Over one hundred years have passed since one of the world’s most popular sports graced the Olympic Games. If you delve into the history books, the much loved game of golf last featured in 1904 at the St. Louis Summer Games.
The 112 year dynasty of Canadian George Lyon as reigning champion will soon be over as a new name is inscribed into the archives of the sport’s somewhat bizarre association with the Olympics.
It is with great repentance that even before a putt has been holed, the importance of the Olympics towards elite golfers is already becoming a contentious debate following a string of withdrawals from some of the leading lights in the world of golf. A sense of alienation is already apparent with the top four ranked players on the planet all unwilling to partake in this monumental event – with many citing a fear of the Zika virus and a congested calendar as the reasoning behind their decision not to partake.
The most noticeable absentees include Jordan Speith and Rory McIlroy who between them have amassed six major championships. Despite the non-appearances of 17 eligible male players, the likes of multiple Master winner Bubba Watson and world number 11 Justin Rose are scheduled to compete for a place on the podium.
In Rio, men and women will compete individually on the new Olympic golf course designed by Hanse Golf Course Design. The renowed U.S-based company managed to stave off the competition of seven other finalists thanks to their paradigmatic proposal that was judged most suited to the criteria outlined by Rio 2016.
The 18-hole course meets one of the key legacy objectives of being suitable for both elite and amateur athletes. It features two artificial lakes, an ample supply of bunkers and a number of other features and obstacles – guaranteed to provide world-class entertainment in outstanding facilities for up to 15,000 onlookers.
The course has already been endorsed by some of Brazil’s leading players. Miriam Nagl took part in the first test event four months ago. The 35-year-old enthused: “The course is in great shape. It suits a player using mid and long irons to approach the greens. I would say it’s equal to a good course like the Doral in Miami.”
The nation’s number one golfer Victoria Lovelady echoed similar sentiments to her fellow countrywoman. “The course is perfect, it’s challenging and offers beautiful views, close to the sea and surrounded by mountains.”
The format of both the male and female 2016 Olympic golf tournaments will be 72 holes in duration, played at stroke play. 60 men and women will make up the playing fields for the event and only individual medals will be awarded. The top ranked 15 golfers in the world gain automatic qualification, but with a maximum limit of four golfers from any one nation. Outside of the top 15, only two golfers per country will make the cut.
This tournament promises to be a far cry from the epic 1908 tournament that never was. Defending champion Lyon crossed the Atlantic to tackle an assembly of talent from the British amateur golf ranks which included World Golf Hall of Fame inductees Harold Hilton and John Ball.
However, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews became entangled in a disagreement with the Olympic organising committee over player eligibility, leading to the withdrawals of the entire home contingent. Consequently, this left the disillusioned Canadian as the only competitor and for that reason refused to accept the gold medal that he was offered.
In spite of the controversy surrounding golf’s reinstatement to the Olympic Games, the chief purpose of the 2016 event is to create a lasting legacy by promoting golf in Brazil as well as globally, with the course being utilised as a public resource after Rio.
Golf needs to use the platform of the Olympics as a catalyst to enhance its audience base. It appears many golfers don’t perceive partaking at an Olympics as an opportunity, but a burden, an unnecessary hindrance.
South African golfer and world number 67 Jaco Van Zyl is a player not conforming to these beliefs with the 37-year-old missing two majors to ensure he can perform at the peak of his powers in Rio. He admits: “To me, the Olympics is the pinnacle of all sporting events.” Van Zyl is taking what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opening, but will others live to regret their choices in four years time?