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SPORTS WEEKEND | Golf

Olympic Golf Needs PGA's Ringing Endorsement

September 22, 2000|PETER YOON

Golf may have the world's most popular athlete and a loyal international audience, but it does not have a gold medal tournament in the Olympics, and probably won't for quite some time.

The subject of making golf an Olympic sport crops up seemingly every time an Olympic torch lights up. This year is no different.

A group known as the World Amateur Golf Council has approved a plan to pitch another proposal for Olympic golf.

The group is headed by David Fay, United States Golf Assn. executive director, and Peter Dawson, secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, and has the support of nearly every major golf organization in the world.

But the PGA Tour, the organization with the most recognizable golfers, has been conspicuously silent on the matter, and some fear that if PGA Tour players don't participate, the International Olympic Committee will not approve the sport.

"I think the IOC looks favorably upon golf," said Marty Parkes, senior director of communications for the USGA. "But in recent years they have been trying to attract the best athletes in the world from every sport and I'm sure they would like to see as many of the top golfers as possible. It would help a lot to get a contingency of all the major organizations."

Translation: We need the PGA Tour.

It isn't that the tour is against the idea, it's just not fronting the march.

"There hasn't really been any great cry for Olympic golf by the PGA Tour members," tour spokesman Bob Combs said. "It's certainly an interesting concept and we are not against participating, we are just not actively involved in anything to do with the Olympics right now."

The tour has several concerns. First off, how would players wedge the Games into an already packed schedule that includes several major international events, including the British Open and PGA Championship during the summer? Second, where would Olympic gold fit on a list that includes green jackets, claret jugs and Ryder Cups?

"I don't think it would be a big priority in our game, just because we have four major championships with equal significance every single year," Tiger Woods, the No. 1 golfer in the world, said in a recent Associated Press interview. "Now, if we had majors that were once every four years, you throw the Olympics in there, it would have quite a bit of significance."

The fear is that golf will go the way of tennis.

"While . . . [Andre] Agassi may have won and the Williams sisters may win, I don't think that [Olympic tennis] gets close to our appreciation of tennis at the pinnacle--meaning the Grand Slam events," said Terry Jastrow, an award-winning sports television producer. "I suspect that the experience in golf would be similar."

Another concern is coverage. Golf fans have grown accustomed to watching the sport a certain way, and it isn't the 10-minute chunks that most Olympic events get. Even if golf became a prime-time sport, it's unlikely to pull Olympic fans away from popular events such as gymnastics, swimming and track.

Red tape is also a problem. It has taken more than 10 years for the World Amateur Golf Council to get this far.

First, it had to be recognized by the IOC as the governing body of international golf. That happened in 1990. Next, the council had to approve the idea of proposing Olympic golf. That happened last month.

Now, the WAGC must work out the details. Who is eligible to play? What will be the format? Who will pick the team? Will it be a demonstration sport at first?

"There are a number of concerns that need to be worked out for us to get on board," Combs said. "Right now, it certainly is not imminent."

Golf was an Olympic event in 1900 and 1904. The reasons for its discontinuation are unclear. Rules were prepared for the 1908 Games in London, but an apparent breakdown in communication led to cancellation of the event, according to USGA records.

Later, golf simply did not conform to Olympic criteria. In order to be considered, a sport must be widely practiced in at least 75 countries on four continents by men and in 40 countries on three continents by women.

When those criteria were finally met in the late 1980s, the IOC refused to listen because there was no international governing body for golf.

In 1989, the WAGC was approved as the governing body and proposed golf as a demonstration sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The IOC was leaning toward approval until learning the proposed site, Augusta National Golf Club, has a history of excluding women and minorities.

And now, with wholehearted support from some golf organizations and lukewarm support from others, the process is again underway.

Just don't expect to see it reach fruition soon. "It would be almost impossible to have it before 2008," Parkes said.

SOLHEIM SISTERS

The LPGA Tour moves to Portland, Ore., this week for the Safeway LPGA Golf Championship and at least eight players are gunning for more than the trophy and winner's check.

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