Golf's governing bodies are uniting to get the sport into the 2016 Games
Among the many fascinating things about the Masters is that for one week, Augusta National GC plays host not only to the world's top golfers but the greatest gathering of powerbrokers in golf. While fans focus on the players inside the ropes, those who call the shots in the game off the course huddle in whispered conversations under the large oak tree behind the clubhouse or gather in one of the many buildings discretely hidden on the property. One such meeting occurred on the eve of the tournament concerning what many believe is a crucial step to growing the game: getting golf into the Olympics.
Among the participants in this gathering last Wednesday were David Fay, the USGA executive director and World Golf Foundation chairman, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens, PGA of America CEO Joe Steranka, Augusta National GM Jim Armstrong, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson and European Tour CEO George O'Grady. According to several sources familiar with the meeting, everyone agreed about the importance of being part of the quadrennial event for the growth of golf, with the PGA Tour being the lone body with some reservations because of a potential disruption to its season.
Still, the International Golf Federation, the governing body that the International Olympic Committee recognizes as the representative of golf worldwide, has drawn up a plan for getting golf on the agenda of next year's IOC meetings to determine the program for the 2016 Games.
Meanwhile, after being considered by many as a possible obstacle in presenting a united front to the IOC, Finchem told Golf World Monday that the PGA Tour was now on board with the plan.
"I am now of the belief the time is right for golf to become an Olympic sport," Finchem said. "There is work to be done, questions to be answered and issues to be resolved, but I am excited about taking a leadership role with other executives in the game to make this a reality for the 2016 Olympic Games."
The scheduling issue won't be known until the site for the 2016 Games is selected. If it's in Chicago, one candidate, the Games could conflict with the FedEx Cup playoffs. If Rio de Janeiro wins the bid, the Games will be in late fall, creating less of a problem. "It's only once every four years, and they will have seven years to prepare their schedule," a source said last week. "It should not be that much of a problem for the tour."
According to documents obtained by Golf World, a short list of sports to be considered for possible inclusion in the 2016 games -- probably five to seven -- will be determined later this year. The heads of those sports will complete a questionnaire and will be visited at a major event by a member of the IOC program committee. By the summer of 2009, a report on the candidate sports and current sports in the Games will be published. In October 2009, the IOC Executive Board will decide on the 28 sports for the 2016 games.
Sources familiar with the discussions say the key areas in presenting a proposal to the IOC are an anti-doping policy (which explains the programs of the LPGA and PGA Tour this year); reasonable assurance that the best players (professionals, not amateurs) will compete; and the need to promote a united front to convince the IOC that golf is speaking with one voice. Finchem's support was a huge step in that direction.
It's not just various governing bodies on board with the idea but players as well."I do think having golf become an Olympic sport is a very important thing, and I would definitely play if given the opportunity to represent my country," said Phil Mickelson, who will be 46 in 2016, last week. It's a sign to the IOC that at least some top players are interested in competing.