Peter Williams: The players here love it, but I can't see golf as a long term prospect at the Olympics


After so much comment, so much discussion about whether or not golf should be in the Olympics, it was fun to actually get to the course today and watch some of the action in the second round.

Campo Olimpico de Golfe is a wonderful golf course. The designer Gil Hanse was given some great raw material to work with. It's waste and scrub covered land in the the greater Barra da Tijuca area, about than half an hour's drive from the athletes' village.

The land is genuine links country. The base is pure sand, there's not a tree in sight and it's only a few kilometres from the sea.

Hanse has nicely worked the angles of the holes and the contours of the ground. It's not a super long golf course, but he's proved again that subtlety is just as important in golf course design as brute strength.

Some earthmoving has been required, but the real hero has been a drought resistant grass called Zeon Zoyza, which was developed in Texas, and is used on the fairways, rough and tees here.

As well as its environmental advantages, the texture of this grass almost always gives players a nice lie on the fairway. The Brazilian public who'll play here after the Olympics, many of them probably just learning the game, will love the surface.

Danny Lee of New Zealand at Olympic Games.

Danny Lee of New Zealand at Olympic Games.

Source: Associated Press

But when you've made your way past the armed guards at the gate, it doesn't take long to realise that golf is not a significant sport in Brazil.

The gallery which was pretty sparse again (only 3,300 were there on the first day) was noticeably bereft of locals. There were plenty of American, British and Australasian accents. The only Brazilians seemed to be the volunteers in the garish yellow uniforms.

Still that makes for easy spectating.

I just walked out of the media area to the 10th fairway. Almost immediately I saw Martin Kaymer plundering a big three wood down the long par five. His playing Bubba Watson was just beside him off the tee and he thought he could reach the green with a long iron. He didn't.

Go to any other event and a pairing of those two major champions would have a huge gallery following them through which you'd struggle to get a decent view.

Bubba, twice a Masters winner, is a huge fan of Olympic golf.

"This is what all athletes want to do, this is what we train for," he said afterwards.

How much sway he'll have in the locker rooms of the PGA Tour in the next few years as he tries to spread the gospel of the Olympics is yet to be seen.

After Watson and Kaymer, I walked another hundred metres or so and there was Masters champion Danny Willet and American favourite Matt Kuchar playing down the 11th.

And then I found Danny Lee. As it transpired he was just about finished his round but I caught him in the middle of a sensational birdie burst.

He'd made a three at the 15th, laid up at the 277 metre par 4 16th then hit a wedge shot close from 50 metres and made the putt, and put his tee shot at the par three 17th only half a metre from the hole. Three birdies in three holes.

The 18th here is a downwind par five. According to the extraordinary media statistics that can be gleaned from the information system, Danny drove it 277.8 metres and had 244.7 metres left to the green for his second shot.

Using a fairway wood, he smacked it onto the putting surface 7.8 metres from the hole. In other words he had about a 25 foot putt for eagle which he just missed but he tapped in for his 4th straight birdie.

There's no better way to finish a round of golf, unless it's five straight birdies!

But Danny's big run has put him within reach of a medal if he has a good weekend.

I mooched around the media interview area for a while (saw some guy called Matthew McConaughey hanging around and posing for photos) and listened in to a few post round chats.

Matthew McConnauhey and fans at the Olympics golf

Matthew McConnauhey and fans at the Olympics golf

Source: 1 NEWS

The overall impression I picked up is that all the players are loving the experience and really believe in the concept of Olympic golf.

Ireland's Padraig Harrington might be past his best (he won his last major when the 2008 Olympics were on) but I heard him telling an interviewer that this golf event was a big deal in his homeland.

Maybe that message will get through to his little mate Rory McIlroy in time for Tokyo in 2020.

So what I reckon we're seeing here is almost an action replay of the tennis situation in 1988.

Tennis came back to the Olympics that year and many top players gave it a miss.

Now all the stars come if they can - although Djokovic and Serena Williams lost a bit too early in the tournament here for the IOC's comfort.

In 2020, there'll probably be more top golfers in Tokyo, but I still wouldn't guarantee golf's long term future in the games.

It requires a seriously expensive facility, takes a lot of resource to broadcast and is not exactly the sexy and youth orientated sport that the IOC seems determined to include in the game programme - hence the inclusion of skateboarding and surfing in the Tokyo games.

As a golf fan, I'm enjoying golf back in the Olympics for now, but I can't see it as a long term prospect.

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