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Was golf really a success in the Olympics?

GOLF'S return to the Olympics is being hailed a success by the sport's media but are they jumping the gun?

WITH the curtain now closed on the Games of the 31st Olympiad golf has much to consider in the wake of its first appearance since the Games of the Third Olympiad some 112 years go.

In golf circles, the two weeks of competition at Gil Hanse’s sporty Rio layout are being hailed an unqualified success.

Outside the golfing fraternity, however, the reaction is somewhat more difficult to judge.

There is no question both the men’s and women’s competitions in Rio were fabulous examples of both exciting golf and compelling finishes but so, too, were several of the game’s majors in 2016.

Justin Rose’s 18th hole triumph over Henrik Stenson was engrossing to watch but, in fairness, hardly compared to the epic 18-hole finale between Stenson and Phil Mickelson at Troon four weeks earlier.

Inbee Park’s runaway win, while Lydia Ko and Shanshan Feng staged a desperate battle for the silver medal, was captivating but better than Ko v Brooke Henderson at Sahalee in June? Not even close.


If the point of golf being in the Games was to showcase the game as an exciting sporting spectacle to people who might not otherwise give it the time of day, it was likely moderately successful.

But if the goal was to ‘Grow the Game’, as so many seem to be touting, then the truth is it is far too early to tell what, if any, impact Rio has had.

The ‘Grow the Game’ argument has tended to be that Olympic sports attract government funding in most countries and that this extra money will help bring more players to the game.

In reality, there is little evidence to support this as Bradley Klein, columnist for the US magazine Golf Week, eloquently noted in a recent column.

“There's no evidence in the developing world that exposure to competitive golf develops mass popularity and participation,” Klein asserted.

“An aspiring country such as China might seek world-class status through training elite athletes to compete on a global stage.

“But that doesn't translate into mass participation without an entirely different, populist emphasis, one based on getting youth from the peasantry and middle classes out to play.”

In the list of barriers to people taking up golf it’s hard to imagine a lack of exposure or limited access to elite training rank very high.

The role of professional golf in promoting the game at grass roots level has always been a complex one and including it in the Olympics doesn’t necessarily change the relationship.

Especially when the product dished up in Rio (72-hole individual strokeplay) looks and feels exactly like almost every other professional tournament on the planet the intended audience is already ignoring.

It is to be hoped that the feats of the six medalists in Rio inspire kids in every part of the world to consider taking up golf in the hopes of one day emulating their heroes.

In reality, that seems an unlikely scenario though if golf can survive beyond Tokyo 2020, perhaps the next generation will consider it a more important part of the competitive mix.



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