PGA Pros are losers in Olympic fiasco

How will watching the same golfers that we see each week playing an 18 hole golf course in a 72 hole format event excite a new generation of golfers?

Since it was announced, almost seven years ago now, that golf was to be included in the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016, what has happened in relation to this potentially momentous occasion that could be considered as ‘growing the game’ or ‘benefitting the industry?’ The answer is nothing.

Tony ClarkI’ve seen no evidence that the International Golf Federation (IGF) has leveraged golf’s inclusion in the world’s biggest sporting occasion – it is estimated that four billion people around the world watched some part of London 2012 – to the benefit of broadening golf’s reach. I would welcome being proved wrong. In fact, the golf authorities have been shown to be so bereft of creativity that they have adopted exactly the same format as every other Tour event as announced by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2009.

In both the women’s and men’s events a field of 60 players will compete in a 72-hole stroke play format competition for the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. The 60 positions available in each event will be allocated through an Olympic Golf Ranking (OGR) list published on the IGF website based on the player’s respective official world golf ranking. See the list for yourself at www.igfgolf.org

“This is an important milestone on the road to golf’s return to the Olympic Games in 2016,” said Peter Dawson, someone of whom I have the utmost respect. Mr Dawson continued: “We are pleased to confirm the eligibility criteria and to give the athletes, National Olympic Committees and National Federations clarity on the qualification process. The world’s best players now know what they must achieve to be part of golf’s historic return to the Games in Rio de Janeiro.”

I believe that a huge opportunity has been missed. The assumption that an Olympic Gold Medal will be more prized than securing one of golf’s Majors is ludicrous. Quite frankly, I believe that winning The Players’ Championship and the Ryder Cup would also rank ahead of the Olympics, meaning that an Olympic Gold Medal drops to 7th place in priority for the game’s elite.

The Olympics should represent the pinnacle of an athlete’s career and, for this reason alone, the selection criteria contradicts that. How will watching the same golfers that we see each week playing an 18 hole golf course in a 72 hole format event excite or engage a new generation of golfers?

There has been so much debate on the decline of membership and participation in golf’s mature markets that I would have expected a well thought out plan to bring ‘Golf in the Olympics’ to every major city in the world, with all golfers given the opportunity to qualify. This isn’t as daft as it sounds.

With regard to the format we’ve already witnessed the excitement and success of the skills challenge created by The Golf Channel in the shape of their reality TV show, The Big Break. Long Drive events around the world attract big crowds and there’s scope for a Golf Triathlon which will keep spectators engaged every step of the way. The Olympics selection could have involved millions of golfers at thousands of courses worldwide over a three-year period with all the benefits it would have brought to PGA Club Professionals, local businesses and the golf industry, which we all know needs all the support it can get.

At the disposal of the IGF would have been the Golf Unions, PGA Sections, PGA Professionals and countless amateur volunteers. Venues would have been queuing up to host events with regional and national qualifying rounds surely having no trouble securing sponsors. The desire of the world’s leading golfers would have been tested as they’d have had to enter regional qualifying events alongside hopeful amateurs, Club Pros and mini-tour players.

It’s likely that those qualifying would have been a cross section of these groups and to many it would be either the pinnacle of their career or a springboard to success. Exactly what participating in the Olympics should be! However, we haven’t got this, so we go to Rio in August and what will hopefully be a great Olympics with golf delivering nail-biting climaxes in both the men’s and women’s 72 hole events. It would be helpful for the game though if Tokyo 2020 could herald a new format. This could include an inclusive qualifying process geared to broadening golf’s reach through a planned three year activity plan. This would help encourage greater participation thereby aiding our army of instructors and boosting the golf industry and all its stakeholders.

Tony Clark is the founder and owner of PlaneSWING® – the world’s number one kinaesthetic golf fitness and training system. To read more comment on Golf in the Rio Olympics visit http://blog.planeswing.com/2012/07/golf-in-the-olympics/