Golf and the Olympics

Golf returns to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016 after a 112 year hiatus. Golf was contested very early on in the second and third Olympiads. In the 1900 Paris Games it was contested as a stroke play event, and in the 1904 St. Louis games it was contested as match play. Golf was also scheduled to be on the agenda for the 1908 Olympics in London, but when the area clubs refused to allow access to play the event, it was cancelled. The 2016 games will feature stroke play events for both men and women, on a new course under design by Gil Hanse. It is also scheduled for the Kasumigaseki course in Tokyo for the 2020 games.

1932 olympics

Compiègne Golf Club, Games of the II Olympiad, Paris, 1900

A total of twelve golfers competed in the first ever men’s Olympic golf event. Appropriately, it included a Greek golfer (an oxymoron today?) as well as four Brits, three Americans and four Frenchmen. American Charles Sands won the gold with rounds of 82 and 85.

The 1900 games also featured a women’s competition, won by Margaret Abbott, who was the first American woman to take first place in an Olympic event. She won a nine hole tournament with a score of 47. These games were apparently so poorly organized and spread out over five months that many competitors, including Abbott, did not realize that the events they entered were part of the Olympics. At the time players signed up individually to compete, before the advent of country specific Olympic committees.

Historical research did not establish that the game was on the Olympic program until after her death, so she herself never knew it. Abbott played for Chicago Golf Club and they have a picture of her in their club history and note her historic Olympic win. Winners of the 1900 Games did not receive medals, but rather a cup and trophies, the only time this was done.

The games were contested over Compiègne Golf Club, just north of Paris. The course was designed by Robert Fournier-Sarlovèze in 1896 when he was in a soldier stationed nearby. According to the course’s website, the records reveal that at that time it was considered one of the best in France. We could find no record of a club history for the club.

The 1900 Olympics also included an unofficial handicap event. Albert Lambert of St. Louis (founder of Warner Lambert and benefactor of Charles Lindberg) played in the event while on a business trip to his Paris office.

Glen Echo Country Club, Games of the III Olympiad, St. Louis, 1904

On his return, Lambert mentioned the Olympic golf event to his father-in-law, Colonel George McGrew. McGrew was the founder of Glen Echo Golf Club in St. Louis and with the World’s Fair and the Olympics coming to St. Louis in 1904, Lambert and McGrew put forth plans to conduct an Olympic golf tournament at Glen Echo.

The 1904 games featured only two competing countries – The U.S. and Canada. The gold medal went to Canadian George Lyon when he defeated that year’s U.S. Amateur champion Chandler Egan. The 1904 games also featured a team golf event in which the U.S. won gold, silver and bronze (think of today’s bobsledding where you can enter multiple teams). Thus, Egan received a gold medal for that effort, along with nine of his teammates, and Lambert won a silver medal.

Glen Echo

Glen Echo Country Club, 100 Years is the club history, which was published in 2001 and was written by James Healy (Donovan & Jerris H11440). The course was designed by the Scottish brothers Jim and Robert Foulis and is the oldest 18 hole course west of the Mississippi. The history goes into extensive detail about the games held at Glen Echo and even has a picture of the rare program issued for the event and one of a gold medal that the winners received.

 Riviera Country Club, Games of the X Olympiad, Los Angeles

The 1932 Summer Games are notable from two points of view as it relates to golf. First, Riviera hosted the equestrian related events of dressage and the modern pentathlon. References to the Riviera venue are contained in 1932 Olympic programs. Second, Babe Didrikson competed in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics and won two gold medals in the javelin and the hurdles event.

Geoff Shackelford’s The Riviera Country Club A Definitive History notes how Riviera had a polo club in the 1930s and 1940s knows as the Riviera Equestrian Center. Sunday polo matches at Riviera included famous Hollywood icons such as Walt Disney, Spencer Tracy and Gary Cooper. The book includes a black and white aerial photo of the Olympic Polo games in progress. The American team won the gold medal at the event.

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Valuable Book Group specializes in rare, collectible and valuable golf books. We are avid collectors ourselves obsessed not only with playing the game, but also its history and the literature of the game.
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