Thursday 29 September 2016

Paul McGinley: Golf must embrace invite to top table

Game can’t afford to be insular and let golden Olympic opportunity slip

Paul McGinley

Published 29/08/2015 | 02:30

Seeing stars such as Rory McIlroy teeing it up at the Olympics can only be good for the worldwide profile of golf
Seeing stars such as Rory McIlroy teeing it up at the Olympics can only be good for the worldwide profile of golf

There is less than a year to go until golf’s re-introduction to the Olympics and it is interesting to observe the varied reaction from many in the golfing world.

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By nature we often are reluctant to embrace new horizons.

Many don’t like the changes to the traditional dates in the golfing calendar for 2016 caused by the Olympics.

It is easy to dismiss golf as an Olympic sport and at the same time belittle the value of winning a gold medal compared to winning a Major.

To do so leaves one open to being accused of having a narrow-minded view of the sport. Are we happy with this stereotyping or do we want to be a part of breaking down and demystifying this great game of ours?

Let’s look at the big picture for a moment and broaden our horizons.

All involved in the golf business are aware the game has flat-lined both as a sport and consequently a business as participation numbers have declined over the last few years. Golf struggles for column inches in the newspapers as it faces increasing competition from other major sports.

Professional golf at the very elite level and its success camouflages the immense challenges faced by those at grassroots and amateur levels.

This is not the first time golf has faced this problem. In the 1950s and 1960s golf had just come through its first stage of mass growth when participation levels stagnated.

Things did turn around as a result of a number of factors happening simultaneously, primarily an upturn in the economy coupled with added promotion of the game by its best players through various forms of media.

The correlation between star players’ media profiles and interest in golf is fundamental to the game’s success as a sport and a business.

We are now being offered the opportunity to showcase golf on the biggest stage in the world but some are reluctant to use this chance to further promote the business that many of us make a living from. Why? Why not embrace it?

When people watch the Olympics they want to watch the best at each sport participating against each other.

Who can forget the 100 metre final in London 2012 as the packed stadium lit up with cameras when the gun went off? Or what about Andy Murray winning the final at Wimbledon or Bradley Wiggins winning time trial gold ?

Katie Taylor in women’s boxing managed to single-handedly unite Ireland in a gigantic wave of euphoria and patriotism as she won gold, scenes replicated in many countries throughout the world as they supported their own athletes.

Whatever your country, we all got caught up in the magnitude and pure sporting theatre that was London 2012, despite many being sceptical of the hype. These sports benefited from the worldwide exposure in a spectacular and theatrical way by state-of-the-art TV production, photos and increased media coverage.

Yes, it can be argued that for many athletes the Olympics is their only major, their pinnacle, while golf has four Majors steeped in history and tradition.

Quite frankly, that is an insular and arrogant view.

The Olympics and its history deserve respect. We have been offered a place at the top table in sport. Let’s embrace it.

While always holding golf Majors sacrosanct, the star players’ participation in the Olympics, should be viewed as helping to grow our sport for future generations while representing your country and your people.

Doing this for your country and making many of your fellow countrymen and women proud as they attempt to win a gold medal at the Olympics is something to hold dear.

By all means, golf’s inclusion in the Olympics is not the only answer to the game’s challenges. It may not initially provide the theatre of other events; however, the big picture is to be there, competing and relevant, as a sport among other sports as we broaden our horizons and platforms to a mass global audience. 

The majority of the world’s population would struggle to name golf’s four Majors. But they know what a gold medal at the Olympics stands for.

Let’s not be insular.

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