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|Picking a winner for the World Cup is easy if you know enough about golf. ()|
It is undisputedly the biggest and most important sports event on the planet. More than 200 nations begin the quest, but in the end only 32 qualify for the final battle to determine which rules the world's most popular sport: soccer - or, if you must, football.
The 2006 World Cup in Germany promises to be a spectacle that enraptures the planet. And like any major sporting event, the outcome can usually be determined by examining one key factor - the competing nations' golf scenes.
This is the first of a series of articles that will break down the World Cup through the prism of golf, eventually determining the ultimate winner. This prediction will follow the same format as the World Cup, with 32 teams fighting to emerge from eight groups and 16 advancing to the single-elimination championship tournament.
The adventure begins here, with Groups A through D.
2. Costa Rica
Comments: Host Germany advances, but it could very well struggle in the later rounds. It is the only nation in the world that requires an actual license to golf. They call the license a Platzriefe and it requires several days and hundreds of bucks to get one. If you visit Germany you don't need a Platzriefe, but bring a handicap certificate with you. Despite all this, Germany advances based on mere existence of Bernhard Langer.
A tough battle for the second spot sees Costa Rica make it to the knockout round based on the amazing beauty of its golf courses and its high-profile designers. Ron Garl, Ted Robinson, George Fazio and Robert Trent Jones Jr. have all put their mark on the Costa Rica golf scene.
Comments: England's history as a golfing nation stands up to any other and it looks to be a strong favorite to emerge victorious from this whole thing. Courses with the vintage and quality of Royal Birkdale dominate the landscape. From Henry Cotton to Luke Donald, English players have long been challengers for golf's top prizes. Truly a class golf nation.
Sweden moves on to the second round based on the popularity of golf there. It's the top non-English-speaking golf nation on the planet. It's also the home of Annika Sorenstam, which by itself is enough to put away Paraguay and Trinidad & Tobago.
Comments: In South America, people from Argentina have a reputation of being somewhat elitist, so it should come as no surprise that golf has long been a popular sport in the continent's second-largest country. Courses such as Mar del Plata Golf Club and the Jockey Club are just the tip of Argentina's class-golf iceberg, while Roberto De Vicenzo and Angel Cabrera have brought individual glory home.
Though growing in popularity, golf is a bit of a secondary sport, though growing in popularity in the Netherlands, but the Dutch advance due to a lack of viable alternatives.
Comments: Much like its soccer team, Mexico's golf scene is somewhat underrated but has shown it can compete on the global stage. For beauty, extravagance and quality, it's hard to beat Los Cabos as a golf destination. Lorena Ochoa's performance on the LPGA Tour has helped golf gain momentum among Mexican women.
Nations advancing to the next round: Germany, Costa Rica, England, Sweden, Argentina, the Netherlands, Mexico, Portugal.
Coming in Part II, the final four round-robin groups!
Despite being commonly recognized as the nation that invented soccer, England has won only one World Cup, in 1966, when the final was played in London.
June 5, 2006
William K. Wolfrum keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolfrum.
Here are the best 36-hole facilities open to the public. All of them share a clubhouse and offer two exceptional 18-hole golf courses. Most of the clubs are part of a resort, and in some cases you even stay on site. No matter which you visit, you can't go wrong playing 36 holes at any of them.
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