Four years too late: London would have been ideal host to welcome back Olympic golf


London-area local golf writer Clive Agran is smarting that the 2012 games aren't featuring golf. We asked him which area golf course would have made the best Olympic venue. 

LONDON, U.K. -- Right now there are 26 sports being contested at the London Olympics. Because the limit is set at 28 for the summer games, there’s room for two more. In Rio in 2016 the number will be back up to 28 with the reinstatement of golf and rugby, after a hiatus of 112 and 92 years respectively.

Sadly, the decision to bring back these two sports was made in August 2009 – too late for the current games. So Brazil, which presently has fewer than 30,000 golfers out of a population of nearly 200 million, just one serious tournament professional called Alex Rocha (who is ranked about 800th in the world) and only 117 courses, will have the honor of staging golf's triumphant return to the Olympics.

Meanwhile, Britain, with over four million golfers, five of the current top 11 in the world and 2000 courses, misses out. What a shame the International Olympic Committee didn’t demonstrate a little more foresight and bring golf back into the Olympic fold a little sooner.

In Brazil, Gil Hanse and LPGA hall of famer Amy Alcott are purpose-building an Olympic course while Britain would have been spoilt for choice. Supposing the IOC had moved a little quicker than a geriatric fourball and London had been given the chance to host Olympic golf, where would it have been played? Unlike in Brazil where they will be obliged to share a venue, the men’s and women’s tournaments could have been played simultaneously and separately.

Basically, the choice lies between three distinct category of courses: local, regional and national. The Stadium and principal Olympic venues are located in an urban area on the east side of London. There are several decent courses within a 15-mile radius of which the pick are Royal Blackheath, Royal Epping Forest and Royal Wimbledon. Although the first-named has the distinction of being the oldest club in England, none is really suitable to stage such a prestigious tournament.

Going slightly further afield, there are plenty of truly great ‘regional’ venues that are within, say, 50 miles or thereabouts. Included in these are the great Surrey heathland courses to the west such as Wentworth, Walton Heath, Sunningdale and St. George’s Hill. Alternatively, if you go east, there’s the inland London Club or, if you venture as far as the coast, there are three outstanding links’ courses well within range, Royal St George’s, Royal Cinque Ports and Princes. The last three have hosted the British Open, while the London Club and all the Surrey courses have experience of top quality tournaments.

Since some of the Olympic international soccer matches are being played in Scotland, there’s no reason why the golf could not have ventured north of the border as well. If it had, that would have brought all the famous, great, championship courses such as St Andrews, Carnoustie, Muirfield, Turnberry and Royal Troon. into contention. Or the authorities might even have decided to return to that once famous Open venue, Prestwick.

After carefully examining all the candidates’ credentials, my (hypothetical) Olympic 2012 decision is as follows. The women’s event should have been played at glorious, but not too long Sunningdale. The men’s should have competed at Royal Cinque Ports at Deal, a club that would have welcomed the opportunity to reassert its undeniable Open credentials.

As for the winners? South Korea would have captured gold in the women’s event while the host nation would have won the men’s!