POSTED: June 29th 2016

NEIL WILSON: Golf has shot itself in an Olympic hole

Jason Day announced yesterday he would not be in Rio © Getty Images
Jason Day announced yesterday he would not be in Rio © Getty Images

Rory McIlroy was the first highest ranked player to pull out over Zika concerns  © Getty Images
Rory McIlroy was the first highest ranked player to pull out over Zika concerns © Getty Images

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

 (SFC) A golf course near to my home in Southern England is about to become a vineyard. Two more in the adjoining county of Kent have been sold to a French champagne house with the same intention. Another to my east has been sold for housing development.

Golf is in decline.  In Scotland, home of the game, a 17% decline in participation was calculated in the decade from 2004. In England it was estimated at 200,000 fewer players. How many courses lie disused in Myrtle Beach where once there were 160?

The sport takes too long for the youth of a modern society where instant gratification is demanded. It is too difficult to master, too hidebound with rules and too elitist.

So the Royal and Ancient and its international associates saw the Olympic Games as a necessary promotional tool. Not only would it bring greater investment that Olympic involvement attracts but a youthful buzz, just as snowboard did for skiing and mountain biking and BMX brought to cycling.

So with the backing of the likes of NBC, it won its place in the Games in 2016 for the first time since the Games of 1904. And now it is in disarray.

Close to a dozen of its elite men - and remember only 60 can play - have withdrawn, including the best of the best in Rory McIlroy and Jason Day. Six, including those two cited their worries for their womenfolk of the Zika virus. The others scheduling problems.

Nobody should dispute a player's right to think of family first.  Zika is a concern for the married and those contemplating children.

What baffles though is that not one of the 60 women players invited to Rio has declined. Nor so far have any of the men or women to my knowledge among the other 10,500 athletes in 27 other sports declined because of the Zika virus or scheduling.

The difference I see is that to the other 10,500 this is the most important event in four years, possibly in their lives. They have trained since they became teens for this opportunity. It takes more than scheduling or the distant possibility in a Brazilian winter of a Zika-infected mosquito bit to dampen their enthusiasm.

What the decisions of the likes of McIlroy and Day reveal is that the Olympics does not matter as much to them. The men golfers do not see it as important, as the fulfilment of a dream. It is not a fifth Major but just another tournament and one for which they will not be paid or earn ranking points.

In other words, they do not care. Neither should the Olympic movement about golf.  It has one more opportunity in Tokyo to prove otherwise but in fact that may be too late.

Next year the IOC will decide whether to extend golf's two-shot chance beyond 2020.  They should let golf swing, let it dig itself out of the hole it has dug. More young people will take to their bikes and their skateboards, more golf courses will close.

Golf had its chance in Rio. It has blown it. Sorry ladies because it meant something to you. Just blame those selfish menfolk.

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books. 

Keywords · Olympics · Rio 2016 · Neil Wilson

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