The 2016 summer Olympics marks the return of golf to the event after a 112-year absence, news that's a delight to fans of golf everywhere. But how's it really working out so far?
The 2016 summer Olympics marks the return of golf to the event after a 112-year absence, news that's a delight to fans of golf everywhere. This year offers a wide variety of golfers, ranging from 41 countries, so golf's global appeal is certainly on full display. However, several issues – notably, the absence of big names and questionable course conditions – have put a halt on what should be a celebratory time for Olympic golf.
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An Absence of Stars
Among golf's biggest names, the 2016 Olympics are often a no-go. Some, like Jordan Spieth, won't attend but have mentioned they'll be watching from home, while others have expressed public disdain for the event's organization. Rory McIlroy mentioned he won't even be watching from home, saying he would rather watch "the sports that matter."
With the top four golfers in the world absent, viewers will only be treated to eight of the top 20 players in the world, headlined by names like British Open champ Henrik Stenson and Masters champ Danny Willett. On the women's side, things are looking better with nine of the top 10 present, though the issue with the men's side is hard to ignore. There, Stenson is the highest-ranked player at No. 5, with names like Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson and Justin Rose being among the headliners.
A Different Type of Golf Turf
Rio has poor soil and water quality, so Olympic golf course success is likely contingent on Zeon Zoysia, a durable warm-weather grass that requires less nitrogen, fertilizer, pesticide and water than most types of golf turf. Plus, the grass can thrive without weed killers and chemical fertilizers being involved.
Optimistically, this grass plays well throughout the event, as it should based on testing so far. Still, much like how some courses favor certain golfers, there is an element of unpredictability. Most golfers are unfamiliar with this surface, and more used to seeing courses created from designers like Tripp Davis, Tom Doak, and Pete Dye. The new course and surface might even the playing field to some degree, though there's always the risk that it doesn't replicate the form of golf most are used to seeing.
Decline in Interest
Although it’s not the Olympics’ fault, golf on tv has been experiencing a decline in worldwide interest the past decade, with 24.1 million viewers in 2015 compared to 30 million in 2000, when the sport was propelled by Tiger Woods in his prime. Although there are plenty of great players in the sport, fans have yet to see a consistently dominant player since then, in the way that a LeBron James or Tom Brady brings people to an event in basketball and football, respectively. More people are playing golf than ever though, just not watching as much.
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With golf’s television ratings down, it may be difficult to coincide the general concerns over the Olympics, like Zika and lack of star power, with the sport’s declining popularity. Still, golf is being played at the Olympics this year and, despite no top players, many golf fans will still be watching.