Golf on the world stage

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Men’s Olympic golf kicks off this week with many high-profile players choosing not to go and another couple (Rahm, DeChambeau) having to withdraw due to positive COVID tests. Does the absence of some of golf’s biggest names lessen your interest in watching the competition?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): On the contrary, I’ll be watching Olympic golf just to boost the TV ratings by one, in an effort to shame the big names for not supporting Olympic golf.  I suppose I’m a little less offended by their absence this time, due to COVID, compared to 2016 when the equivalent of the threat of a common cold supposedly kept many of the biggest names from going to Rio.  But I think we all know that for most of them, it’s a case of “no pay, no play”, and considering that almost all the PGA players who would qualify for the Games can afford to fly their own private jets, I can only put their attitude in the Greed category.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): The fact that many of the top players are not there is unfortunate and may lesson the interest for some, but I’ll be watching. It really would be a better draw if the ALL the best in the world were playing with interest in it. That will take some time to take effect. I still think format could draw more players, and golf offers so much flexibility in format of play (match play, teams, team stroke play or match play, mixed stroke play and match play, etc.). I’d really like to see a mixed team event representing country. That doesn’t exist in the golf world (seriously) and would send an amazing message being conducted at the Olympics. I see no reason you can’t conduct the men’s and woman’s events on the same week, followed by team competition(s).

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: Not really! Since each country is limited to specific numbers of players the field isn’t that strong anyway. However, representing one’s country is an all-time ‘rush’. Today’s TOUR players are inundated with opportunities to earn $$$$$$ but this and the Ryder Cup are two that are outside “what can you do for me”. I’ll watch to see the reaction of the winner. I hope it’s the same it was when Justin Rose won.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I’m not sure my interest can be lessened much more to be honest.  Especially given the time zone and difficulty watching the event, I’m not sure I’ll watch any of it.  Unless of course there is a Canadian or two in contention come the weekend.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: No, it couldn’t possibly lessen my interest whatsoever as I had absolutely no interest, nada, zilch, rien before any withdrawals or positive tests.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Not at all. I feel for the guys who tested positive and had to withdraw. They wanted to be there. As for the others who cited a variety of reasons not to go, they all boil down to the same thing: the Olympics aren’t important enough to them to make the effort. That I don’t get. But the field will be full of players that are super pumped to represent their country and want a medal and I’ll be watching every minute of it.

In your view, what’s the biggest positive or negative about golf in the Olympics?

Deeks: The biggest positive is the honour of playing and competing for your country.  I’m sure for PGA/Euro Tour players it would also be a positive learning experience to meet other athletes who are NOT paid, and who work their tails off just for the honour to be there.  The only negatives for PGA Tour stars?  No courtesy cars, no luxury hotel rooms, and no endless free food.

Loughry: For me, the biggest positive is that it’s on a global stage. Olympics are some of the most watched live sports worldwide. I think golf having a presence is important for exposing the sport to countries where golf may not have much of a presence, it could inspire new people to give it a try. For all other nations who have interest in golf, its going to take some time for this to be an absolute MUST watch event, but could have the same effect, create new golfers, or at least a try. Golf in the Olympics is a good thing, whether some PGA Tour players realize it or not.

Schurman: Exposure to the game in countries around the world! There is the potential for thousands of kids to hit a rock with a stick into a hole pretending they are playing golf. Who knows, one of them might become the next Sam Snead.

Rule: I guess the positive is the exposure that the game can get to the sporting world, the negative is the number of top pros that don’t seem to give the event any respect.  So, to the avid golf fan, I’m not sure there is a positive aspect to the event, but hopefully globally it’s good for the game.

Quinn: The biggest negative is that golf is part of the Olympics. The only positive is that it may soon be dropped from the bloated, ever-expanding lineup of the IOC travelling TV money grab. Golfers at the elite level have a surfeit of international showcases — Majors, WGC events, FedEx charade, Solheim Cups, Ryder and Walker Cups, even the silly Presidents Cup, plus pay for play gluttonous appointments — on top of weekly multi-million-dollar tourneys. They don’t need medals or the “Olympic experience,” poor dears. If only amateurs under the age of 21 qualified…. nah, faghettaboutit.

Mumford: The Olympics are a symbol. Obviously, true amateurs don’t exist anymore but (most of) the competitors still represent what’s best about sport. Qualifying, making the team, being good enough to represent your country are reward enough; winning a medal is just icing on the cake. If Olympic golf were just about the 60 best players in the world, it wouldn’t be any different than a WGC event. That participation reaches way down the world rankings provides an opportunity to showcase golf to some countries where it’s not a mainstream sport. The best aspects of golf – sportsmanship, etiquette – can make an impact to a new audience.

Golf at the local level has pretty much returned to normal following COVID-related lockdowns and protocols. Bunker rakes and ball washers are back, and you can remove the flagstick again if you wish. Are there any changes mandated over the past two seasons that you think should continue?

Deeks: Not a one.  I’m just so grateful that I’m now able to “go back and have a few pops with my buddies”.  I never did that before, but I guess Doug Ford thinks it’s okay now.  I just have to find a few buddies.

Loughry: I’m easy, none of the adjustments for playing bothered me that much. I did play recently and a gent in our group was excited to remove the flagstick on our first hole. We did, it was somewhat odd, and you know what, without any other discussion amongst our group we didn’t remove it the rest of the round. I’ve played twice since that round (different people), and not one of us has touched the flagstick. That’s one I’m sticking around. As for rakes, I know they are annoying for maintenance staff, I’m indifferent towards them.

Schurman: There are three things. 1. Leaving the flagstick in has reduced the time to play by at less 1/2 an hour. 2. With fewer players in the Pro Shop checking in at the same time, it seems as though people are more organized when it’s their turn. 3. Clubs are learning they can survive on green fees, carts and beer. They don’t need expensive clubhouses that drain away the profits.

Rule: As far as golf course maintenance and regular play goes, I like returning to pre-Covid protocols.  I’m happy to rid of the ball retrieval contraptions that were used in lieu of removing the flag, and happy to play bunkers as they were meant to be played, no more touching the ball until you reach the putting surface.  I don’t mind increased tee time intervals though…

Quinn: Funny, the rakes were rarely used before the plague so now that they’re back, so are the deep footprints right beside them. The no-touch flag stick might have sped up play a bit for the 20-something handicappers who mark and try to line up one-footers, but not enough to notice. Right, it’s back to so-called normal with real golfers fixing 5-10 pitch marks besides their own on most greens, raking bunkers, and replacing divots.

Mumford: Most golfers have never grasped the art of raking a bunker, so there’s no guarantee of a decent lie even after the bunker has been raked. Therefore, except for tournaments, I’d be ok with continuing to allow players to improve their lie in a bunker as they could when rakes weren’t available. It will speed up play and make the game less frustrating. In no way should it exempt players from raking though. Even a bad raking job is better than none.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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