News & ToursJuly 16, 2008

Golf and the Olympics: the Next Step

SOUTHPORT, England -- Well, that Olympic golf cart is fast becoming an Olympic train. Which doesn't mean cumulative efforts to place the sport in the 2016 Summer Games won't be wrecked. Whatever, during a gala press conference Wednesday before the British Open at Royal Birkdale, a few of golf's big hitters declared that they are uniting as never before to enhance the "globality" of their game.

Using that word early and often, the group announced the appointment of Ty Votaw, executive vice president of the PGA Tour, to head up a newly formed International Golf Federation committee to negotiate with the International Olympic Committee, which has two vacancies available for 2016. In October of 2009, the IOC will decide how they shall be filled. While chairing this committee to meet with that committee, Votaw essentially will be on loan to organize the Olympic proposal and presentation.

Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, said he has received enthusiastic vibes from the IOC about golf becoming part of the Olympic fare. "But there is much work to do," said Dawson, noting that the IOC clearly would want only the best players available (i.e. professionals, not amateurs).  Also, there are other sports vying for those two slots, including baseball and softball, which will be part of next month's Olympics in Beijing but are dropping out for 2012 and reapplying. The other candidates for 2016 are karate, roller sports, squash and rugby seven.

I asked Juan Antonio Votaw to explain rugby sevens, and he said, "It's a quicker version of the sport, which usually has 15 players per side, instead of seven." I guess it would be like having a basketball game of three-on-three instead of five-on-five. Votaw assured me, however, that if golf makes it, each match will last the regulation 18 holes, not nine, or six. Votaw concluded that he is honored to accept his new position, which does not mean he is severing any ties with the PGA Tour or moving to China.

Tim Finchem, commissioner of the PGA Tour, said he has gleaned upbeat responses from his players on the Olympic ideal. He did not, however, name names, which is just as well because in eight years, there's a decent chance neither of his marquee members, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, will still be active. Why, in eight years, one of them might be commissioner. But the major point of Wednesday's confab, if there was one besides Votaw's role, is that golf's governing bodies now speak with one voice when talking Olympics.

The race to host the 2016 Summer Games is down to Tokyo, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, and Chicago. Finchem's league has abandoned America's third-largest market this season as the former Western Open, now BMW Championship, will be staged in St. Louis. But he and Votaw are sure the Windy City would be wonderful in 2016 if the pieces fall into place.

"Chicago has a lot of great golf courses," said Finchem. And a lot of great squash courts.

--Bob Verdi

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