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Weeks: Russians taking Olympic golf seriously

Bob Weeks
12/6/2012 9:29:30 AM
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A quick trip down to Florida on Tuesday ended up providing a glimpse into the effect the Olympics is having on the golf world.

We were over at Orange County National to do a SCOREGolf TV interview with Sean Foley and met up with the fine folks from the CORE Academy. That's the high-level junior training program originally put in place to help top Canadian golfers which has branched out to include all players regardless of age or citizenship.

Tom Jackson, one of the head honchos of the place and a tremendous player in his own right in his day, met up with us and told us the story of how CORE is now working with the Russian national golf program.

That's right - the Russians.

In preparation for golf's inclusion as a medal sport at the 2016 Games in Rio, the Russian Sports Federation has worked out a deal with the CORE Academy to train its top players and hopefully get them into Olympic shape.

Jackson said their group had targeted international communities who might want just such a program and they're moving ahead with the Russians.

At first glance, the golfers who play at a course in Moscow had decent swings. They'd obviously been well trained prior to arriving in Florida but according to Jackson, they're still a long way from being competitive with world-class players. He said that the Canadian team would easily handle them at this point. Earlier, a group of golfers who train at the CORE Academy took on the Russians and ended up in a tie.

Of course, there is still a lot of time before 2016 to whip these golfers into shape. The question might be whether any of them will get far enough up the world ranking to qualify for the Games.

The move by the Russians shows that countries that may not have a history of golf involvement are taking the Olympics seriously. And with the right combination of money and dedication, it can work.

In the other sport I cover, curling, the same thing happened. China, for example, saw that curling was going to become an Olympic sport back in 1998 and plucked four women from the gymnastics program and told them they were the new Chinese women's curling team. They sent them off to Edmonton where they lived for eight months a year, training seven hours a day, all funded by the Chinese government. Within 10 years, they were world champions and they won a bronze medal at the 2010 Olympics.

Now there is a downside to this if curling is to be used as an example. While there are many more countries producing elite curlers, the number of people playing it at the grass roots level is still pretty stagnant. In China, there are a few great curlers but there is no mass appeal to the sport. For a country of a billion people, there are only a couple of clubs. Same in Japan, Korea and Russia. Only in the United States has there been a significant surge in popularity.

Will that be the same for golf? Will the Olympics really generate new players? It will be interesting to watch and see.

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