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Golf’s origins date back to 1754 and the drawing-up of the game’s first rules at its spiritual home, the Scottish town of St Andrews. The sport grew in popularity in the English-speaking world during the 19th century and by 1900 had found its way into the Olympics, with the Games’ inaugural golf tournament – comprising a men’s and a women’s competition – taking place that year on the Compiègne course in Paris.
While the men fought it out for the “Grand Prix de l’exposition 1900”, the women competed for the “Prix de la ville de Compiègne”, a prize that was claimed by the 22-year-old Margaret Abbott of Chicago, who in the process became her country’s very first female Olympic champion and women’s golf’s one and only “gold medallist” to date.
Sadly for Abbott and her fellow competitors, however, they were entirely unaware the event was actually part of the Paris Games, a fact that was only confirmed after her death in 1955.
Taking second prize behind her was Miss P. Whittier of the St Moritz Golf Club, with Mrs Huger Pratt of New York collecting the third prize.
Completing a double for the USA at Paris 1900 was Charles Sands, the first men’s Olympic golf champion, who won the title from his compatriot Walter Rutherford and Great Britain’s David Robertson.
Though the women’s tournament was promptly dropped, men’s golf reappeared at St Louis 1904, where Canada’s George Lyon beat off the challenge of three American players to win gold. The USA would complete a clean sweep in the team competition, however, with USA 1 taking gold, USA 2 silver and USA 3 bronze.
Golf then disappeared entirely from the Olympic programme, its return at Rio 2016 coming after the IOC’s members voted to finally readmit the sport, along with rugby, at its 121st Session in Copenhagen on 9 October 2009.
Helping to persuade them that day was young American player Michelle Wie, who had this to say to her audience in the Danish capital: “I have been playing golf since I was four years old. Growing up, I was inspired by the great athletes of our sport. Tiger Woods and Ernie Els have been my heroes.
“For so many boys and girls around the world, their heroes have been Olympic athletes. Until today, I never thought there was any chance that I could share in that dream. With your support, I can dream about being an Olympian, I can dream about the chance to enter the Olympic stadium during Opening ceremonies. And I can dream of doing something that not even Tiger or Ernie have ever done – make the final putt to win the Olympic gold medal.”
Golf’s return to the Olympic fold came at the Nanjing 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games, where it proved a major success.
The venue chosen to host the Rio 2016 men’s and women’s tournaments is the purpose-built Reserva Marapendi Golf Course, situated on the coast in the Barra de Tijuca competition zone.
Contested by 60 players each, both tournaments will be strokeplay events, with competitors attempting to take the fewest number of strokes in completing four rounds of the 18-hole course.
In golf, each hole has a par, a pre-determined number of strokes that a 0-handicap golfer should take to play it. The par figure (three, four or five strokes) is calculated according the length of the hole from the tee to the pin.
Names are given to hole scores relative to par, with a “birdie” meaning the hole has been completed in one under par (-1), an “eagle” two under (-2) and an “albatross” three under (-3). A one-over-par hole score is termed a “bogey” (+1) and a two-over-par score a “double bogey” (+2) and so on.
In hitting shots from the tee on longer holes players aim to hit the fairway, where the grass is cut short, while avoiding the rough flanking it, where grass is left to grow longer, making it harder to hit the ball.
Water obstacles and bunkers are also to be avoided en route to the green, where grass is cut at its shortest and players attempt to “hole” the ball using a putter, just one of a variety of clubs golfers use during the course of a round, the selection of which depends on the length of the shots they have to play. Every golfer’s dream is to hit a “hole in one”, in other words to hit the ball into the hole straight from the tee.
Competitors are required to mark their playing partner’s scores for each hole on a scorecard and then sign the card and hand it in at the end of the round.
When the sport makes its eagerly anticipated return at Rio 2016, the leading men’s and women’s players in the world will be there for what promises to be four days of exciting action.