As we all know by now, golf has made a successful return to the Olympic stage after a 112 year absence, and as we also all know by now, the best representatives of the sport were not there to fly the flag.
A complete failure was avoided thanks to Justin Rose’s awesome display, the Englishman even managed to extract some remorse from Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.
The journey to make golf an olympic sport was jeopardized by best players and their decision to withdraw, a sad occurrence that could impact its Olympic status. This one story will tell you about the inclusionary struggles of a sport maligned by an unshakeable stereotype.
Augusta and the Olympics that never was
It’s incredible to think that golf almost made a return to the 1996 summer games that were held in Atlanta Georgia. At Augusta National, arguably the most renowned course in the world, no less. Whod’ve thunk it.
As this table attests, to play at Augusta National is a pretty big deal. Here are some of the sacrifices people are willing to make:
Now on paper that seems like a fantastic pairing, but I’ll tell you what doesn’t look good on paper or indeed anything else, and that’s Augusta National’s very dark history of racism and sexism.
It is a history that continues to be written even to this day, and it represents the fact that golf needs to progress.
“What no CBS commentator has ever alluded to, even in passing, even during a rain delay, even when there was time to do so, is Augusta National’s history of racism and sexism. Even when people were protesting just outside the grounds—forget about taking a side—never acknowledging it. So not only will I never work the Masters because I’m not at CBS, but I’d have to say something and then I would be ejected.”
And now for the history lesson. In 1992, having succeeded in bringing the Olympic Games to Atlanta, Billy Payne, who was at this time the head of the Atlanta Games Organizing committee, put quite a lot of effort into bringing golf back to the Olympics. He even went as far as getting Augusta National chairman Jackson Stephens to agree to allow the prestigious course to be the venue.
So far, so good. Everything was going swimmingly as they say, until Payne made a monumental error of judgement. He pushed on to get Olympic golf played at Augusta National without consulting Anita DeFrantz, who happened to be not only the only American on the IOC panel, but the only black member too. DeFrantz was angered by the very idea that Games would consider hosting an event at a club so explicitly exclusive and elitist.
After the Atlanta City Council came out against the idea for the same reasons as DeFrantz, it all came tumbling down. But this is a story that needs to be remembered because it has a message.
Was she right? It seems so. Because at that time, there was only one black member, with club policy only allowing for black members in 1990. There were no female members. In fact, women were not granted memberships until 2012!!!
Let us not forget, also, that up until as recently as 1959, Augusta National had a rule that stated all caddies must be black.
Augusta National may be one of the last institutions of out-dated practices, but the game on a wider scale has to also be held accountable. Even all these years later, there is a drought regarding black players in golf.
Statistically, of the 25.7 million golfers in the USA, only 1.3 million are African American. White people make up around just over 20 million of those golfers, with the rest being various minorities, and it’s simply wrong that the sport trucks on with this very fact in existence. The fact that some white dude with a dead animal in his profile picture will comment saying “Why do you always have to make it about race?” exemplifies the attitudinal roadblock golf as a sport must face.
Influential African American golfers:
Though it may be the most prestigious course in the world, in Augusta National there is a lingering epilogue of a by-gone age best forgotten, even more so in 1992 than now. Yes, we all remember the moment Muhammad Ali, the greatest of all time, held the torch at Atlanta’s opening ceremony, and we all remember that it was supposed to be the moment that stood for victory against racism.
But to think that Augusta National was an appropriate place to hold golf’s return to the Olympic stage was perhaps Billy Payne’s greatest misstep. This sort of managerial oversight is symptomatic of a sport that has always struggled to move with the times.