During the first week of the Athens games, I was at the home of noted golf course landscape painter Linda Hartough. As our crew set up for an interview with Linda, we watched an equestrian event on the large screen TV in her studio. It was the longer course, the one that takes about ten minutes to ride. The horse and rider negotiate a series of jumps, trying to finish in the best time while maintaining the rhythm necessary for the horse to perform properly.
Kudos to our friends at NBC, who placed cameras and followed the action in a way that best showed the beauty of the horses and the fluidity of the action. The scenery was excellent. The colors were vibrant. The mood was energetic. It was just likejust like
Yes, a few minutes of athletic beauty had me thinking about the most beautiful game, and how it would play in the Olympics. Is there perhaps some virtue in the modern Olympian ideal that would trump my objections to the mountainous marketing hype, the abandonment of the amateur ideal, and the doping scandals that seem to sully the whole affair?
Golf in the Olympics could grow the game worldwide, particularly in those countries where its just getting a foothold, said David Fay, who knows whereof he speaks. As if being executive director of the U.S. Golf Association werent enough, Fay is also co-secretary general of the International Golf Federation, formerly known as the World Amateur Golf Council. (Peter Dawson, secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, is Fays counterpart in this effort.)
You get a country such as Croatia, or some of the Asian countries, and even Russia, Fay said. They dont have the infrastructure, so you kind of need to prime the pump a bit to get facilities, instructors, and everything you need. You talk to any of these people, and theyll tell you that in order to get the attention of their [countrys] Olympic committees, having the sport as an Olympic medal sport makes a huge difference.
It stands to reason. Little girls around the world will flock to gymnastics programs after Carly Pattersons performance last week. If some of them stick, gymnastics will be a healthier sport, just as it was after Cathy Rigby, Olga Korbut and Mary Lou Retton attracted the last generation of girls.
Also, theres history. Golf was part of the Games in 1900 in Paris (Margaret Abbott, the first female Olympian to win a gold medal in any sport, prevailed) and in 1904 in St. Louis. Golf got pulled off the 1908 program in London because of a lack of entries, but it returned as an exhibition sport in 1936 in Berlin.
Would Tiger Woodsor Vijay Singh, or Meg Mallon, or Annika Sorenstam standing on a medal podium for the presentation do any less? Probably not, especially since there is no current opportunity for golfers to represent their countries as individuals.
Some pros have said that there are enough international competitions on the schedule now. To them, Fay says dont worry; theres plenty of time to clear out your calendar between now and 2012.
Thats the realistic earliest Olympiad that could support golf. Beijing, the 2008 host city, has facilities for a 72-hole stroke play event of the kind the IGF contemplates. But the International Olympic Committee is looking to keep the number of athletes manageable, even if it means dropping sports. (Baseball is rumored to be in trouble, for example.)
Some sports that may be on the chopping block are already quietly bad-mouthing their competition, Fay says. But golfs big advantage compared to some is that theres no stadium to build. Just toss up some ropes and scoreboards at the host course, and tee it up. (And if London or New York, the leading candidate cities for 2012, wins the Games, think of the golf course opportunities: Sunningdale there, Winged Foot here.)
The loss of the amateur ideal is just something people like me will have to get used to, thanks to the IOCs insistence on getting the best athletes, whether they are paid or not. The doping matter may not even be a problem, given the fact that you really cant improve golf performance through drugs: It may be the un-dopable sport. In that sense, the Olympics wouldnt sully golf so much as golf would ennoble the Olympics.
The most important thing, Fay says, is to take the long view, and not necessarily a solely American view. The growth of golf around the world is the most important thing.
Of course, golf wont be as compelling as the traditional marquee events, such as track and field and swimming, Fay said. But for the national federations looking to jump-start golf in their countries, it could be wonderful.
And a 15-footer for the gold as millions around the world watch and get hooked on the game? That could be poetry in motion.