x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

A major decision to be made on the Olympics

Golf returns to the Olympics when the event is held in Brazil in four years' time, but, concerns remain regarding whether the game's most high-profile players will compete.

Thomas Bjorn, chairman of the European Tour tournament committee, says there is no chance of rescheduling golf’s majors.
Thomas Bjorn, chairman of the European Tour tournament committee, says there is no chance of rescheduling golf’s majors.

DUBAI // Golf returns to the Olympics for the first time in 112 years when the event is held in Rio de Janeiro in four years' time, yet as the organisational process intensifies, concerns remain regarding whether the game's most high-profile players will compete.

Last week, Brazilian officials met with Peter Dawson, the president of the International Golf Federation (IGF), to decide the architect tasked with designing the 18-hole course on which the tournament will be played. However, a final decision has been delayed until the International Olympic Committee (IOC) visit the city next month.

Golf made its debut at the second modern Olympics in Paris in 1900, but was dropped after the 1904 games in St Louis, Missouri. It is expected that inclusion in the world's most-watched sports event will result in exponential growth.

George O'Grady, the chief executive of the European Tour and a director on the IGF board, said meetings will be held during the London Olympics this summer to discuss a number of other important factors.

"Bringing the countries together, deciding the countries and the representation, agreeing on how golf will be represented - all of that will be happening during the Olympics in London," he said.

"The most important thing for us is we have to run 2016 well enough to remain there because while we are already there for 2016 and 2020, the IOC must take a decision at some point in that period whether we stay in after that."

Thomas Bjorn, the chairman of the Tour's tournament committee, expects the Olympics to open the game up to a wider audience, but warned the issue remains whether top players will choose to take part.

"Now the only question is will the players play?" the Danish world No 28 player said. "We have seen in tennis, it's been a struggle to get everybody to play, but it's picked up now in tennis and most of them play and that's what we need in golf."

Bjorn said the main reason why some players would opt not to take part is down to scheduling. Two of the game's four major championships take place in July and August and the possibility of the majors being rescheduled is non-existent.

"There is one thing that won't happen in golf and that's rescheduling a major championship," Bjorn said.

"When you are a golfer and you look at the calendar, you have four weeks on your mind and that's the four majors.

"The Olympics will come at a very difficult time of the year as it will happen right around the [time of the] British Open and the US PGA … Certain players will see the majors as the pinnacle of what they can achieve."

O'Grady, however, disagrees. "Initially, if you ask what do you want the Masters or the Olympic gold medal, players would likely take the Masters, but time will tell and the history books will show there is only one guy with a gold medal every four years," he said.

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae