Orlando, United States: Prominent figures behind golf’s eagerly-awaited return to the Olympic Games joined forces with Major champions Graeme McDowell and Suzann Pettersen in providing an upbeat assessment of the state of play with only 19 months left until the first tee shot in Rio de Janeiro.
Peter Dawson and Ty Votaw, respectively the President and Vice-President of the International Golf Federation – the body charged with the responsibility of bringing golf back into the Olympics – took to the stage at the IGF Olympic Golf Forum which launched the 2015 PGA Merchandise Show, alongside the Rio course design team of Gil Hanse and Amy Alcott.
The audience heard first-hand about the considerable strides being made in ensuring that the pioneering 60 men and 60 women who will represent their countries in August 2016 will find a stunning challenge awaiting them in Brazil.
A delegation of IGF Board members visited the course in Rio last weekend to witness the progress being made on site and Dawson told the trade show visitors, and the TV audience live on the Golf Channel, that ‘excitement is really mounting’ as the countdown continues to Rio 2016.
He said: “We began this project of bidding for golf to return to the programme of Olympic sports because so many small countries, small in golfing terms, really needed some help to grow the game.
“They said if we could get golf into the Olympics it would give extra exposure, extra government support, extra popularity for golf, and that’s already beginning to show through in so many countries that I visit around the world.”
Votaw talked about the significance of Olympic golf in the United States. He said: “When we embarked upon this process we knew it would grow the game around the world, and we also know that anything that could bring golf to more eyeballs and to more kids in this country would certainly have an incremental effect here. We think it’s going to do nothing but help grow the game in the United States.”
Norwegian Pettersen, a two-time Major winner and seven-time Solheim Cup player, was closely involved with golf’s Olympic renaissance in 2009 as an IGF delegate in Copenhagen when the International Olympic Committee vote was taken to include golf in the Olympic Programme for Rio 2016.
Growing up in Scandinavia, where the Winter Olympics ruled the roost, she could never conceive of the day – now just around the corner – where she, too, could dream of capturing the first gold medal in golf since the start of the previous century.
She said: “I grew up seeing all my role models, heroes, competing on TV for the gold, silver and bronze medals. Now I can have that dream myself and it is quite inspiring for me. And being a part of this process, you can see how much work it took to get golf back in and I think golf, as one of the biggest sports in the world, should be on the Olympic Programme.”
McDowell also recalled his youth in Northern Ireland, commenting: “One of our most famous Olympians was Dame Mary Peters, pentathlon gold medallist in the 1972 Munich Olympics. I think my earliest memories probably came from watching the Olympics on TV and were of the 100-metre sprinters.
“I think the Olympic Games is the pinnacle of sport. It’s the ultimate achievement for a sportsman and athlete. Nothing will internationalise the game more than golf being part of the Olympics and bringing the game to underdeveloped parts of the world, bringing golfers to this great sport that we all love. I don’t think the timing could be more perfect. We’re all very excited and very passionate to be part of it.”
Hanse and World Golf Hall of Fame member Alcott provided a series of slides displaying the type of golf course the players will encounter in August 2016. Hanse explained: “We were blessed with a very sandy site (offering) the opportunity to create a golf course that looks and feels a little bit like the sand belt in Melbourne, Australia. I think these images will hopefully resonate and show people that there is grass, it’s growing, and there is a real golf course in the ground down there.”
Alcott added: “Gil and I have created a real links-style course with a lot of diversity and the mandate was playability for all levels of golfers (although) obviously I wanted to see it as a real challenge for the elite players in the world. We will leave behind a course for the people of Rio to enjoy in perpetuity.”