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 At the 19th

Solving golf’s Olympic issues
Does golf really need another over-blown strokeplay tournament? Of course not, which is why the author’s radical proposals should be taken seriously as the game teeters on the brink of the Olympics

Why am I not terribly excited that golf is to be reinstated as an Olympic sport in 2016? There are many in our game, Tiger included, who have lobbied hard to secure a place for it in the quadrennial, billion-dollar, sporting extravaganza but I didn’t even bother to sign a petition, write to my Euro MP or make a passionate case for its inclusion in the snug bar at the Dog and Duck. Born in the year in which London last hosted the Olympics and a self-confessed sports addict, you might reasonably have expected me to have been executing metaphorical cartwheels of joy when the news emerged from Lausanne that golf would be going for gold.

Endowed with gritty determination but lacking the necessary speed, strength or ability to succeed in any recognised sport, I’ve nevertheless long harboured an ambition to capture an Olympic medal. It would, I figure, go nicely with the Duke of Edinburgh’s silver award I picked up in 1965 (for those who are interested, exhibiting budgerigars was my special project, but I digress.)

Since that memorable year, I have garnered a sprinkling of midweek stablefords and a smattering of nearest-the-pin prizes but nothing that could reasonably be said to compare with an Olympic medal. But I still dream. Not being especially quick and without the necessary stamina for the longer distances, running has never really appealed. Suffering, as I do, from vertigo, neither the pole vault nor high diving are viable options. Although a decent enough swimmer and the proud owner of a serviceable pair of goggles, my failure to master the somersault turn would almost certainly prove too big a handicap, especially over the shorter distances, for me to be a serious contender in the pool.

My cycling is OK and I can ride a horse, but neither particularly well. Although I now play off 15, golf is my strongest suit and the only sport where I occasionally perform to a level that could be described as ‘average’. But without being unduly modest, as things stand, I’m not really a serious candidate for the Great Britain team in 2016 unless, that is, the authorities consider my radical team-selection proposal.

Ask yourself, does golf really need another straightforward strokeplay tournament? Of course not. The four majors are what generate the adrenalin among the best players in the world and an Olympic tournament clearly won’t be on a par with them. What is therefore needed is an imaginative alternative that captures the genuine spirit of the Olympics, creates an event that is truly distinctive and provides ordinary golfers with an opportunity to achieve glory.

This is how it should work the world over. Every nation wishing to enter a golf team must hold qualifying stableford competitions at every club in their country. Every amateur who is a citizen of that country and has an official handicap will be eligible to enter. Each club will produce a winner in each of three categories – low (0-10), medium (11-18) and high handicaps (19-28). They will progress through to a regional or national event, depending on the number of clubs, until three national winners emerge. While these competitions are taking place, all club pros and assistants will similarly be invited to compete in a series of events until one professional champion is crowned. This lucky professional and his three amateur partners will then constitute the national Olympic golf team.

Since we are being truly democratic here, I think it only fair that there be a parallel event for women. In this way, golf will lead the world in offering everyone who plays the game – apart, that is, from touring pros – a genuine chance of participating in the greatest sporting event on earth. What an inspiring message that will transmit to the world. Instead of a stuffy elitist sport for rich amateurs and even richer professionals, golf will be seen as progressive and enlightened.

The men’s and women’s Olympic golf tournaments will be played as fourball, better-ball, stableford competitions over four rounds with three-quarters handicap allowance and two scores to count on each hole. As well as national team blazers and, where appropriate, skirts, each participating player will receive a team shirt, hat and commemorative bag tag bearing the Olympic insignia. Not only will there be gold, silver and bronze medals up for grabs for both the men and women, there will also be nearestthe- pin and longest drive competitions, together with a number of novelty prizes. All the players' cards will go into a giant ball sweep, with sleeves of balls with the Olympic rings on them dished out to the lucky winners.

Imagine having to hole a putt to clinch the gold medal in front of a worldwide TV audience of several billion? On second thoughts, perhaps clay pigeon shooting might offer me a less stressful path to Olympic glory.

November 2009

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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