John Huggan: I’d move the USPGA south and west - by about 7,860 miles

A fair way to go ' well, 18 fairways, in fact: there are fears that Rio's Gil Hanse-designed Olympic golf course may not be ready for 2016.   Picture: Getty
A fair way to go ' well, 18 fairways, in fact: there are fears that Rio's Gil Hanse-designed Olympic golf course may not be ready for 2016. Picture: Getty
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FOR those neglecting to pay close attention – and who can blame you, given the stuff the International Olympic Committee apparently gets up to – golf’s ever-more imminent return to the Olympics for the first time since 1904 has not, so far at least, been without either trouble or strife. As ever, where the quadrennial sporting boondoggle is concerned, controversy has dogged almost every aspect of the oh-so convoluted process overseen by something called the “International Golf Federation”.

For one thing, the course designed by Gil Hanse (of Castle Stuart fame) that will supposedly host Tiger and co in 2016 has yet to be completed and many clearly doubt it ever will be. Just the other day, Ty Votaw, vice-president of the IGF and a high heid-yin at the PGA Tour, was significantly quick to distance himself from the potential disaster that may or may not occur.

“When the IOC awards an Olympic Games to a host city it is ultimately the responsibility of the national government of that country and the host city itself to deliver the venues and build the venues,” he said. He didn’t say: ‘Don’t look at us guv.’ But he might as well have.

Then we had the long-running nonsense over which nation – Ireland or the United Kingdom – those hailing from Northern Ireland should represent in Rio de Janeiro. The qualifying system and format of the competition have also been a matter of some heated debate. And, every four years the Olympics will disrupt the long-established schedule followed by golf’s major championships. Specifically, the USPGA Championship will have to be played at a time other than early August.

Some of those matters have, of course, been resolved after a fashion. Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell have declared themselves “Irish”. The tournament itself will be yet another tedious 72-hole stroke play event – clearly the “I” in “IGF” does not stand for “imaginative”. And, according to IGF president and R&A chief executive Peter Dawson, contingency plans are in place for the aforementioned USPGA.

Dawson, in passing, had the cheek to “blame” prospective players for any perceived lack of inventiveness in the format. Polled as to their opinions, a majority apparently came down in favour of the same old stuff we can already watch almost every week. Which begs an obvious point: why is it that when Open Championship competitors complain about greens that are too fast, fairways that are too narrow or rough that is too thick, nothing is done?

Still, when it comes to the USPGA Championship, golf at the highest level has a gilt-edged opportunity to, for once in its perennially jaded existence, think outside the box. Let’s face it. If we were starting over tomorrow three of the four constituent parts of what is known as the “Grand Slam” would not be played in the one country. This observer’s preference would be for one in Europe (the Open), two in the United States (the US Open and the Players Championship) and one (ideally the World Match Play Championship) moving around the globe.

Anyway, every four years we now have a chance to move away from the current US-centric reality and closer to a more global ideal. Every four years, it says here, the USPGA Championship – universally hailed and/or derided as “fourth of the four” – should remove itself from Uncle Sam’s nieces and nephews and find new kin across the water, either west or east. Actually, my preference would be for “south and west” of San Francisco. About 7,860 miles south west, to Melbourne, to be more specific. Here’s the deal. Australia has a proud history of producing some of the greatest players golf has ever seen. Peter Thomson, Greg Norman and Karrie Webb spring immediately to mind. The current world No.1, Adam Scott, is an Aussie.

Perhaps even more relevantly, the land down under is home to some of the world’s finest courses. Indeed, the best course in the southern hemisphere, Royal Melbourne, is in Australia. This is a country and a course that deserves a major championship, one that would not – as the USPGA so often does right now – conform to a one-dimensional style of play built around narrow fairways, long rough and “hit-and-stick” shots.

Now we have that opportunity. Every four years, the USPGA Championship should add a metaphorical “A” to the beginning of its title. Finding a suitable date would hardly be a problem. Any time in February or March, towards the end of the Aussie summer, would work, making the championship the “first of four”, at least chronologically.

Making this happen would no doubt require a large injection of cash from somewhere. It is hard to imagine the PGA of America putting one of their two biggest assets (the Ryder Cup being the other) up for hire at a price that did not reflect at least market value. And the Australian economy, like most others worldwide, has seen better times. Which means, likely as not, the Aussie government would need to step up and back an event that would surely pay for itself multiple times, if only through the massive global exposure it would bring to their distant land.

Other nations could also work in that respect, South Africa, for example. As would, inevitably, the oil-rich Middle East. But only in time. Neither currently has a venue in the class of the Alister Mackenzie-designed Royal Melbourne, a venerable test that would challenge and educate a generation of young professionals brought up on unimaginative course set-ups and so encouraged to hit the same shot over and over. Come on guys, let’s do it.