After over 100 years of absence, golf will return to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Some of the game’s biggest names will finally have the chance to get their hands on an Olympic gold medal; the first awarded since Canadian George Lyon won gold at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis.
So what do we know about the forthcoming Olympic competition, its qualification system, the tournament itself and where it is likely to be played?
The first thing to note is that the structure and organisation of the Olympic golf tournament has already been agreed upon by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Golf (along with Rugby) will be part of the 2016 and 2020 games for definite (as reported in an article in Golf World in October 2009), with its future participation after that somewhat dependent upon the success of this first tournament, with the IOC set to review its continued participation in the games in 2017.
The IOC have also confirmed that there will be individual golf tournaments for men and women. The format of the competition will be a 72-hole stroke play, the same format used in most professional tournaments across the world. In the event of a tie, each competition will be decided by a three-hole playoff. The field for both men and women’s tournament will be limited to 60 players and there are already guidelines in place which outline how golfers can qualify for the Olympic tournament.
2. How golfers will qualify
The IOC have decided that in order to qualify for one of the 60 places in the field, golfers will have to qualify for the Olympic Golf tournament via their world ranking, though to ensure a greater variation in the countries representatives competing, qualification is staggered.
The top 15 ranked players in the Official World Golf Ranking would qualify for the tournament, regardless of which country they come from.
The remaining 45 players would then be selected based on their world ranking, but only if the country they represent does not already have two players competing in the Olympic tournament.
In effect, what this means is that in order to get a more balanced field in the Olympics, and to open up the sport for more countries to compete, it means that a lot of big name golfers will miss out, who are just outside the world’s top 15.
For example, if the IOC were to use the Official World Rankings as of 31st December 2011 as their criteria for qualification, this is how the field for the men’s tournament would line up:
Qualified from World Top 15:
1.Luke Donald (GB & NIR),
2.Lee Westwood (GB & NIR),
3.Rory McIlroy (GB & NIR),
4.Martin Kaymer (Ger),
5.Adam Scott (Aus),
6.Steve Stricker (USA),
7.Dustin Johnson (USA),
8.Jason Day (Aus),
9.Charl Schwartzel (S.Af),
10.Webb Simpson (USA),
11.Matt Kuchar (USA),
12.Nick Watney (USA),
13.Graeme McDowell (GB & NIR),
14.Phil Mickelson (USA),
16.Ian Poulter (GB & NIR)
Now what is notable from this list is that there are five golfers from Great Britain and Ireland, six from the United States and two from Australia amongst the 15 qualifiers. This would mean that no other players from the US, GB & Ireland and Australia would be allowed to enter the tournament.
So, the likes of Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson and perhaps most importantly for the game itself, Tiger Woods, would all miss out whereas some of the lesser known names in golf would qualify
The other 45 qualifiers (world ranking in brackets following country):
17.Sergio Garcia (Esp: Wr 17)
18.Alvaro Quiros (Esp: Wr 22)
19.Robert Karlsson (Swe: Wr 24)
20.Kim Kyung-Tae (Kor: Wr 25)
21. Anders Hansen (Den: Wr 34)
22. Thomas Bjorn (Den: Wr 35)
23. Freddie Jakobsen (Swe: Wr 39)
24. Louis Oosthuizen (S.Af: Wr 40)
25. Francesco Molinari (Ita: Wr 41)
26. Ryo Ishikawa (Jap: Wr 51)
27. Matteo Manassero (Ita: Wr 58)
28. Toru Taniguchi (Jap: Wr 61)
29. Vijay Singh (Fiji: Wr 63)
30. Joost Luiten (Ned: Wr 64)
31. Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel: Wr 72)
32. Padraig Harrington (Ire: Wr 85)
33. Camilo Villegas (Col: Wr 89)
34. Raphael Jacquelin (Fra: Wr 106)
35. Jhonattan Vegas (Ven: Wr 111)
36. Shane Lowry (Ire: Wr 119)
37. Gregory Bourdy (Fra: Wr 124)
38. Andres Romero (Arg: Wr 125)
39. Brendon de Jonge (Zim: Wr 144)
40. Thongchai Jaidee (Thai: Wr 151)
41. Danny Lee (NZ: Wr 152)
42. Juvic Pagunsan (Phil: Wr 157)
43. Siddukur Rahman (Ban: Wr 158)
44. Bernd Wiesberger (Aut: Wr 162)
45. Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Thai: Wr 177)
46. Jeev Milka Singh (Ind: Wr 187)
47. Felipe Aguilar (Chl: Wr 193)
48. Robert Jan Derkson (Ned: Wr 208)
49. Lu Wei-Chih (Tai: Wr 211)
50. Adam Hadwin (Can: Wr 238)
51. Fabrizio Zanotti (Par: Wr 241)
52. Ricardo Gonzalez (Arg: Wr 245)
53. Arjun Atwal (Ind: Wr 246)
54. Liang Wen-Chong (Chn: Wr 251)
55. Marcel Siem (Ger: Wr 253)
56. David Hearn (Can: Wr 254)
57. Mark Tullo (Chl: Wr 262)
58: Ricardo Santos (Por: Wr 269)
59. Martin Wiegele (Aut: Wr 270)
60. Mardan Mamat (Sgp: Wr 288)
The interesting question here looking at this field is if Olympic golf will have the same appeal, watching Martin Wiegele and Mardan Mamat battle it out against Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, while there is no place for the likes of Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Jim Furyk, Bubba Watson or Ian Poulter in the competition?
3. The Course
At first, it was mooted that the Itanhanga Golf Club, which has hosted a European Tour event in 2000, would be the venue for the tournament, however that has now been scrapped in favour of building a brand new development.
According to the official Rio 2016 website, the new complex will be based in Reserva de Marapendi, 5 kilometres from the athletes village. The IOC invited bids from parties interested in designing the course in October 2011 and late last month, they announced that they had agreed to review eight design bids from: Gary Player Design, Greg Norman Golf Course Design, Hanse Golf Course Design, Hawtree Ltd, Nicklaus Design, Renaissance Golf, Robert Trent Jones II and Thomson-Perret Golf Course Architechts.
The Rio 2016 website has said that an announcement on the winning golf course design bid will be made in “early 2012” but so far no news as to who the winning bidder is, has been announced.
In short, there is a lot of work to be done before 2016 to really set the golfing world alight at the prospect of an Olympic games. Currently, the prospect of listening to Tiger Woods commentate, while we watch Mardan Mamat play on a course that has not even been designed yet-let alone built- hardly fills the keen golfer with much enthusiasm for the event.
Over time though, this attitude will change. Once the course design is finalised, the course built and hopefully some of the world’s best stars at the top of their game, the 2016 Olympic Golf Tournament may well be the roaring success that both the Olympics and the Golf community at large, need it to be.