The Unbelievable History of Golf at the Olympics

George Lyon – hero

The 1904 Olympics at St Louis hosted a bizarre golf tournament that was, unsurprisingly, the last time it was held until this year.

It was very, very strange state of affairs. There was a team competition and an individual competition – both only open to men.

For the team competition 6 teams of 10 entered. Unfortunately, only 2 turned up. A makeshift team of 10 was put together at the last minute and there was a contest of 3 teams. Team USA was first. Team USA was second and Team USA was also third.

The individual event however involved international competition for the USA in the form of Canada. The Canadians had 3 representatives. The USA had 74.  Soon the Canadians had only one – George Lyon. George took on the USA and a legend was born. George won.  The USA did well in the other medal places however and took the silver and 2 bronzes. There was no women’s competition

There was a women’s competition at the previous Olympics. However, it was such a similar disaster you would be inclined to believe it was organised by the same people – it wasn’t. It was held in France alongside the men’s event. The men’s event was a 36-hole competition – the women were allowed 9 whole holes.  The winner was Margaret Abbott with a score of 47. Her mother came seventh, with a score of 65. Margaret never knew she had won a gold medal throughout the rest of her lfe.

Most of the competitors for the women’s and the men’s competitions simply never realised they were competing at the Olympic games. They somehow believed it was just another tournament. These particular Olympic Games were spread out over 6 months and with limited internet access they had no idea that (in someone’s head at least) all the competitions were joined up.

Ignoring the lessons of the past 2 competitions, in 1908 the London Olympic Games committee decided that they would hold a golf tournament. However, the organising committee (English) and the Royal and Ancient (Scottish) first ignored each other, then argued with each other to such a degree that they received practically no entries.

No one told George however who sailed from Canada to England to defend his title.

He was offered a symbolic golf medal but George – man that he was, ‘sport is a gentlemanly affair, and I will only accept an award having won it through proper competition.

My new book of golf essays – ‘Putting is a Game of Self-Torture’ is available now on Amazon.


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