By Charles Jeffries
The Olympic Games play out this month in Rio de Janeiro, and while we’re all looking forward to quadrennial flirtation with gymnastics, swimming and track and field, golf’s return to the Games doesn’t appear to be generating much excitement – at least beyond who won’t be playing there.
We’re curious to see how invested spectators will be in Olympic golf, considering the experience of attending the Olympic Games has always centered around seats in venues where sports like gymnastics, track and field and swimming offer a continuous flow of different events. And, of course, just sitting down and watching the excitement of international soccer or basketball game – events you can’t see often in your home country – is always a spectating thrill.
Even lesser Olympic sports like kayaking, table tennis, weightlifting, wrestling and, yes, even badminton are arena-type sports viewed in a mosquito-free environment and are events fans rarely have the opportunity to see. From a Rio visitor’s point of view, Olympic golf will be just another golf tournament that looks hardly any different from a weekly PGA Tour event. We wonder how network television will handle hour upon hour of Olympic golf, which can’t possibly generate the excitement of, say, Usain Bolt racing for his third consecutive 100-meter gold medal.
If golf ends up being just a big divot in the 2016 Rio games there will be many reasons hashed over in the postmortem, perhaps one being that Brazil just isn’t a place where golf is front and center and no one gets excited about Rio as a golf destination.
So if we’re talking great golf destinations to host a future Olympics golf event, I nominate Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – and here’s why:
- Every golfer wants to hit the Grand Strand, right?
- Television golf viewers like to see the pros play on courses they can play – or dream of playing. Of those who tune in specifically to watch Olympic golf, how many are saying, “Boy, I can’t wait to go to Rio to play that course.” Myrtle Beach, on the other hand, is on every golfer’s list of trips to take.
- Rather than the golf Olympics playing out over the same course every day, the Grand Strand has a number of venues among its 80-plus courses that could play host. One could easily imagine a rotation of four Myrtle Beach courses that would put Olympic golf in a format more like the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the Monterey Peninsula, rotating around layouts like Jack Nicklaus’ Long Bay Club and Pawleys Plantation, Arnold Palmer’s King’s North, and Tom Fazio’s TPC Myrtle Beach, which has hosted the Senior PGA Tour Championship.
- Myrtle Beach is no stranger to hosting great championships. The Grand Strand hosts the World Amateur each August, when more than 3,000 golfers come to play in the largest amateur tournament in the world. And in addition to TPC Myrtle Beach having hosted their Senior Tour event, The Dunes Golf & Beach Club has been a frequent host over the years to high-profile men’s and women’s professional events.
- The necessary amenities for hosting big golf tournaments are obviously already in place and battle tested, so to speak, by decades of visitors. The great hotels, restaurants and off-the-course entertainment venues of Myrtle Beach are probably as good as any Olympic venue ever. And the city makes an instant connection with golfers around the world, who have either traveled there or have heard about what a great destination it is and want to travel there.
If a byproduct of Olympic golf it to grow the game (and it’s not really, but we all hope that’s the effect it has), a place like Rio de Janeiro wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice as the ideal venue to showcase it.
Myrtle Beach, on the other hand, would help generate the excitement Olympic golf needs to ignite the game. There is a reason the Strand is Grand, and golf plays a big part.