As I see it, my country, the Czech Republic, is best known for three things, or should be: great beer, beautiful women and beautiful golf courses. The game has been growing quickly since the fall of communism in 1989 and our rebirth as a democratic country. People have more money and free time. We see the game on TV — the big three are the British Open, the Masters and the Czech Open — and want to try it.
I’m the executive director of the Czech Golf Federation, and we are anticipating another event that will promote golf’s growth: the game’s addition to the Olympics starting in 2016. To use an expression I learned as a student (and golfer) at the University of Hartford in the late 1990s, it’s not a “done deal” — an official announcement from the IOC is expected on Oct. 9 — but we believe that Olympic golf would draw young Czech athletes to the game as never before. That would mean more driving ranges, more courses, more visitors and more hotels to accommodate them. As you Americans say, It’s all good.
Czechs love sports and Olympic sports in particular. The whole country follows how we do in soccer (football to us), hockey and skiing. With golf as an Olympic sport, our golf federation will try to persuade our national athletic federation to provide funding for golf, something we have never even asked for before.
Under the International Golf Federation proposal for Olympic golf, there could easily be 40 or 50 countries sending golfers to the Olympics. In many of those countries golf will be relatively new. This is a fresh start for a lot of us. Our view is that we have as good a chance to develop golf talent as any other country, or maybe better. Look at all the good golfers in Canada, another hockey-loving country. The hockey swing and the golf swing have similarities, and we think Czech kids will take to golf if they’re exposed to it.
Golf in the Olympics will be for professionals. Today, our best golfers are amateurs. Alex Cejka was born in Czechoslovakia but now has deeper ties to Germany. Another native, Ivan Lendl, the Hall of Fame tennis player, has two teenage daughters, both of whom are promising golfers, but they are American. Our Tiger Woods is Klara Spilkova, a 15-year-old who played in the last junior Solheim Cup. It will be fascinating to see where she is in seven years.
The Czech Republic has a population of 10 million but only 48,000 avid golfers. By 2016 we hope that number will triple, at least. Some of them may represent our beautiful country in the greatest sport in the world on the biggest global stage. If this happens, we’ll be thrilled.