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Archive for May 7, 2010

Olympic Golf — will it live up to the hype?

By Mary Armstrong, Golf Architect

Published by the Las Cruces Sun News May 7, 2010

In case you weren’t around for the last Olympic golf event, I thought I’d fill you in. By the way, that one wasn’t televised in real time here either. The last time golf was in the Olympics was in 1904. It followed the previous and first time for the event in 1900 when it was a medal or stroke play tournament. In 1900 there were Men’s and Women’s divisions. Ten women and twelve men played the 1900 event in Paris, France. They were from France, Great Britain, Greece and the U.S. When the Games came to St. Louis in 1904, the Women’s Division was dropped in favor of a Men’s individual and Men’s Team tournaments. I can only conclude that the French ladies were more adept in getting their way. Nonetheless, seventy seven men played the 1904 golf event. Three contestants were from Canada, the rest from the United States. Perhaps a 112 year absence is just reward for such a fiasco. The International Golf Federation (IGF) was the sponsoring organization in proposing golf for the 2016 Olympics. In their press release on October 9th, the IGF acknowledged the positive vote of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in accepting their bid and also recommended a format and method for determining who would qualify. The method for determining who will participate from each country is somewhat convoluted and entirely based upon world rankings, which is to say professional golfers. For a competition that has historically been about amateurs I would have thought they might give 

more opportunity to amateurs than say, the Masters Tournament. Maybe I’m just a traditionalist – to you “young-uns”, experiencing a lot of history will do that – but I really miss the purity of amateur competition in the Olympics. The sad thing is we might still have a fully amateur event if the IOC had just held out another few years. During the early 80’s, the Soviet Union (and Soviet Bloc Countries) were dominating several sports with athletes that were basically professionals since the government took care of their personal and financial needs in exchange for them working exclusively on their sport. Of course, the right thing would have been to ban the Soviet “professional” athletes, but the IOC couldn’t manage to do the right thing. Instead, they allowed all countries to send professional athletes to the 1988 games. It was during this time that the Soviet Union was collapsing – culminating in its complete demise in 1991. Perhaps I’m missing something, but it seems clear that a weakened Soviet Union wouldn’t have wasted much effort on preserving their “professional” sports machine.

The proposed method of selecting golfers for the 2016 event “top loads” the competition for those countries that have players ranked in the top 15 worldwide. For instance in the men’s division, as of the May 5th world rankings, the U.S. will have five competitors, Great Britain three, South Africa two and Northern Ireland, Ireland, Columbia, Germany and Australia one each. There will be 60 competitors in each division (men’s and women’s). The remaining players will come from the remainder of the rankings. Unless a country has more than two players ranked in the top 15 worldwide, they will be limited to two competitors. If they have fewer than two competitors in the world rankings (there are 300 players in the world rankings), apparently the country will be free to select their players any way they want.Consequently, its highly unlikely there will be a qualifying event for the U.S. Olympic Team. Might as well put your Stars and Stripes polos back in the closet ladies and gentlemen. Seems like such a pity doesn’t it?In recent years, NBC has made the Olympics into as much an “up close and personal” human-interest experience as a sporting event. What more can we know (or want to know) about Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Michelle Wie, Christy Kerr and company? Sure, there’ll be other countries with lesser known individuals that they can dissect, but there’s something far more interesting about seeing a video diary about the Jane Doe that works all day as a nurse and then hit’s range balls at a lighted range to get her game to the point where she was able to qualify for the Olympics.As for the format, the IGF has proposed a 72-hole stroke play format for both divisions — pardon me while I yawn. It’s a little difficult to disagree with individual competition in the Olympics and I do believe there should be individual medals awarded, but what are the Olympics without the team aspect? Much like the Ryder Cup – the Olympics has taken many individual sports and made them into team events. While we’re talking about the Ryder Cup – what’s wrong with that format? I mean, can you think of a more exciting televised golf event than the Ryder, Presidents or Solheim Cups? These tournaments are so popular that they are mimicked throughout the world as intra and inter-club competitions. They are that popular because they test so many aspects of your game and create an incredible bond between teammates and even competitors. Isn’t that what the Olympics is about?So why is there a “dumbing down” of golf before the world in 2016? You may have your ideas. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think something is rotten in Denmark — and maybe Rio. For years, pay-offs and political maneuverings have scarred the bidding for each Olympic site and new Olympic Sports before the sporting events even have a place to compete. But, why would that be necessary for an event that has become world wide in its exposure if not it’s players?Here are some possibilities:• Sponsors of the Ryder, Presidents, Solheim Cup, et.al. fear a watering down of their events – therefore the IGF recommended a “Major” tournament format.• The PGA and LPGA (and other world wide “pga’s) fear losing exposure for their players, but can’t convince those players to “hang around” for more than half dozen days for a non-paying competition.• The IGF felt they needed to bring “name” recognition in order to win the bid for a new Olympic Event. The only way the IGF could get the endorsements they felt they needed from celebrity golfers and other golf organizations was by making sure the professional golfers would be included. As noted above however, they couldn’t “ask too much” of the top 15’s “meager earnings”. Therefore, in their acceptance press release they stated “based on player feedback, the IGF has proposed a format of 72-hole individual stroke play for both men and women.”There’s no doubt that organizing an individual and a team event would be complicated. The 2008 Summer Olympics covered sixteen days. It seems likely the 2016 event will be closer to three weeks. Surely there is a way to schedule individual and team competitions in that much time. There is a way to do it – we could have an individual event and a team event all within a modified Ryder Cup format. It would take some serious planning and it might cause some whining. Perhaps the IOC can’t handle that. Perhaps this is what we get when we put “winning the bid” in front of the event itself.A PARTING SHOT: It’s preposterous that Lorena Ochoa’s final event – Tres Marias Championship – couldn’t be televised.A golf architect in New Hampshire for close to 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces last January. Armstrong is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects.

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