(ATR) USA Golf Federation executive director Andy Levinson says that golf’s return to the Olympic Games will be a catalyst for the sport’s growth in Rio de Janeiro, worldwide and in the U.S., where the game already thrives.
"It’s going to have a significant impact in Rio – a city of millions of people which I believe only has three existing golf courses and golf is really not part of the culture," Levinson told Around the Rings during a phone interview from Ponte Vedra, Florida.
"Now, a spectacular course has been built which will be a public facility going forward, and it’s going to be a great legacy that our sport will leave in Rio and get young people into the game," Levinson said.
Levinson, who was appointed executive director of USA Golf in May 2013 and also works with the PGA Tour, suggests that governmental financial support will boost expansion of golf intenationally.
"Globally, when a sport is part of the Olympics, it tends to attract more government funding for youth programs, so if we can see that grow, then I think the sport is going to thrive and expand around the world," Levinson said.
Golf, which was part of the Olympic programs in Paris 1900 and St. Louis 1904, is making its highly anticipated return to the Games in Rio following an absence of 112 years.
Levinson said Olympic golf in Rio will compel American golf enthusiasts, providing a grand stage unlike any other international golf event.
"There is so much national pride leading up to and during the Games in the U.S., and while our sport has some wonderful national team events like the Ryder Cup, President’s Cup and Solheim Cup, none of those carry the opportunity to stand next to athletes from all other sports, representing one’s country and trying to achieve
what is really the ultimate prize in sport, the Olympic gold medal," Levinson said.
In Rio, 60 men and 60 women will play four-round, 72-hole, stroke-play tournament to determine the medalists.
"When the IGF (International Golf Federation) was looking to enter the Games, it spoke to the world’s top players and the majority of those polled said that four-day, stroke play is the best way to determine who is the best player, that week, on that golf course, so that’s the path they’ve chosen," Levinson explained.
Two players per country will be the maximum permitted at the Olympic tournament, unless a nation has more than two players in the top 15 of the World Golf Rankings, in which case up to four will be allowed. Qualification concludes on July 11, 2016.
Levinson hinted that the U.S. PGA Tour players who qualify for Rio are enthused about staying in the Olympic Village, something that IOC president Thomas Bach has encouraged.
"I’ve received positive feedback from players saying they want to have the full experience and that includes staying in the Olympic village," Levinson said.
"It’s positive to hear that they not only want to compete for a gold medal, but also want to participate in the opening ceremony, stay in the village and meet other athletes."
The USA Golf executive forecasted that golf in the Olympics should be equally, if not more beneficial to the women’s game. Both genders will compete on the Gil Hanse designed Olympic course at Reserva de Marapendi in Barra da Tijuca.
"The opportunity to gain exposure on the global stage and have their tournament broadcast to perhaps more homes than any of their events is going to certainly be a huge boost for the women’s game," Levinson said. "It should be a huge boon for the sport around the world."
Golf was approved to return to the Olympics, along with Rio winning the right to host the 2016 Games, at the 121st IOC session in Copenhagen, Denmark, in October 2009.
The men will tee it up in Rio August 11-14, while the women follow, playing August 17-20.
NBC Talks Golf Coverage in Rio
NBC Olympics executive producer Jim Bell discussed the prominent role that golf will play in NBC’s coverage of the Games during a recent podcast with Around the Rings.
"We’re really excited about it, and I think golfers around the world are excited about it, which is really cool," Bell told ATR’s Nick Devlin. "They appreciate that their sport is going to be part of the biggest sports stage on the planet."
"There’s been a little bit of drama around the construction of the golf course, but loand behold, it’s all come together very nicely and it’s looking great.
"[The golf course] is quite beautiful, taking advantage of the natural scenery, being able to see the water, mountains and the forest."
Bell said that the first Games in South America are in a TV friendly time-zone for NBC and the U.S market. He noted that extensive coverage will be shared with partner network The Golf Channel, both owned by the Comcast Corporation.
"To have an entire channel dedicated to a sport that so many people are so passionate about is fantastic for us," Bell said of the Golf Channel.
"We feel very comfortable telling the golf community that we’re going to have you covered during Rio at the two wonderful tournaments they’re going to have."
>USA Golf, BMW Partner for Rio 2016
BMW of North America will be an official partner of the USA Golf Federation for the Rio 2016 Games.
The luxury German automobile manufacturer, which is the official mobility partner of the United States Olympic Committee, will provide mobility services and transportation assistance to the federation leading up to and during the Rio Games.
USA Golf joins fellow U.S. NGB’s swimming, track and field and bobsled/skeleton as existing partners of BMW.
Written by Brian Pinelli
20 Years at #1: Your best source of news about the Olympics is AroundTheRings.com, for subscribers only.