Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events, discusses how The Open Championship at Royal Troon has set the scene for golf’s return to the Olympics in this Op-Ed for Around the Rings.
VisitScotland director of events Paul Bush (EventScotland)
There is no question that, as well as producing feats of incredible human achievement that will be recalled ad infinitum, Rio 2016 will thrust host nation Brazil into the global spotlight, establishing it foremost within the global consciousness for some time to come.
There will be however, you may be surprised to learn, a distinctly Scottish theme running through the Games courtesy of no fewer than three disciplines, which will play out on the screens of a worldwide audience expected to easily reach into the billions.
It may be news to most but both the shot put and hammer throw, prior to their introductions into the 1896 and 1900 games respectively, were originally conceived as demonstrations of brawn within our Highland Games. It was not until witnessing the pursuits in person that the movement’s founder, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, decreed they should be incorporated into the Olympics.
With the authority of Coubertin, one would then have to presume, it was Scotland’s national pastime, golf, that was inducted as an Olympic contest in 1900. Although a gold medal in the sport would be offered on only two occasions.
Indeed, by the time the first tee shot is struck at Reserva de Marapendi on August 11, it will have been no less than 112 years since the final putt at Glen Echo Country Club, during the third Olympiad in St Louis in 1904.
Having given rise to the game - it having been played here for centuries over unkempt coastlines - Scots may well feel a swelling sense of pride in seeing it reintroduced onto the greatest stage of all.
And while our contributions towards the global success of golf are not at all inconsiderable, having devised the rules, invented the modern form of the professional game and set in place many of its best-loved courses, they are not confined to history. In recent days, Scotland, specifically events during The 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon, has proffered the clearest possible indication that golf’s return to the Olympic fold is an exciting prospect indeed.
Fans flock to Royal Troon on day one of the Open (ATR)
In a contest that has already been suggested will surpass the fame of the ‘Duel in the Sun’ fought between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus over the same course in the summer of 1977, Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson reminded the world of golf’s unique ability to excite, agitate and enthrall.
Reducing the year’s most prestigious Major to a head-to-head over a dramatic weekend, the audience was treated to a veritable feast. In clinching the Claret Jug, Stenson achieved a new all-time low for Open scoring at 20-under-par for the tournament, and that only after Mickelson had come within millimeters of becoming the first man to shoot 62 in one of golf’s big four tournaments.
While the record books will show a comfortable 3-shot victory for the Swede, it was, nevertheless, another remarkable and most memorable tournament played out over one of Scotland’s best-loved links. And, perhaps most notably at the present time, an event that felt negligible impact from the world’s four top-rated players, each of whom has now withdrawn from playing in Rio.
While one cannot censure those who have refused to travel to Rio in the face of what they believe to be a real health threat posed by Zika, Royal Troon has proven that there is much for golf fans to be excited about.
An esteemed list of Major winners, top-seeded Stenson among them, and a full field of the top players in the women’s game, should all but guarantee for an historic encounter. I have no doubts that UK national pride will be roused when Justin Rose, Danny Willett, Charley
A group on the 18th hole at Royal Troon (ATR)
Hull and Scotland’s own Catriona Matthew take to the course in the colors of Team GB.
Not only has Scotland set the stage for a potentially colossal Olympic showdown, as the Home of Golf, we perhaps stand to gain most from its adoption into the Olympic movement. The fact that every continent is represented in the field is significant. This provides the foundations for golf’s growth in new territories, as does the greater visibility provided by free-to-air TV coverage across the globe.
Ostensibly, the opportunity provided could be immense. A new audience means potentially more golfers playing the sport and taking an interest in the professional game. For a country which hosts the Open Championship in three of every five years, more top tour-level tournaments (with nine in 2016) than any country worldwide outside of the US and possesses the strongest golf tourism offer on earth, it means increased tourism visits.
How fitting it is then, that The Open at Royal Troon has provided the perfect prelude to the third appearance of our national pastime in the Olympic Games. Like lovers of the game across the globe, I’ll be anticipating a Troon-like shootout of epic proportions.
For the good of the sport, the Olympic Games, Rio and, of course, The Home of Golf.
Written by Paul Bush for Around the Rings
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