By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Often considered as a sport for the social elite in this part of the world, it is hoped that the reintroduction of golf to the Olympic calendar will see the game rise in popularity in Rio de Janeiro. Yet come the 2016 Olympic Games, due to get under way in just under two years’ time, programs and initiatives to popularize golf in Brazil are expected.
Golf has not been a part of the Olympics for 112 years and has only ever been a part of sport’s oldest tournament twice, in 1900 and 1904. It has been a decade long struggle to see it back in the fold, and even now, after an Olympic committee decision in 2009, golf may only be part of the next two tournaments, with another vote set to be taken in 2017.
One of the leading names in Brazilian golf today, Victoria Lovelady, hopes that its return at the first Olympics to ever be held in South America will help make it a more common practice. “The return of golf to the Olympics will see its popularity rise here in Brazil. Many friends and colleagues of mine who are not part of the golfing community have sent me messages and questions about my opinion and expectations for 2016,” she told Globo Esporte.
While Brazil is not a country with a long tradition or love affair with golf, 2016 could promise a different scenario. As the host country Brazil will has the right to at least one representative hitting the new fairways in Barra da Tijuca. According to the qualification criteria laid down by the Brazilian Golf Confederation, the player must be ranked by the official Olympic ranking system.
At present, few Brazilian players are amongst the world’s top sixty. Yet due to the cutting criteria stipulated by the International Federation of Golf, Brazil will have one player, Adílson Silva, in the top sixty. The player is currently ranked no. 284 in the world, but with the cuts jumps to no. 55.
A good showing from Silva in 2016 and it is entirely feasible Brazilians will be taking a keener interest in golf in the future. The same effect happened with former Brazilian tennis star Gustavo Kuerten, when he rose to be ranked No. 1 in the world.
Qualification will be decided by the top sixty on the list on July 11th, 2016, a month before the tournament begins. The top fifteen qualify automatically. From position 16 to 60, participation will be limited to two per country, meaning some cuts are likely to be made.
American expatriate Thomas Nelson, also a golfer who has played consistently in Brazil, believes a major overhaul is needed if golf is to see a surge in popularity in Brazil. “I think there will have to be major changes. Golf equipment is 2-3 times more expensive in Brazil than in the United States.”
“Green fees are twice as much. More Golf courses will have to be built. At least in the Rio metropolitan area, the golf courses that need to be built will have to be municipal courses and not private clubs,” he said.