Olympics – when free is the best option

Courtesy of Golfing Traveller
By David Mackintosh

Olympics golf may be five years down the road but the initial championship round is already on the first tee as top-names line up to design the course to host this historic event. The latest adding his resume to vie for the job is Robert Trent Jones, Jr., teaming with retired Brazilian golfing great Mario Gonzalez.

Other notables already on the starting list include Greg Norman and Lorena Ochoa, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros and undoubted pre-tournament favorites, Jack Nicklaus and Annika Sorenstam. Nicklaus and Sorenstam were volunteer Global Ambassadors during the bid to return golf to the Olympics and first to formally submit a letter to the International Golf Federation expressing interest in designing the Rio de Janeiro venue.

Brazilian Olympic organizers are in the final stage of selecting the course location and their decision is anticipated within the next sixty days, prior to an IOC project review visit late- April.

The way it works is the IGF is decision-maker on who gets the design contract but the Olympic host committee, that’s to say Brazil, picks up the cost, just as they will for other stadia or arenas. Naturally you’d expect these two bodies to work closely on all aspects of selection, but comment last week by the Brazilian Golf Confederation’s vice-president of marketing, in an Associated Press story, does make one wonder: “We have dozens of designers interested in this course, the international reaction has been great,” said Paulo Pacheco. “I think it’s even possible that one of these designers will offer their work free of charge just because of the importance of having their name associated with this historic tournament.”

Fact is, in their original submission letter requesting to be considered as architects of the first Olympic golf course since 1904, Nicklaus and Sorenstam made it clear they did not want compensation or financial commitment from the IGF or any Olympic committee for their work, affirming their interest is born from a collective and deeply rooted care for the game. Odd that a ranking golf official would not know that – or perhaps just an oblique way of suggesting others also step up to the unpaid entrance?

The elephant in the room is 2020. Golf, voted back to the Olympic roster in 2009, is guaranteed a place in the 2020 Games, but beyond that will principally depend on an IOC evaluation after Rio. For golf and its continued global expansion, then, the stakes are enormous. The final decision will largely depend, not on who wins the 72-hole championship or the birdie-bogey ratios, but world audience ratings. And that will be hugely influenced by the beauty of the stage on which the game is played.

Just think Augusta National, the Masters, and you have the answer. So who should be given the task of setting golf’s most important table? No doubt in my mind: the guy with the design resume that parallels his legacy as arguably the game’s greatest champion.

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