History of Golf at the Olympics

George Lyon, Gold medalist 1904 Olympics

Women's golf competition from 1900 summer Olympics

The first Olympic Games which were held in Athens 1896 had 14 nations represented with 43 events, however it wasn’t until the 1900 Paris France Olympics where 28 nations were represented, that golf was listed as one of the 75 events. The men played 2 rounds (36 holes) to decide the medals.

1900 Olympics, Paris France Golf results:

1. Charles Sands USA 167
2. Walter Rutherford GBR 168
3. David Robertson GBR 175
4. Frederick Taylor USA 182
5. H.E Daunt FRA 184
6. George Thorne GBR 185
7. William Dove GBR 186
8. Albert Lambert USA 189

Olympic golfing gold medal winner, Charles Sands also took part in the tennis competition that year. Sands returned to the 1908 Olympics in London Great Britain as a participant in the jeu de paume (court tennis) tournament where he did not place for a medal. Albert Lambert, who placed eighth in the golf tournament in Paris, was the primary financial supporter of Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 Trans – Atlantic flight. The international airport in St Louis is named after Lambert.

There was also a Women’s golf tournament at the 1900 games played over 9 holes, which was won by a young American art student named Margaret Abbott.

1. Margaret Abbott USA 47
2. Pauline ‘Polly’ Whittier USA 49
3. Daria Pratt USA 53
4. Froment-Meurice FRA 56
5. Ellen Ridgeway USA 57
6. Fournier-Starloveze FRA 58
7. Mary Abbott USA 65
8. Baronne Fain FRA 65

Margaret Abbott was the first woman from the USA to win an Olympic gold medal. A 5ft 11in, 22 year old Chicago Socialite, she traveled to Paris in 1899 with her mother, literary editor and novelist Mary Ives Abbott, so that she could study art. Ten women took part in the final round of the ladies 9 hole golf competition. Abbott later told relatives that she won the golf tournament “Because all the French girls apparently misunderstood the nature of the game scheduled for that day and turned up in high heels and tight skirts.” Two years later Margaret Abbott, by then a resident of New York City, married political satirist Finley Peter Dunne. Abbott died in 1955 unaware that the golf tournament she had won was part of the Olympics.

At the 1904 St Louis USA Olympics, 12 nations were represented, with 84 events. Golf was again a fixture however this time was decided by match play elimination. There were 77 golfers competing for golfing gold in St Louis, 74 from the USA and 3 Canadians. The tournament was also switched to match play, rather than the stroke play tournament form the 1900 Paris Olympics. The Glen Echo Country Club in Normandy Missouri hosted the last ever Olympic golf matches.

1904 Olympics St Louis USA golf results:

1. George Lyon CAN
2. H. Chandler Egan USA
3. Burt McKinnie USA
3. Francis Newton USA
4. Harry Allen (USA), Albert Lambert (USA), Mason Phelps (USA), Daniel Sawyer (USA)

George Lyon was an eccentric athlete who didn’t pick up a golf club until he was 38 years old. Before that he had competed successfully in baseball, tennis and cricket. In 1876, he even set a Canadian record in Pole Vaulting. Lyon was 46 when he traveled down from Toronto to take part in the Olympics. He caused quite a stir when he played in St Louis because of his unorthodox swing. He wielded the club more like a cricket bat, provoking some newspapers to criticize his “coal – heavers” swing. On the course he was an endless source of cheerful energy, singing, telling jokes and even doing handstands. A 36 hole qualifying round reduced the field from 75 to 32. The survivors then engaged in a match play elimination tournament. In the semi finals Lyon defeated Francis Newton, the Pacific Coast champion, on the last 36 holes. His final match was a surprise victory over the 23 year old US champion, Chandler Egan. Lyon was presented a $1500 sterling silver trophy, which he accepted after walking down the path to the ceremony on his hands. In 1908 George Lyon traveled to England to compete in the 1908 London Olympics. However, an internal dispute among British golfers caused them to boycott the games, leaving Lyon as the only entrant. Offered the gold medal by default he refused it. Lyon was still winning championships 20 years later and shot his age for 18 holes from 64 years old until he was 78 years old. He died the following year.

In 1904 the IOC introduced a men’s team golf tournament to replace the women’s individual.

1904 St Louis Olympics Team golf:

1 USA (Western Golf Association – H. Chandler Egan, Daniel ‘Ned’ Sawyer, Robert Hunter, Kenneth Edwards, Clement Smoot, Warren Wood, Mason Phelps, Walter Egan, Edward ‘Ned’ Cummins, Nathaniel Moore)

2. USA (Trans Mississippi Golf Association – Francis Newton, Henry Potter, Ralph McKittrick, Albert Lambert, Frederick Semple, Stuart Stickney, William Stickney, Burt McKinnie, John Maxwell, John Cady)

3. USA (United States Golf Association – Douglas Cadwalader, Allen Lard, Jesse Carleton, Simoen Price, Harold Weber, John Rahm, Arthur Hussey, Orus Jones, Harold Fraser, George Oliver)

After the boycott by the English players and George Lyons subsequent rejection of a default gold medal in 1908, golf has never again been part of the Olympic Games. There has been much discussion over the years, notably Tiger Woods was quoted recently as saying "It would be great to have an Olympic gold medal, but if you asked any player, 'Would you rather have an Olympic gold medal or green jacket or Claret Jug (given to British Open champion)?' more players would say the majors." Translated, Tiger isn’t fussed either way. In fact one person from his camp has said "It's just another week where he plays and doesn't get paid for it."

Obviously there’s more to it than Tigers aloof feelings. The PGA, is not interested in shutting down over a summer as it’s in the business of making money, both for the PGA and of course the card carrying players. Simply put; no events, no sponsorship dollars.

Unfortunately, no Australians have ever competed for golfing Olympic glory, nor have they had many opportunities. If Golf is ever reinstated as an Olympic sport, then It will only be a matter of time before an Aussie wins Gold.

Golf covers all the criteria to qualify as an Olympic sport, however don’t expect to see the worlds best fighting for an Olympic gold medal in the near future.

As a note, golf isn’t the only sport no longer contested at the Olympics. Here is a list of other discontinued sports:

Cricket: Last played 1900
Croquet: Last played 1900
Jeu De Paume (The forerunner of modern tennis): Last played 1908
Lacrosse: Last played 1908
Motor Boating: Last ‘Boated’ 1908
Pelota Basque: Last played 1900
Polo: Last played1936
Rackets (precursor to squash): Last played 1908
Rugby: Last Played 1924
Tug of War (Yes, tug of war was an Olympic sport): Had its last Olympic tug in 1920.

For more golf history, click HERE: