Road To The Olympic Games


Why golf doesn't belong in the Olympics

The Olympic motto is “higher, stronger, faster.” What does that have to do with golf?

Rory McIlroy had it right

If Rory McIlroy says he won't even watch the Olympic golf tournament, is it even worth having? (Mike Groll/Associated Press)

By Mark Bulgutch

If you're into making sports trivia bets at the pub, here's an almost certain winner for you. As we head toward the Rio Olympics, ask someone this question. "In how many events is Canada the defending gold medal winner?"

A sharp Olympic fan will almost certainly say, "One: Rosie MacLennan won gold on the trampoline at the 2012 games in London."

"Aha," you'll say, as you count your winnings. "The answer is two. George Lyon won gold for Canada the last time golf was in the Olympics in 1904 in St. Louis."

And now, 112 years later, golf is back. Which makes no sense.

It makes no sense for several reasons, but the most important reason is that golf isn't a sport. It's a game.

Of course, it takes talent to win a professional golf tournament. Golfers have a skill. But so do heart surgeons. We don't pretend heart surgery is a sport. Heart surgeons do their work with steady hands when life and death is in the balance. Golfers are so twitchy their nerves need soothing if a fan clicks a camera during their backswing.

The Olympic motto is "higher, stronger, faster." What does that have to do with golf?

Over the years the Olympics have tossed out events that strike me as much more sporty than golf. Tug of war. Underwater swimming. Baseball. Lacrosse.

Croquet was once an Olympic sport. Just once, mind you. That was in 1900 in Paris. Apparently it attracted exactly one spectator and was then dropped. In croquet, the object is to hit a ball with a mallet through hoops. In golf, the object is to hit a ball with a club into a hole.

Golf isn't much more athletic than checkers or gin rummy. And in those games at least your opponent is actively trying to thwart your best efforts. In golf, you play against the scoreboard. No one tries to block your shots. No one tries to counter your strategy. 

There are other Olympic events that probably aren't sports. But they are certainly more athletic than golf. Golfers have caddies to carry their clubs for heaven's sake.

The other new sport in Rio is rugby. You can argue that it's kind of ridiculous to watch grown-ups writhing in group hugs, running and tackling their way up and down a field of grass and sometimes mud. But you can't argue the players aren't athletic.

Olympics are too big

Just about everyone says the Olympics have become too big. In Rio, there will be 306 events in 42 disciplines (or 41 plus golf) and more than 10,000 athletes (well, competitors). There are 37 venues. The budget for the games approaches $10 billion US, and will almost certainly end up considerably higher.

That's not golf's fault. But making the games smaller isn't as difficult as say, finding a cure for the Zika virus. Here's a thought: Stop adding sports. And especially, stop adding non-sports.

The top four male golfers in the world won't be in Rio. Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, and Dustin Johnson say they're worried about Zika. That could be true. Or they may just not care to take time from their mega-million dollar careers to chase a gold medal. A gold medal is really about 92 per cent silver. It has about 6 grams of gold. That's worth, in strictly monetary terms, about $258 US. That won't get pro golfers five boxes of golf balls. It's .02 per cent of what the winner took home at something called the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Rory McIlroy won't even be watching Olympic golf on television. He'll be watching, "track and field, swimming, diving, the stuff that matters."

So if he's figured out that golf doesn't belong in the Olympics, maybe the rest of us should figure it out too.