With Olympics In Full Swing, Countdown To Rio Begins

July 31, 2012, 1 p.m. (ET)

England's Luke Donald: Hopefully, in four years, maybe I'm a part of [golf in the Olympics] in Rio."

The Olympics are in full swing now in London, but when Aug. 12 arrives and the flame is extinguished at the Closing Ceremony -- the symbolic end to the Games of the XXXth Olympiad and the start of the 1,455-day countdown for the Opening Ceremony in Rio de Janeiro -- Ty Votaw will have a seminal moment.

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"That's when it will hit me," said the PGA TOUR's executive vice president for Communications and International Affairs.

Specifically, that the next time the world gathers for the summer Games, so will the world's top golfers.

Votaw spearheaded the sport's successful bid for inclusion in the Olympics for the International Golf Foundation. He was in London for last Friday's Opening Ceremony and will take in several events before returning to the United States later this week.

Others in the golf community also are watching the London Games with interest as they look ahead and dream about Rio in four years.

World No. 1 Luke Donald got a glimpse of the Olympic venues in London when the Englishman took in a few tennis matches at Wimbledon prior to the British Open.

"There was already a good atmosphere with all the countries' flags down Regents Street," Donald said. "... Hopefully, in four years, maybe I'm a part of that in Rio."

Tiger Woods agreed. "I hope I can qualify," the 14-time major champion said. "... I would love to be able to have a chance to represent my country in playing in the Olympic Games."

Phil Mickelson will have just turned 46 when the Summer Olympics head to South America for the first time. The avid sports fan has been watching some of the swimming and diving, water polo, beach volleyball, cycling, soccer and gymnastics contested over the first four days, and the man who has three Masters and one PGA Championship on his resume has drawn inspiration from the competition.

"I'm really excited about golf being an Olympic sport," Mickelson said. "It also gives me great motivation to continue work and practice and dedication in an effort to become an Olympic athlete -- albeit, an old Olympic athlete."

The last time golf was included in the Olympics was at the 1904 Games in St. Louis. So the game's return, first announced by the International Olympic Committee in Oct. 2009, has been a long time coming.

TaylorMade and adidas staged a media event last week on the River Thames that saw Dustin Johnson of the United States and Spain's Sergio Garcia hit balls from a barge to a floating green. Overhead was the iconic Tower Bridge -- sporting, at least for the next two weeks, the five Olympic rings.

"I think it's going to be very special if I can represent my country," the lanky South Carolinian said. "Being an Olympian is more about being an athlete and being part of something more than just you."

Before the first tee ball is struck in Brazil, however, an agenda-list of items must be completed.

First and foremost is construction of a championship-caliber golf course at Reserva de Marapendi in Barra da Tijuca, which is about five kilometers from where the Athletes Village will be located. The scenic property is located amidst stands of mangroves and on the other side of a lagoon that is about a par-5's distance from the Atlantic Ocean.


Gil Hanse and his design partner Amy Alcott were selected to design the course from a high-profile pool of bidders that included Jack Nicklaus and Annika Sorenstam, as well as Greg Norman and Lorena Ochoa, among others. Votaw expects construction to begin later this year.

"I think he'll build a golf course that's conducive to the land," Votaw said. "There's not a lot of undulations or natural features to the land that lend themselves to a certain style. It will have that linksy feel to it in some regards, but I also think it will have a Royal Melbourne style; the Sand Belt-kind of golf courses."

There have been published reports of a dispute over the ownership of the land but Votaw says the IGF has been assured that regardless of the resolution, construction on the course won't be delayed. Once begun, Votaw expects the course to be completed in less than two years so a test event can be run, possibly in 2015, according to Peter Dawson, the executive director of the R&A.

"It's winter down there and I went down there (four) weeks ago and it was 85 degrees," Votaw said. "So it is the tropics. It is near the equator. They do have a rainy season, which prevents some growing, but anywhere from 12-18 months is probably the time frame."

Also, the usual schedule of professional tournaments will need to be adjusted for the 2016 Games, which will be held from Aug. 5-21.


Peter Dawson, president of the International Golf Federation, said that the IGF made a commitment to the International Olympic Committee that no majors would be held during the Olympics schedule. That will likely impact the PGA Championship, and PGA officials are willing to alter the dates of their championship.

The IGF has also recommended that the competition format feature 60 players in the separate men's and women's tournaments, selected based on the Official World Golf Ranking in the summer of 2016. The top 15 players would be eligible, regardless of their country, and beyond those, the rest of the field would qualify based on the world ranking but there would be a maximum of two players from each country that does not already have two or more among the top 15.

The competition is expected to be contested over 72 holes of stroke play with the men and women playing in different weeks. Votaw says that in talking with top players around the world the consensus is that stroke play is the best way to determine a champion as opposed to a potential one-and-done situation like match play.

"The other thing I've said, on the night before the final round, look at any 72-hole stroke play event, you've got 11 to 15 people within three or four or five shots of the lead ... whereas in match play you've got two people (vying for the gold) and four people playing for three medals, (which is) a lot less," Votaw explained.


Votaw expects that the addition of golf to the Olympics will have a big impact on the growth of the game, too. Aspiring golfers in places where the sport is still developing now should have increased resources and financial support from their country's respective Olympic Committees.

"The thing about golf that's so wonderful is you can take a country as small as Fiji and have a golfer like Vijay Singh emerging," Votaw said. "You could have a country that's a cold-weather country and a Winter Olympic country like Norway and have it produce a top-five player in the world like Suzann Pettersson. And there are a lot of other examples of that. You've got a country the size of Fiji that's produced Vijay Singh and you've got a country the size of India or China that hasn't.

"That's one of the things I think appealed to the International Olympic Committee when they added golf as a sport. They saw the ability for golf, one, it's a global sport and two, played by 60 million plus people around the world, and having those examples, they saw the ability for countries like Nicaragua or like Colombia with Camilo Villegas or Venezuela with Jhonny Vegas to produce somebody who has the potential of making their country proud, which is what the Olympics really does for its athletes."