Decision on Olympic golf designer has huge implications
The word is that by the end of this week a design team will be chosen for the yet-to-built golf course for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Now that’s still four years away, but considering golf hasn’t been an Olympic sport since 1904, whoever gets the job will be designing a course that will probably receive more worldwide recognition than any course built in the last few decades.
The reason is simple: The Olympics, unlike golf, command a worldwide audience. It’s a sports extravaganza that turns non-sports fans into experts on track and field, swimming, soccer and archery. People who have never played or watched golf before will now tune in to see how their countrymen are doing. It’s a chance to grow the game worldwide like never before as literally millions, perhaps a billion, people who had never watched golf will see it for the first time. In Brazil alone, where there are more than 200 million people, and there are only 100 or so golf courses, which means the market is ripe for huge growth of the game. And that would be good news for the golf industry. Ask any designer who is looking for work, or golf club manufacturers who struggle to come out with innovations that will tantalize the already tapped U.S. market.
So who should design the course that will introduce the game to millions of potential new fans and players? An argument can made for any of the big-name designers, but what makes this even more interesting is some of the pairings of the design teams.
Jack Nicklaus, for example, has teamed with Annika Sorenstam. Both are arguably the best players the world has ever seen. And Nicklaus is perhaps one of the biggest reasons that golf has returned to the Olympics. Greg Norman has also teamed with another retired No. 1 female player, Lorena Ochoa. Or how about Gary Player, who stresses fitness and nutrition (ideals that should certainly appeal to Olympic officials) like no other golfer in history? And then there’s Gil Hanse; Tom Doak; Robert Trent Jones II; Hawtree Ltd., and the team of Peter Thomson, Ross Perrett and Karrie Webb.
All worthy, to be sure, but I’ll be interested to see who gets the job. My personal favorite architect is Doak, but the political implications of who get the contract go way beyond golf course design. Perhaps that’s why Nicklaus and Sorenstam might be the favorites. Even people who have never seen golf know who Nicklaus is, and Sorenstam certainly has a worldwide appeal as well. All I know is that I’m going to want to play that course someday, no matter who the designer is.
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