Why Golf Should Not be an Olympic Sport

With just a few weeks until the Olympic Games are scheduled to begin in Rio, things down there are a mess. Brazil’s financial situation may mean that money promised from the government to help pay for the games won’t come. Quoted in The New York Times, the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro called the situation a “state of public calamity,” adding that there could be “a total collapse in public security, health, education, mobility, and environmental management.”

Sounds great, right?

Of course, it’s entirely likely the money will be found; venues, housing, and other vital parts of the Olympic infrastructure will get finished in time; and the games will go on. I hope so.

But I wish it were happening without golf. Because I don’t understand why, after an absence of 112 years, golf was reinstated an Olympic sport. I think it’s a bad idea.

And not because of the recent problems, which include but are not limited to environmental issues with building a new golf course that probably wasn’t needed; fears over the Zika virus; fears over security; dirty water (for drinking and for swimming in); people forcibly moved from their homes to accommodate Olympic-related construction; and Brazil’s political circus.

All those problems aside, I still don’t think golf should be in the Olympics. Why not? Because it already gets enough exposure and is already played in nearly every corner of the world.

To be fair, I could—and do—say the same about other Olympic sports, such as basketball, tennis, soccer, skiing, and any others in which the participants are highly paid professionals who every four years don patriotic apparel, talk humbly about their involvement being about something bigger than money, and bathe in the honor of playing for their country.

But really, who needs them? We already see most of those sports’ top pros on a regular basis. It’s not as if the NBA, NHL, and other leagues don’t already showcase the best international players. It’s wishful thinking, but I want the Olympics to be a gathering of “amateurs”—even if we all know they are subsidized and trained by their countries—and a chance to see sports that don’t have their own TV channels. (In fact, that might be a good criterion: When handball gets its own cable network, it’s out of the Olympics. Same with fencing.)

Put another way, why do the most popular sports and their already over-exposed pros need another chance to perform? What do such competitions prove?

Now ask the same questions of golf. By my reckoning, golf is probably the second-most worldly sport after soccer. How many more “international” events do we need when we already have Ryder Cups, Presidents Cups, Walker Cups, Curtis Cups, World Golf Championships, and professional tournaments in every corner of the globe? And it’s called the “World Ranking” for a reason. (As of July 4, the top 150 players represented 28 countries, from every continent but Antarctica.)

When golf’s governing bodies were campaigning for its return to the Olympics a decade ago, one of the arguments made was that it would bring the game to new audiences in places like Africa and the Far East. Which sounds like a laudable goal, but always struck me as less altruistic and more avaricious—a way to sell more equipment, design more courses, and employ more club pros. Golf develops where there is an economy to sustain it, as is happening throughout Asia and will happen in the few other golf-starved parts of the world after other, more serious, deficiencies are addressed.

But honestly, judging solely by where professional golf tours exist today, the game is already pretty global.

More than one pundit has said that when the International Olympic Committee reinstated golf to the Olympics, an action it announced in 2009, it didn’t so much want international golf as it wanted Tiger Woods. How’d that work out?

From today’s perch, it would have been interesting, were Tiger able to play and qualify for the U.S. team, if he would be going to Rio or joining Rory, Jason, Louis, Hideki, Adam, and the other notables who are staying home claiming Zika or other “personal” concerns as the reason.

As long as golf is in this year’s Olympics—as it will be again in Japan in 2020; after that, we’ll have to see if it gets re-upped—I want ALL the pros to stay home. They don’t even have to come up with a reason. I’ll give them one: Golf does not belong.


What do you think? Should golf be played in the Olympics? Let us know in the comments below!