Will inclusion of golf in Olympics build the sport?

In 2016 and at the Rio games, golf will once more be played as an Olympic Sport – and instead of taking home millions of dollars, the worlds’ top golfers will walk away with either a gold, silver or bronze medal.

This will be the first time golf will be played at the Olympics since 1904 and it will feature only two events, the men’s and women’s individual events featuring 64 players each. But who should really be playing at the Olympics? Amateur golfers or professional ones?

Although the International Golf Federation has already decided on the criteria for qualification to the Rio Games, the debate continues, with many golf pundits arguing that the Olympic stage should be reserved for amateur golfers.

According to Adam Scott, the pro golfers enjoy wide TV and other news coverage throughout the year and it is only fitting that the lesser-known amateurs get to play on the Olympic stage and get the much-needed exposure. “To grow the game of golf we need to invite amateurs to compete at the Olympics, instead of the current format of 64 top professionals,” Scott commented.

“People watch pros play 45 weeks a year. If you really wanted to grow the game you’d have the Olympics for amateurs.”

In almost all the other Olympic disciplines, the athletes are professionals— from the track to field events. Usain Bolt, Ezekiel Kemboi, David Rudisha and Mo Farar to the swimmers and rowers are all professionals.

The Olympic games today include and attract the very best in each sport discipline and those inevitably are the various professionals in those disciplines.Qualification to the Rio 2016 will be based on the Official World Golf Rankings as of July 11 2016 – that gives some time for Kenyan golfers to up their game and qualify.

The top 15 players in the world will qualify but only a maximum of four players per country can qualify thus. The rest of the slots will go to the highest ranked players from countries that do not already have two qualifiers— a bit confusing but designed to ensure as wide a representation from across the globe as possible.

According to the International Golf Federation, at least one golfer from each geographical region – Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania will qualify. The host country will also get one slot each in the men’s and women’s competition. The format of the competition will be a 72-hole individual stroke play tournament.

But will the inclusion of the golf in the Olympics do anything for the growth of the sport?

Will Rio do for golf what London did for cycling? Will the likes of Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Tiger Woods or Adam Scott be keen on a Gold Medal? Will the Olympics have the same shine as the Masters or the Ryder Cup? Where will the professional golfers rank the Olympics in order of importance?

How will an Olympic gold medal compare to the Claret Jug or Green Jacket? On the flipside, amateur golfers would be more eager, more enthusiastic to win an Olympic gold, silver or bronze medal – and the good news is that the Rules of Amateur Golf would allow them to walk away with the medal! Perhaps the IGF should reconsider the qualification format.

Notes from my South America travel

Argentina has 280 golf courses and over 60,000 handicapped golfers.

The Olympic golf course is being built at Reserva de Marapendi in Barra da Tijuca. After the Games, the golf course will be used as a public facility to promote golf in Brazil.