Mickey Walker: More pros than cons in the Olympic argument

Golf News

The game needs a shot in the arm if the number of participants is to rise

This year promises to be an exciting one for golf with lots to look forward to.

Will one of the dominant top three in women’s golf – Lydia Ko, Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis (pictured above) – make the No 1 spot their own? Will these three players dominate the Majors, or will newcomers crash their party?

In Ireland we have the Curtis Cup to look forward to, and of course all eyes will be on Brazil and Rio de Janeiro in August when, for the first time since 1904, golf will once again be an Olympic sport.

Oh, and who could forget the small matter of the Ryder Cup as well as the hotly disputed quest to dominate the men’s world rankings…

Whether or not golf should be in the Olympics has been a hotly debated topic, particularly among the men, with the Australian Adam Scott, as well as the next European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke and the immediate past captain of the American team and eight-time Major winner Tom Watson, being vehemently against its inclusion.

Most, if not all, of the top women players are very much in favour. I can understand Scott saying that winning an Olympic gold medal would not define his career or change whether or not his career has been fulfilled.
It is a fact that the Olympics reaches the biggest audience globally of any other sporting event” That, Adam says, will be determined by how many Majors are on his CV. While I am sure that that is true there is no disputing the fact that the Olympics will showcase golf and introduce it to a global audience that it wouldn’t otherwise reach.

With golf primarily seen as an elitest sport which is still relatively inaccessible to the masses, the game needs a shot in the arm if the number of participants is to rise.

The powers that be in Brazil have stated that after the Olympics, the Barra da Tijuca course (inset, opposite page) will be “used as a public facility with the chief purpose of promoting golf in Brazil and globally, representing one of the most important Olympic Games legacies for sport development in the country”.

It sounds as if the Brazilian authorities are saying what the world wants to hear and something very similar to what the British authorities said after the 2012 Olympics, since when the number of British people participating in athletics has actually decreased rather than increased!

If the Brazilian authorities do indeed follow up on their promise and make golf more accessible to a wider audience, then that would be fantastic. Cost, accessibility, prejudice and time are against the growth of golf, but more than anything, the game has to be promoted as a ’cool’ thing to do.

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Of course, that isn’t even a consideration to those on the breadline fighting for better living conditions, but it could be for the growing middle classes worldwide.

It is a fact that the Olympics reaches the biggest audience globally of any other sporting event. In golf, where the women have five recognised Major championships and the men four, the Olympics won’t immediately be at the very top of the world’s best golfers’ wish lists.

However, if, as is the case for many players, you have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to represent your country in the largest sporting event in the world and rub shoulders with iconic sportsmen and women who will go down in history for setting records, as well as a chance to promote the sport that you love to the biggest possible audience, you would be crazy not to do so.

Can you imagine what it would feel like to be the first woman or man to win a gold medal in the Olympics in the modern era? The players who achieve that will be remembered forever, not just by golf fans and the media, but by people throughout the world.

Like so many of us, I watch sports during the Olympics I’m hardly aware of normally. I don’t see dressage, rowing or taekwondo on a general basis, but I do in the Olympics, and tend to remember the gold medal winners, especially if they’re British or Irish.

Surely there are many more pros than cons to golf being an Olympic sport. I know that if I were good enough to qualify and compete winning a gold medal for my sport, my country and myself would be at the very top of achievements that I’d put on my CV.

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