May 26, 2008

Golf's Olympic Summit

Golf's brass carry the torch to get golf into the 2016 Olympics

If there is one thing those who care about golf should be rallying behind, it is the latest effort to get the game into the Olympics. No single venture is more important to golf than its inclusion in the sporting event that gets the most attention worldwide, and which is most likely to attract public and private money to develop world-class athletes. And this time the bid may succeed.

Last week, George O'Grady (European Tour), Tim Finchem (PGA Tour), Carolyn Bivens (LPGA Tour), David Fay (USGA) and Peter Dawson (RA) met in Lausanne, Switzerland, with Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC, to make the case for golf in the 2016 Games. Part of what golf has going for it this time is its ability to present a united front.

The three most important tours—the European- and American-based men, and the LPGA (which has events in Asia, Africa, Europe, the United States, Canada and Mexico)—and the world's two main governing bodies are on the same page for the first time. That unity is crucial. One thing the IOC wants is a reasonable assurance it will get the best players in any given sport.

The battle to be fought this time around is among seven sports competing for two spots in the 2016 Games. Softball and baseball, which were cut from the 2012 Olympic program, will get a chance for reinstatement at the IOC assembly in October 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Golf, rugby, squash, karate and roller sports will also be considered for the two openings on the 2016 schedule.

Getting all the major professional tours on board in the Olympic bid was important. The key is that the PGA Tour finally dropped its opposition, a position Finchem made public shortly after this year's Masters and under the specter of being ostracized by the rest of the tours for his opposition.

That the IOC now at least has the dream of getting Tiger Woods (who will be 40 during the 2016 Games) into the Olympics helps enormously in this effort to include golf. But just as important—in fact, some insiders think even more important—is that world-class golfers are now emerging from non-traditional golf countries such as Mexico, India and many Asian nations. That will help dispel the notion golf is an elite, white sport.

What has to happen next? "We must form an organization or reformulate the governance of an existing body which represents the professional and amateur game around the world," Bivens told Golf World. "The IOC must be convinced the professional organizations and their athletes support the movement and would participate. We must next finalize the form the qualifying and competition would take." Most likely, three players per nation will compete in a 72-hole stroke-play tournament.

Also necessary is for golf to get on the same page as the IOC in terms of drug testing. Right now none of the pro tours has a list of banned substances compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency. Golf has three choices: File for an exception, conform or—as some sports do—conform during Olympic years.

"Much work has to be done, but it is worth every minute," Bivens said.

It is an effort that can pay off many times over. Getting golf into the Olympics is a crucial turning point for the game.