After a 112 years, Golf returns to the Olympics with the 2016 Summer Games – but are Tour players buying in?

By Patrick Hester

One question is on my mind – will Tour players play in the Olympics? We’ve already seen four professionals (Vijay SinghLouis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel) bow out of the games due to various reasons from scheduling conflicts to family issues. Tour players have a rough time of it as it is. If that trend continues, and more professionals say no to the games, will they still have the same impact?

So far, no American golfers have said they’re out, which is a good thing. More than 219 million Americans watched the 2012 Summer Games in London, growing from the 2008 Beijing games which saw 215 million. If that trend holds and the 2016 games reach even more Americans, that’s an unprecedented audience who may be getting their first look at golf. So putting our best foot forward is a must.

A little history

The 1904 Summer Olympics held in St. Louis, Missouri, from August 29 through September 3, 1904, marked the last time golf was played as part of the games. It was also only the second time golf was part of the Olympics, the first being 4 years earlier in 1900. A total of 93 different golfers played back then, 10 women, 83 men.

For the last 112 years, golf has not been present in the games.

Now, golf is back in the Olympics thanks to a concerted effort from professional golfers like Pádraig Harrington of Ireland, Michelle Wie of the United States, and Suzann Pettersen of Norway, who were part of a presentation by a group of golf ambassadors to sway the 121st session of the International Olympic Committee into bringing golf back into the summer games in Rio.

But should we care whether golf is in the Olympics or not?

The short answer is: yes.

Thanks to the efforts of the golf ambassadors mentioned above, a whole new audience will be exposed to golf, which will ultimately raise awareness and grow the game.

With participation numbers on the decline in the U.S. (according to the National Golf Foundation), getting golf in front of a broader audience is key to growing the game. And the Olympics have a broader audience. According to Olympic Officials, the games bring in around 4 billion watchers worldwide. That is a stage unlike any golf has ever experienced before, and a fantastic opportunity to introduce golf to people who may not know much, if anything, about it.

The format will be simple enough; a 72-hole individual stroke play tournament using the official rules of golf, jointly written and administered by the R&A and USGA. Qualification will be based on world ranking, with the cutoff set on July 11, 2016. The top 15 players of each gender with a limit of four golfers per country will qualify first. All remaining spots will go the highest-ranked players from countries that do not already have two golfers qualified until we have a total of 120 players – 60 men and 60 women.

The International Golf Foundation, has guaranteed that at least one golfer from the host nation, Brazil, and each geographical region (Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania) will qualify, ensuring a worldwide audience for the event.

As of April 18, 6 Americans qualify to play in the Olympics:


  • No. 2 Jordan Spieth
  • No. 4 Bubba Watson
  • No. 5 Rickie Fowler
  • No. 8 Dustin Johnson


  • No. 3 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 4 Stacy Lewis

If everything stays on course, and Tour players head to the Olympics, this could lead to a surge in people, young and old, getting out there, seeking lessons and coaching from PGA pros and playing more golf.

And that’s a very good thing, indeed.


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