It’s not that this is golf’s first dance with the Olympic Games, and there are pros and there are cons. From his fishing boat in Wyoming, where the brown trout were striking, Billy Payne spoke enthusiastically.
“I’m excited about it. I’m an advocate of spreading the game around the world, and what better way than through the Olympic Games,” said Payne, the president of Augusta National, which one might describe as the heartbeat of golf in this country.
From his summer home in the Grand Tetons, Payne had hardly had time to digest the news from the IOC executive committee meeting in Berlin. And that Tiger Woods and Anika Sorenstam, among others, were among vigorous supporters. Exciting stuff to Payne, the man who had brought the Olympics to Atlanta in 1996.
Golf was on his hope list of events, and Augusta National would have been the site, although he was not yet a member of the club. But, opposition arose not only from Juan Antonio Samaranch, then president of the IOC, but locally. One member of the city council presented a motion that would have, in effect, opposed it, and there was no chance, so the golf movement never got off the tee.
This is different, although golf, along with rugby, must still pass the full membership ballot. It is not surprising that the golfing clique is leaning heavily on Woods’ name as a major selling point. Payne, on the other hand, sees the Olympics as more than a short-term energizer for the game, but a way of reaching smaller countries in the world.
“What better way than through the Olympics. I wish we might have done it in the Atlanta Games,” he said, “but it became apparent we didn’t have the support. What more attractive place to show golf to the world than Augusta National.”
Golf made its first, and only appearance on the Olympic schedule in 1904, when St. Louis was host to the Games. There were only two events, an individual and a team championship.
A Canadian, George Lyon, was the individual champion, and the USA swept the team trophies, led by Chandler Egan, one of the country’s more renowned amateurs. Golf never made the venue again. Should golf carry the membership vote, this might be a stroke in favor of Chicago, one of the bidding sites. Some of the countries finest courses are located in the area, Cog Hill, Medinah, Olympia Fields, Midlothian and Skokie, where historic championships have been held.
On the other hand, there are critics, such as one I just read that called it “a goofy move. Golf already has world championships, such as the Masters, the U.S. and British Open, and who would rather have an Olympic medal than a Masters Green Jacket?”
This misses Payne’s point.
“Think of the smaller countries of the world that golf might reach,” he said. “I’m excited about what it might mean to smaller nations where young people wouldn’t otherwise ever have a chance at the game.”
So there it stands — at the mercy of 105 IOC executive committee members.
“Cross your fingers,” Payne said.