in the third world in places likes Asia and Central and South America but it’s dead at the moment in the United States,” Norman said this week in London. “But it will get a big spike from being in the next Olympics. You only have to look back when tennis got back into the Games [in 1988].”
Norman admitted he was disappointed to miss out on the contract to design the Olympic golf course in Rio but said he would “give my right arm” to represent his country.
“The importance of winning a gold medal will be more apparent the closer you get to it.” Norman said.
Many of the world’s top golfers have said they would jump at the chance to play in the Olympics, including the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington.
Current World No. 1 Luke Donald was at the Olympics this week watching the tennis at Wimbledon.
“There was already a good atmosphere with all the countries’ flags down Regents Street,” Donald said. “… Hopefully, in four years, maybe I’m a part of that in Rio.”
Tiger Woods agreed. “I hope I can qualify,” the 14-time major champion said. “… I would love to be able to have a chance to represent my country in playing in the Olympic Games.”
Phil Mickelson, an avid sports fan and Olympic Games watcher, will be 46 when Rio gets underway.
“I’m really excited about golf being an Olympic sport,” Mickelson said. “It also gives me great motivation to continue work and practice and dedication in an effort to become an Olympic athlete — albeit, an old Olympic athlete.”
At this stage the competition is expected to be a generic 72 hole strokeplay event with 60 male and 60 female golfers competing in separate weeks.
It has been recommended by the International Golf Federation that
player selection be based on the Official World Golf Ranking in the summer of 2016.
The top 15 players would be eligible, regardless of their country, and beyond those, the rest of the field would qualify based on the world ranking but there would be a maximum of two players from each country that does not already have two or more among the top 15.
A “Royal Melbourne-style” course
The next step is the design of the course and that is an area where Australian golfers might get an unexpected benefit. A senior US PGA Tour official believes the course will be built very much in a “Royal Melbourne – sand belt style” .
The course will be built in a scenic area about five kilometres from the Athletes Village. The property sits amidst stands of mangroves and on the other side of a lagoon that is about a par-5’s distance from the Atlantic Ocean.
The designer is American Gil Hanse and his partner Amy Alcott who were selected ahead of a much more high profile groups of bidders that included the Greg Norman and Lorena Ochoa team, the Jack Nicklaus and Annika Sorenstam team and Gary Player’s design company.
The 48 year old Hanse has a much-acclaimed design philosophy that focuses on preserving and protecting the integrity of the land, maximizing the natural characteristics of the terrain and minimizing human impact on the landscape during construction.
His Castle Stuart course near Aberdeen, Scotland, is generally regarded as his best.
“I think he’ll build a golf course that’s conducive to the land,” says Ty Votaw, US PGA Tour executive vice president for Communications and International Affairs.
“There’s not a lot of undulations or natural features to the land that lend themselves to a certain style. It will have that linksy feel to it in some regards, but I also think it will have a Royal Melbourne style; the sand belt-kind of golf courses.”
There have been published reports of a dispute over the ownership of the land but Votaw says the IGF has been assured that regardless of the resolution, construction on the course won’t be delayed.
Once begun, it is expected to be completed in less than two years so a test event can be run, possibly in 2015.