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Golf and the Olympic Games

As the XXII Winter Olympic Games are scheduled to take place in Sochi, Russia from 7 to 23 February 2014, it is an ideal time to consider the involvement of the game of golf in past and future Olympic history.

Golf was featured in the Summer Olympic Games program in 1900 and 1904 and has not been featured since. The only countries to medal in golf are the United States of America, Canada and Great Britain. That is all set to change though with the 2009 decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to reinstate the event for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The tournament will be open to professional golfers and the International Golf Federation has proposed a 72-hole stroke play tournament format. The top 15 players based on IGF ranking would automatically be eligible and then the next 45 players representing countries that do not already have two representatives would fill the remaining spots.

Importantly, both men’s and women’s events will take place. When re-examining whether to include golf in the Olympic Games, the IOC has to consider whether golf was a “sport practiced without discrimination with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” During this examination, the IOC discussed in particular the Augusta National Golf Club and the controversy surrounding their membership policy at the time.

The Augusta National Golf Club allows membership by invitation only. It is a private organization and is under no obligation to accept any person or class of person as a member. Nonetheless, its membership policy has drawn strong criticism. For instance, it formerly required all caddies to be black and it refused to allow women to join. This has since changed and both African-American and female members now make up the club’s membership.

While it is unlikely that the Augusta National Golf Club considered the Olympic Games when changing their policies, it is encouraging that the spirit of the Olympic Games is now better reflected in those policies.

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