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Rio Olympics 2016: Golf makes a return after a century

It's been 112 long years since the sport has last been a part of the Olympics.

Olympic Golf Course
A panoramic view of the Olympic Golf Course

As the Olympic juggernaut rolls on to Rio for the Summer Olympics, golf fans from this century will rejoice as the sport makes its return to the event after 112 years. It had previously featured in the official programme for the 1900 Olympics in Paris and 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri. 

The golf event will be held in a 72 hole stroke-play format for both men and women at the Olympic golf course, Barra da Tijuca from 11-14th August for the men and 17th - 20th August for the women. The par for the championship layout of the course will be 71, with the total length for the Men’s competition being 6522m and for the Women’s competition 5944m. Both the men’s and women’s field will see 60 golfers who qualified on the basis of their ranking on the 11th of July. 

The return of golf 

At the 121st International Olympic Committee Session in Copenhagen in 2009, golf and rugby sevens were voted on to the programme for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Golf was passed by 63 votes to 27 while rugby sevens had 81 votes in favour and 8 against. 

A month prior to the IOC Session, the Executive Board (EB) of the IOC proposed a the list of 26 core sports and 2 additional sports, golf and rugby, to be included in the 2016 Olympic Programme. Golf and rugby were chosen from a total of seven sports — baseball, golf, karate, roller sports, rugby, softball and squash — that were seeking to enter the Olympic programme. The EB voted and chose golf and rugby as the two sports to be passed on to the IOC Session after an extensive evaluation by the Olympic Programme Commission. 

The key factors in determining a sport’s suitability for the Olympic programme include youth appeal, universality, popularity, good governance, respect for athletes and respect for the Olympic values. “Golf and rugby scored high on all the criteria,” IOC President Jacques Rogge said. “They have global appeal, a geographically diverse line-up of top iconic athletes and an ethic that stresses fair play.” 

Jack Nicklaus, an 18-time Major winner, said: "All of us who have spent our lives playing and enjoying the game of golf fully understand why it deserved a spot on the Olympic programme.

Questions over the sport’s return 

There remain questions over golf’s presence in the official Olympic Programme. Prior to its inclusion, there were doubts over whether the top ranked players in the world would participate in the event or not. 
At that stage, 4 time LPGA Tour winner Michelle Wie said, "I can dream about being an Olympian, and I can dream of doing something not even Tiger or Ernie has ever done, that is to make the putt to win the gold medal.”

A start contrast is present in the men’s and women’s field for the event. While all the Top 10 ranked Women Pros will be seen competing in Rio, none of the Top 4 ranked male golfers will be at the event. In the most recent blow, World No. 3 Jordan Spieth pulled out of the tournament citing fears of the ‘Zika’ virus.

Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Rory Mcilroy - golf’s ‘Big 4’ won’t be present, Tiger Woods will also miss the Olympics as he is still recovering from back problems that have plagued him in the recent past. 

Bubba Watson will be the highest ranked player in the field at #5 and will face tough competition from the likes of Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Danny Willett, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia while the highest ranked ladies golfer is 19 year old sensation Lydia Ko who became the World No 1 when she was just 17 years old. 

Summary 

While there will still be doubters, the mere fact that the sport makes a return after more than a century should be cherished. The United States are the most successful team in golf Olympic history and the others will have to step up to ensure they take the gold. History is at stake for those who dare, for they will be the first winners in golf in Olympics in 112 years and it will surely be special.

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