Olympic Golf – A Big Success…But

Park&Rose_Gold_640x480Olympic golf was a smash hit but will that success help to accomplish the goal of those who believe the inclusion in the XXXI Olympiad summer games could result in significant numbers of people taking up the game? Will the Olympics reverse golf’s decline in participation?

There is no question how much being on the Olympic stage meant to each of the 120 who played. It was an experience of a lifetime and each felt some of the magic of being on the world stage.

Got it. Understand it.

However, the cynic in me doesn’t get how the hoped for mystique surrounding golf returning to the Olympics will somehow solve the steady leakage of players from the game. All that was missing from the Golf Channel’s coverage was the shot of a kilted bagpiper marching over a dune into the mist at sunset playing “Scotland the Brave.”

One of the primary reasons, indeed the biggest reason, the push was made to again have Olympic golf was the worldwide exposure would somehow help “grow the game.” Well, golf is already a worldwide sport with a history of championship play older than the Olympics so if you’re looking to showcase the game an Olympic field of just 60 players is ridiculous.

If its exposure we’re after let’s have the best in the world playing, a Team USA and a Team Great Britain and a Team China competing together not as individuals. Excepting the final round, individual play turned both events into just one more 72-hole march. Hasn’t anyone heard of a two player scramble or alternate shot? Both could be done with the total score counting for four rounds maybe with one round of individual play.

Regardless even if those changes are made we are left with the sobering question. Will any of those who watched Olympic golf, perhaps seeing the game for the first time, take up the game?

It might happen but in any appreciable numbers is inconceivable. One interesting outcome worth watching though is the effect Shanshan Feng winning the Bronze will have in her home country of China where the population is more than four times the U.S.

Developing countries with their large number of non-golfers are said to have a great potential for new players but generally they struggle to feed and house their people. They certainly don’t have the money to create programs for newbies to say nothing of building golf courses. This would seem to make an insurmountable problem for all the “grow the game” folks.

By now we should have figured out people play golf for a variety of motivations stemming from their own character, social needs and culture plus of course that’s assuming they have the time and can afford it.

Golf in the Olympics changes none of those things.

Millions of us golf nuts were thrilled to see the competition and hope in four years it will be even better but thinking that Olympic golf is going to somehow cure the industry’s participation ills is unrealistic. It’s not going to happen.

 

Why Not Olympic Caber Tossing?

Caber_toss

After more than a century golf is again an Olympic sport and perhaps it would be a good idea to consider also adding that other sporting contribution from the highlands of Scotland, caber tossing. You know, when really big guys in kilts pick up a log slightly shorter than a telephone pole and flip it in the air. The winner is the one who tosses it the furthest and presumably can remain standing long enough afterwards to accept the trophy. Adding the caber toss to the Olympics would provide immediate international exposure to the sport and probably result in a surge of participation around the world.

Makes sense or at least the same amount of sense as Olympic golf.

What does make an international competition important, exciting and memorable? Let’s see:

Representing your country – check

International visibility – check

Best players – check

Established historic courses – check

Interesting format – check

Scheduled allowing proper preparation – checkGolf,_Rio_2016

Pretty much what is found in the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup, the Solheim Cup, the Walker Cup, the Palmer Cup, the Eisenhower and Espirito Santo Trophies…well you get the idea.

The Olympics, for all the mythic qualities it may have for some sports, doesn’t have many check marks on the above list when it comes to golf. Not only are world class players dropping out left and right (with the top Americans still to be heard from) but the course outside Rio de Janeiro, while probably another of Gil Hanse’s first class designs, is anything but a historic venue having been just completed.

The format is a yawner. Two limited 60 player field 72-hole events, one for men and one for women. More to the point, and at least in the case of the men, for a variety of reasons not all the best will be there. Not only because some, like world number one Jason Day, have announced they won’t go but a country’s team may only be four players and all have to be in the top 15 of world ranking. Otherwise the national team is no more than two.  

Scheduling is also a huge problem. Olympic golf is sandwiched into an already crowded season. The British Open is followed by the Canadian Open, the week after is the PGA Championship then the Travelers Championship and then the Olympics concluding for the men on August 14. The FedEx Cup playoffs of four tournaments start August 25th concluding Sept. 25th and the Ryder Cup begins Sept. 30th.

Putting two major championships almost back to back, the PGA only two weeks after the Open, would be laughable if it weren’t so serious a compromise necessary to accommodate the Olympics. It about guarantees players, not just those going to Rio, will be unable to maintain their best games for the latter part of the season. It will be “burn out’ with capital letters.

The world’s top Brazil Olympic Games Emblemplayers have a full dance card or should I say top professionals since in another of the myriad inconsistencies surrounding the Olympics, amateurs are not eligible. But then again the professionals’ sponsors, who pay large amounts of money to gain exposure, get no Olympic benefit since team uniform, bags, etc. have no brand logos…at least there’s something in common with the Ryder Cup. NBC and the International Olympic Committee are making money from the Games and the athletes, professional or amateur, aren’t. Seems somehow inconsistent.

Brazil and the city of Rio de Janeiro have real problems. The country has both a major political scandal and a financial crisis while street crime in Rio has been called an epidemic which authorities have promised to have under control during the Games.

And then there’s the Zika virus, transmitted by mosquitoes or sexual contact, adding measurably to the gamble should a fan or competitor be planning on having children. The Olympic Committee and the World Health Organization have said Zika is a small risk but nonetheless it is real. But it’s not just the fact several hundred thousand visitors to Rio will be potentially exposed to disease, when they return home they could be carrying the virus with them.

Finally, golf already is a worldwide sport with a long history of international competition so it can presumed not every touring professional feels competing in the Olympics is an absolute career highlight. Maybe to them it’s just another play-for-no-pay exhibition that interferes with their personal lives and playing schedule. Add the situation in Brazil, Rio and ho-hum format and one can see why enthusiasm may be lacking and the list of dropouts growing.

An oft cited benefit of golf returning to the Olympics after a century’s absence is exposure on a worldwide scale which will help to “grow the game,” words which have been used to rationalize any number of efforts to attract new players and reverse declining participation. People play golf for a variety of motivations stemming from their own character, social needs and culture plus of course if they have the time and money.

Golf in the Olympics changes none of those factors.

It almost like convincing yourself Olympic caber tossing would all of sudden cause Dads and Moms to rush out and buy 20-foot long wooden poles for their kids.

Golf has the Walker Cup, the Solheim Cup, Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup which truly pit the best against the best and that’s the key difference when evaluating golf inclusion in the Olympics.

From a rational viewpoint golf doesn’t need the Olympics and at best it’s a sideshow exhibition for a limited number of truly world class golfers to compete in a field filled with players of less skill.