August 12, 2016 - Golf GameBook

Did Olympic Golf die before it was even born?

If you feel the same way, I suggest you take a moment and read my humble thoughts on Olympic golf below.

Was there a unique opportunity to re-introduce golf to the masses as an interesting and exciting game that is well suited for TV viewing? YES!

Was it a massive mistake to choose 72-hole stroke play as the Olympic format? YES!

Did golf’s decision makers once again lack the needed courage to revitalize the game of golf? YES!


Golf is one of the greatest games on earth, with great traditions as a competitive sport. What’s important to remember is that in professional competitions, prize money is distributed across all players that make the cut. Naturally, everyone in the field fights to the last putt, since every shot counts to improve their position. However, the Olympics consist of three medals, that’s it. Nothing else matters. It’s unbelievable that this hasn’t been taken into account when choosing stroke play as golf’s Olympic game format.

There’s been a lot of speculation around the true reason why many of the world’s best players have decided to skip the Olympics. In certain discussions, the lack of prize money has been mentioned. I personally do not believe this at all. Why? Take the Ryder Cup as a great example. Being part of the Ryder Cup team is an ultimate dream for any player representing the USA or Europe. I can’t recall a single instance in which a player has refused to participate in the Ryder Cup because they didn’t get paid. So this raises the question: why is this? The answer is relatively simple. No other golf tournament or event is able to produce the same level of energy, excitement, camaraderie and simply put, raw adrenaline.  The game format is easy to understand and it’s all about who wins the cup. The fans choose their side and the normally stiff and formal golf audience becomes alive with singing, laughing and cheering their team to victory. This feeling and ambience is unlike any other golf event out there. Another key motivator for the players is related to the fact that golf is primarily an individual sport and players rarely get to play as a team and more importantly, for their respective countries.

I feel that we’ve missed a critical opportunity to introduce both an individual as well as team competition format at the Olympics. If we could back track in time, here’s some thoughts on a “what if” scenario for the Olympic golf competition.

The individual format would have naturally been Match Play. The format lends itself to the larger viewership, as it’s easy to understand and all about winning/losing. The matches would have been contested over 9 holes and the winners would have emerged in 2 days instead of 4. In addition to the gold medal match, the fate of the bronze medal would have interested the large audiences as it would have been a man-to-man competition. For TV audiences, this 9-hole format would have provided unprecedented excitement as well as frankly, a lot more simplicity in terms of following who’s winning and who’s not.

So what would have happened in the case of a tie? I’ll get back to this below, along with some thoughts on what the course layout for this 9-hole competition should have looked like.

The 2-day individual Match Play would have also accommodated a 2-day team event. Every country would enter with a 2-man team and play the Match Play format, but this time as a 2-man scramble.  This format would have been ideal as it presents fantastic risk and reward opportunities as well as brings an interesting element of strategy into play. I strongly believe that the players as well as the millions of people watching on TV would have loved this! Just imagine the rivalries (old and new) emerging: England vs USA, Spain vs Italy, Finland vs Sweden. This would be entertainment at it’s best!

The “cherry on the cake” for this unforgettable re-introduction of golf into the Olympics would have been the custom made 9-hole golf course. Well, actually, the 9 + 1 hole course. This “bonus hole” would have been the stage in which all matches that were tied after 9 holes would go into a sudden death playoff.

The custom made course would consist of three par 3’s, par 4’s and par 5’s. All holes would be built with specific match play drama in mind. I’m thinking island greens, long opening shots over water, challenging bunkers as well as true risk and reward opportunities.

Every Ryder Cup fan remembers Belfry’s 10th hole. This is a perfect example of a hole/venue that lends itself to unprecedented risk and reward drama.

It is precisely this kind of course design that would be ideally suited for these 9-hole Match Play competitions.


Due to the nature of match play, many of these 9-hole matches would have inevitably ended up in a tie after 9 holes. This would have enabled a unique tie-break format to define the winner of a given match.

Think about the excitement of viewing an Olympic shooting competition that goes to the last shot. Even if you’ve never heard of these athletes before, it’s exhilarating to watch these defining moments and time after time, I find myself choosing my personal favorite that I cheer for. When it goes down to the wire, you can sense the tension, excitement as well as drama, which often end in tears of joy or bitter disappointment. I’ve even thought about how cool it would be to go and try this out with a few friends and re-live similar drama on a personal level.

This is exactly why golf would have needed something new and interesting even for those viewers who haven’t even tried golf yet. This defining “bonus hole” which I mentioned earlier would have been around 120m long with water as a defining element and even a creek running along the side of the green. The grandstands would form a horseshoe around the green, eventually forming the sensation of being inside a massive amphitheater.

