Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar ensured that golf returned to the Olympics with more of a bang than a whimper and they’re now bona fide Olympic medallists. The great thing is that they were watched by a lot of people, who created an atmosphere and the players served up a ding-dong battle worthy of the occasion on a course that was a credit to architect Gil Hanse, Amy Alcott and the team that created it. Let’s hope that the International Golf Federation and the Brazilians keep their promises and run it as a public facility, open and accessible to all, awash with girls and boys keen to get in the swing and grow the game. When the Games are over, the teaching pros should be parachuted in and the clinics and games should begin the serious, long-term business of growing the game.Donald Trump, who knows a bit about golf, trumpets about the importance of exclusivity in the game, some guff to do with encouraging people to be aspirational I think – and perhaps to justify prohibitive green fees – but the real beauty of the game is its inclusivity. Lots of lucky kids are introduced to golf by their grandparents and they can keep playing together as long as the oldies can totter round a few holes. At last, golf seems to be wising up to promoting itself as the game of a lifetime, a healthy pursuit that’ll help you clock up thousands of steps without a problem. Local munis should be multiplying not dying.
The one thing that will kill the game is slow play. Cycling is thriving, despite the dangers of pedalling on British roads, not just because of the success of stars like Wiggins, Hoy, Pendleton, Trott and numerous others but because it’s quick and simple. Golf, which within living memory took about three hours for 18 holes, is miring itself in a slough of measuring devices, multiple practice swishes and in the pro ranks summit meetings with caddies or partners, the results of which often lead to the whole process being repeated before a shot is committed to. Heaven only knows what Pat Ward-Thomas, a sometimes irascible golf correspondent of The Guardian (which once did a good line in irascible golf correspondents), would make of today’s slouches. He was so exasperated by a pedetentous putter of his own day that he cried out, “Doesn’t he realise my life is ebbing away?”The men took about five hours a round in Rio; the women, who may still be under way after the closing ceremony, upped that by about 35 minutes. Marta Figueras-Dotti, like most of our Q&A participants, has trenchant views on the subject and is worth listening to. As I type, I have on the desk a ball marker that reads 3:57. It was given out by the LGU or the R&A to encourage people to “hurtle” round in under four hours and is now an antique, hopelessly outdated. The truth is that the players, for all their complaints, don’t care enough to change. They’re out there for the day, it’s their job, they’re taking it seriously, being meticulous and professional and anyway, it’s the others who are the slowcoaches…..Trouble is, they’re infecting the rest of us.
In the meantime, let’s speed up and enjoy the cosmopolitan nature of a game that stars Ariya Jutanurgarn of Thailand; Inbee Park of South Korea; Lydia Ko of New Zealand; Brooke Henderson of Canada; Charley Hull and Catriona Matthew, Olympian Brits at opposite ends of the age spectrum; Shanshan Feng of China; Aditi Ashok of India; Stacy Lewis, newly married, of the United States; the amateurs Leona Maguire of Ireland and Albane Valenzuela of Switzerland; not forgetting the Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, Spaniards, Russians, Australians, French, Japanese, South Africans, Italians, Colombians, Brazilians and numerous other nationalities who demonstrate that golf, for all its faults, is a genuinely global game.