For golf's sake: Let's embrace the Olympics

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There is less than a year to go for golf’s reintroduction to the Olympics and it is interesting to observe the varied reaction from many in the golfing world.

By nature we often are reluctant to initially embrace new horizons. Many don’t like the change to traditional dates in the golfing calendar for 2016 caused by the Olympics. It is easy to dismiss golf as an Olympic sport and at the same time belittle the value of winning a gold medal compared to winning a major. To do so leaves one open to stand accused of being insular in a sport that is often seen this way. Are we happy with this stereotyping or do we want to be a part of breaking down and demystifying this great game of ours?

Let’s look at the big picture for a moment and broaden our horizons and views.

All involved in the golf business are aware that golf has flat-lined both as a sport and consequently a business as participation numbers have declined over the last few years. Many in the golf media struggle for column inches as they compete against huge sports and the resultant requirement from sports editors to justify coverage to their readership.

Professional golf at the very elite level and its success camouflages the immense challenges faced by those at grassroots and amateur levels.

This is not a unique or first-time problem that golf has faced. In the 1950s and 1960s golf was in its infancy stage of mass growth as participation levels stagnated. Things did turn around as a result of a number of factors happening simultaneously, primarily an upturn in the economy coupled with added promotion of the game by its best players through various forms of media. The correlation between the games best players’ media profile and interest in the sport is fundamental to golf as a business and its promotion.

We are now being offered the opportunity to showcase golf at the biggest, most watched sporting occasion in the world and are somewhat reluctant to use this chance to further promote the business that many of us make a living from. Why? Why not embrace it?

When people watch the Olympics we want to watch the best at each sport participating against each other with particular interest in athletes from our own countries. Who can forget the 100-metre final in London 2012 as the packed stadium lit up with cameras when the gun went off? Or what about Andy Murray winning tennis gold at Wimbledon or Bradley Wiggins winning cycling as he raced through the streets of London?

Katie Taylor in women’s boxing managed to singlehandedly unite Ireland in a gigantic wave of euphoria and patriotism as she won gold, scenes replicated in many countries throughout the world as they supported their own athletes.

Whatever your country, we all got caught up in the magnitude and pure sporting theatre that was London 2012 despite many being skeptical of the hype. These sports benefitted and got promoted worldwide in a spectacular and theatrical way by state-of-the-art TV production, photos and increased media coverage.

Yes, it can be argued that for many athletes the Olympics is their only major, their pinnacle, while golf has four majors steeped in history and tradition. Quite frankly, that is an insular and arrogant view. The Olympics and its history deserve respect. We have been offered a place at the top table in sport. Let’s embrace it. While always holding golf majors sacrosanct, an Olympic gold medal, and more importantly a player’s participation in the Games, should be viewed as helping to grow our sport for future generations while representing your country and your people.

Doing this for your country and making many of your fellow countrymen and women proud as they attempt to win a gold medal at the Olympics is something to hold dear.

By all means, golf’s inclusion in the Olympics is not the only answer to golf’s challenges. Sure, it may not initially provide the theatre of other events. However, the big picture is to be there, competing and relevant, as a sport among other sports as we broaden our horizons and platforms to a mass global audience.  

No matter how successful a golfer may be and how many majors he may have won, the majority in the world’s population could not name golf’s four majors. But they know what a gold medal at the Olympics stands for.

Let’s not be insular.