ORLANDO, Fla. - As a child in Norway, a country that’s led the medal count in the Winter Olympics seven times, Suzann Pettersen watched as her idols and heroes competed for gold, silver and bronze medals.
However, at no point did that Norwegian kid with a dream ever think she’d be able to do the same. Her sport was golf and not once since medals were first passed out in 1904 has one been handed out for golf. That will change in 2016, which Pettersen took to the stage as the women’s golf representative at the Olympic Golf Update to talk about on Wednesday.
“Growing up playing golf, you never had a dream of playing in the Olympics yourself,” Pettersen said.
In 2016, Pettersen can now have that dream along with women and young girls growing up all around the world.
“Seeing all my role models growing up competing on TV, competing for the Gold, Silver and Bronze Medal, was a huge boost and now being able to kind of grow that dream myself is quite inspiring for me,” she said.
Graeme McDowell, who was there representing the men’s game, believes the Olympics is the pinnacle of sport and thinks having golf in the Olympics could shake some of the perceptions around the sport and in turn open up the sport globally.
“For the game of golf, I think everyone understands how important it is to attract golfers to this game. Golf has a lot of problems it has to shake off, a lot of issues, one being the elitism of the game,” McDowell said. “Nothing will internationalize the game more than golf being part of the Olympics and bringing the game to underdeveloped parts of the world, bringing golfers to this great sport that we all love. I don’t think the timing could be more perfect.”
Added Peter Dawson, the President of the International Golf Federation: “The growth of the game is worldwide and the inclusion of golf in the Olympic Programme is the biggest grow the game opportunity we had and that continues to be the case.”
Before 2014’s groundbreaking venture to host the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open in back-to-back weeks, trying to host a men’s and women’s golf tournament on the same course in back-to-back weeks was seen as innovative if not outlandish. Not anymore.
The concept had an admitted skeptic in Pettersen at first. Not anymore. And she’s confident it can work again in Brazil at the Summer Olympics on the new Gil Hanse, Amy Alcott collaboration.
“The experience the LPGA had following the guys at Pinehurst last year was a fantastic experience. The course held up; we played one of the best golf courses we’ve ever played in the U.S. Open. Great to play the same site as the guys. You can kind of compare your games, compare the strategies,” Pettersen said. “So from the LPGA standpoint, it was very successful. I was probably one of the critical ones going into it because with everything that could possibly go wrong, and us being the last ones out, but I was proven wrong.”
Unlike Pinehurst No. 2 where the USGA had to tweak the setup of a classic course around to try to create the same type of shots and situations for the men and women, the course that will host the Olympics in Rio is being designed with that concept in mind. Hanse said he and Alcott have been very cognizant of this when designing landing areas, bunkers and where they build the different tees, and the links style course will have large green complexes capable of multiple hole locations to accommodate the eight total days of competition between the men and women.
“I think a huge amount of intelligence was gained last year [at Pinehurst] as to how the golf course should be set up for the men’s and women’s events,” McDowell said. “Very unique for both men and women to be playing on the same playing surfaces around the same time. I think golf course setup is one of the big things that we will have learned from the Pinehurst experience last year.”