Olympic Preview: The History Of Golf In The Olympics

A look at the history of golf in the Olympics and how it regained a spot after a 112-year absence from the Games.

Released on 8/2/2016

Credits

Director of Photography: Christian Iooss

Transcript

00:00
Really the heart of the Olympics
00:01
is the ancient games from Greece,
00:04
and the whole idea of higher, faster, stronger.
00:06
That's kind of a universal measure of what a real sport is.
00:11
(light music)
00:15
You know, it's like who can run the fastest,
00:17
who can swim the fastest, who can lift the most weight,
00:20
who can throw something the farthest.
00:22
When they watch the Olympics, they're going,
00:23
who's the greatest athlete in the world?
00:25
[Announcer] The undisputed star of the competition
00:26
was Ohio State University track star, Jesse Owens.
00:29
So the first Olympics to have golf
00:32
were in France in 1900.
00:34
The first winner was an American, Charles Sands.
00:37
And they were dubbed The Farcical Olympics,
00:39
because they basically only had
00:41
about a dozen people competing.
00:42
It was almost like an event that you could show up
00:45
and sign up for the week ahead of time,
00:46
and it would have been fascinating to see,
00:49
if the Olympics nowadays were like that.
00:52
Can you imagine being able to show up in Rio
00:54
a couple weeks before the event
00:55
and say, here's my handicap and card,
00:58
and I'd like to play.
01:00
In 1904, a Canadion won, George Lyons,
01:02
and he was actually all set to defend his title
01:05
in London in 1908, and at the last second,
01:08
golf was taken off the docket
01:10
because of this argument between the RNA
01:14
and the Olympic Committee
01:15
over what the eligibility requirements were,
01:18
and so George Lyons arrives in London,
01:21
and there's no tournament.
01:23
They actually offered him a gold medal,
01:25
but he declined it, and said,
01:26
hey, if I'm not playing, I'm not taking it.
01:29
Golf almost made it back into the Olympics
01:30
in 1996 at the Atlanta games,
01:32
and the big catalyst for that was Billy Payne,
01:37
and he really wanted it.
01:38
He played at Augusta National,
01:39
and he wanted golf to be a spotlighted event at Atlanta.
01:43
The problem was that Augusta National
01:46
at that time was all male,
01:48
and the IOC principles, in particular Anita DeFrantz,
01:53
felt like, well that's sexist.
01:55
We can't have that kind of structure.
01:59
For golf to get back into the Olympics,
02:00
it really had to convince
02:02
the Olympic Committee of three things.
02:04
One is that golf has a huge global participation.
02:08
That was an easy point to prove.
02:10
There are 30,000 golf courses in the world,
02:12
145 countries have players, it's a huge sport.
02:17
Second, golf had to prove that it could fall in line
02:19
with the Olympic anti-doping procedures,
02:21
and the PGA Tour instituted that
02:24
into its regular play seamlessly.
02:26
Third, golf had to prove that growing the game,
02:30
and developing it internationally,
02:32
was a fundamentally good thing.
02:33
Everybody's rooting for a great tournament,
02:36
but I think if the venue holds up, and if there's drama,
02:40
I think if you see a lot of emotion,
02:42
like in the Ryder Cup, where you see it mattering,
02:45
the Olympic spirit, so to speak,
02:47
if you see that vividly, that bodes well for the sport.
02:53
I think we're making a lot about the men dropping out,
02:57
but that's secondary if you get some of those other pieces
03:00
that we're talking about here.
03:01
Probably the two most important figures
03:03
in getting golf back into the Olympics
03:05
were Peter Gossin, the former CEO of the RNA,
03:09
and his American counterpart would have been
03:11
Ty Votaw of the PGA Tour.
03:13
I think both those guys just looked at it as the right play,
03:19
the smart play for the game in the future.
03:22
(uplifting music)
More from golfdigest.com
Equipment The Complete Hot List
Equipment The Complete Hot List
Golf Culture Most Annoying Golfers
Golf Culture Most Annoying Golfers
Instruction How To Do Everything
Instruction How To Do Everything
News & Tours Blog: Stay In The Loop
News & Tours Blog: Stay In The Loop
Ranking 100 Greatest Courses
Ranking 100 Greatest Courses
Cover Story Paulina Gretzky
Cover Story Paulina Gretzky