In 2016, golf will make its return to the Olympic program after a 112-year absence. Rio de Janeiro in Brazil will be the city to host the comeback, with a Gil Hanse-designed course serving as the site for a 72-hole stroke-play competition.
While the history of golf in the Olympics is short, it’s fascinating. What was Olympic golf like the two times it was played at the turn of the 20th century?
The sport was part of the Olympics in 1900 in Paris and again in 1904 before being taken off the docket.
1900 Olympics in Paris: Compiegne Golf Course
In France, Compiegne G.C. hosted the first Olympic golf tournament: a 36-hole stroke-play affair for men and nine holes for women with just 22 players from the United States, France, Great Britain and Greece. Americans Charles Sands and Margaret Abbott won their events, respectively. But not much has changed at the course. Looking at it today, Compiegne, which opened in 1896, plays to 6,071 yards from the back tees.
For just $44, or 34 Euro, you can play a piece of Olympic history. And who can you thank for this work found just an hour from Paris? Well, that’s a bit of a mystery. It’s an Englishman with the last name Smith.
1904 Olympics in St. Louis: Glen Echo Country Club
Four years after the French hosted golf’s Olympic debut, the Gateway City had its turn as St. Louis was home of the ’04 Olympics.
Glen Echo Country Club, the oldest golf course west of the Mississippi River, was the site of a full mini-program of events, including a 36-hole team event, an individual match play event, as well as driving and putting contests. Altogether, 77 players — 74 from the U.S. and three from Canada — played. In the team competition, multiple American teams were formed, mostly around golf associations. For the record, the USGA had a team. They tied for the silver medal.
In 1903, the club constructed a nine-hole putting course specifically for the putting competition. (So, putt-putt was an Olympic sport?) Burt McKinnie beat Clement Smoot with a score of 21 for the nine holes to win the medal.
The reigning U.S. Amateur champion Chandler Egan won the long-driving contest…with a drive of 234 yards. Douglas Cadwallader hit a drive 238 yards, but it didn’t land in the grid.
In total, 32 men made it to match play. Canadian George Lyon, 46, won the individual event, making him the last person to win an Olympic medal in golf and he also won a trophy that is just starting to see the light of day again.
During the competition, Lyon set a new course record at Glen Echo, shooting 77. (For full results, click here.)
The St. Louis club, which was founded three years before hosting the Olympics, is still alive today. The course was designed by 1896 U.S. Open champion James Foulis, playing to a par of 71 and a max length of 6,382 yards.