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July 29, 2012

ON AND OFF THE COURSE: Golf debut in London would have been nice

TERRE HAUTE — As the Olympics get underway in London this weekend, I was thinking it’s too bad that the Olympic committee decided too late to add golf as one of the sports for this event; instead it will be added to the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. Had it been added to the London Olympics, there would have been any number of local golf courses to choose from for the venue, and it would have given the Royal and Ancient a chance to redeem themselves for killing golf as part of the Olympics 100 years ago!

Golf was only included as part of the Olympics in 1900 and 1904. The 1900 Olympics were in Paris; the 12 men who participated played two rounds of stroke play and was won by Charles Sands of the St. Andrews Golf Club of Yonkers, scoring 82-85.  The countries represented that year were France, Great Britain, Greece and the United States. The 10 women who participated only played 9 holes. It was the first time for women to compete in any Olympic event. According to an article that ran in the April 1993 issue of Golf Digest by Peter Dobereiner, the event was so poorly publicized that the winner didn’t even know that she had won an Olympic event!  Margaret (Peggy) Abbott, was an art student and member of the Chicago Golf Club visiting Paris with her mother. Both of them entered what they thought was the Ladies’ Championship of Paris. Peggy won with a score of 47, and therefore was the first American female gold medalist.

In 1904 the aOlympics were held in conjunction with the World’s Fair in St. Louis. In stark contrast to the Paris Olympics, preparations for the golf event were started well in advance. Three years before the games, they started to build Glen Echo, the first golf course west of the Mississippi, as the Olympic venue. This Olympics was much better publicized, but only two countries were represented: Canada, which fielded 3 golfers, and the United States, which had 74. There was not a women’s event in the 1904 Olympics. After two rounds of qualifying, the top 32 players advanced to match play. Only one of the three Canadians made it through qualifying, George Lyon, a 46-year-old cricket player who had taken up golf only eight years before. He ended up in the final match with the odds-on favorite, Chandler Egan, a 20-year-old Harvard student who was the reigning U.S. Amateur champion. The final match was 36 holes in poor conditions of wind and rain, and the two men were even after 18. The cricket player routinely outdrove the Harvard boy, much to his consternation, and the match ended with Lyon winning 3 and 2.  

Four years later, George Lyon sailed to England to defend his title at the 1908 summer Olympics. However, when he got there, he had a surprise. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews had not deemed the Olympics worthy enough to get involved with except to the extent of a dispute over eligibility that resulted in all of the British players withdrawing from the tournament. George Lyon was the only entrant left, and was offered the gold medal but refused it.  

More than 100 years later, golf will be included in the summer Olympics again in 2016, with the format yet to be decided. It could be a 72-hole stroke play, or possibly some element of team play. The number of entrants per country will be limited to 4, leaving out many of the top 50 players.

Quote of the Day: “Don’t play too much golf. Two rounds a day are plenty.”

— Harry Vardon

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