Both players get 3 balls each and the surroundings of the flagstick would be marked with scoring zones ranging from 1-10. (if the player makes a HIO then that player wins the match). The players then hit their shots in alternative order, gathering points until the final winner emerges. In case the players are tied after the 3 balls, there’s a 1-ball sudden death. Talk about entertainment and engagement; it doesn’t get better than this! Naturally, once the match is over, the music turns back on and people can enjoy the same relaxed ambience as for example in beach volleyball.

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - JANUARY 31: A large group of fans watch the play around the par-three 16th hole during the third round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on January 31, 2015 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

The question that of course emerges, is would have Rory, Jordan or Jason participated in an event like this? Who knows, but what is certain is that the interest around golf would sky rocket to new levels and perhaps the next Olympics could become a similar “must experience” event for players as the Ryder Cup is.

What do you think? Did Olympic golf die before it was born? Or do you think we could all make a change and resuscitate it for the better? Let’s start a conversation and potentially make a real change. The floor is open for comments!

– Kalle

11 responses to “Did Olympic Golf die before it was even born?”

  1. Martin says:

    I agree that the format is totally wrong and they missed a great opportunity to do something great for golf. I don’t see myself as a very conservative person when it comes to golf but your suggestions are just too much. Scramble? A fun game with your buddies but not for tournament golf. And deciding a winner by target shoot out… Now that’s just disrespectful to the game. That is not what golf is about.

    I would’ve liked to see a team event in the olympics and match play, and I do like your thoughts on the course being a lot of risk and reward, it definitely should appeal to and be easy to understand for the non golfing audience.

    Those are my thoughts!

    • Kalle Väinölä says:

      Thanks Martin for your thoughts!

      I agree that that 2-man scramble might be a bit too much… I have played World Cup twice and we played better ball and foursome game formats both times and I really felt that we should have played 2-man scramble at least on one day. I think 2-man scramble could be super interesting for the TV spectators and the players as well!
      But as you said the main thing in Rio is the missing team event and totally wrong game format.

  2. Greg says:

    Something needs to be different for the Olympics. I can watch 72 holes any Thursday-Sunday. Why would I tuned in to see the same thing at the Olympics. I like your ideas. Let’s hope in 2020 they add some different events

  3. Mika Martikainen says:

    Kalle, take the opportunity and organize something like this first between local golf clubs in order to try out how far you can go with the idea of changing the playformat. Then improve the idea and try it out between Skandinavian national teams and then on European or other regional level to get these Finland vs. Sweden type of matches. And then you would have enough experience to suggest it to the next olympics!

    Go for it!

  4. Markku Ignatius says:

    Great thoughts Kalle. But way too radical. Days to play is not a problem in Olympics. So basically e.g. 4 days of individuals (male and female on same time) playing 18h match play format would be one (64 players). And yhen team competition the same way (64 teams), but one female and one male making the team in fourball match play. Scramble is fun, but not going to save our game. The course itself doesn’t matter that much, so any quality course would do. But females can help us to save the game and playing together with males suits the time and modern golf, no matter the format ? ps. I am afraid to say that major fact for certain players to pull out could be the threat for getting caught for certain smoking habits prohibited by Wada. You may well think what that might be… Money should not be the issue at all, but lack of interest to win Olympic medal could have been more important reason than zica-virus

    • Kalle Väinölä says:

      Thanks Markku,

      I agree that days to play are not a problem for to players and organizers but it is a problem for the TV-spectators! And I am 100% sure that the game format matters. In Olympics, almost in all sports there are qualifying’s were only the best athletes gets thru and have a chance to fight for the medals. Javelin and shooting are great and understandable examples. It is super exciting and engaging to see how they do the qualifying’s and in the end of the day there are only few how can win and not like in golf where still 60 players playing in the final day!
      I like the idea of females and males playing together but couldn’t find any sport were it has gained any big interest toward that sport (i.e tennis).
      Anyway thanks for your thoughts, it is great that we all have a bit different opinions and we share them!

  5. Rane says:

    Hei Kalle, I agree many of your views. However, golf is not darts so i would do the shoot-out as usual. Also, it is maybe too cumbersome for audience at the course to move between 9 and 1 so why just do the horseshoe par3 as the last 9th hole and do shoot-out there? No need for extra 1 hole and then the best seats would be close to 9th green.

  6. Anthony Davis says:

    I totally agree that the format should be match play, not sure that 9 holes is enough to bring the tension for the TVs audience into the game: but the concept of a 9 hole 3×3 course (3,4,5 par) is great. I guess that difficulty would irrelevant since to qualify players would be “scratch”.

    A mixed doubles format would be interesting but here match play would perhaps split tees if the scramble you propose were not to have the male drive being taken almost every time. I like the innovation of target golf but not as a decider for drawn matches, sudden death is much more exciting to watch. Target could be a qualifying element though.

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