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Golf greats compete to design 2016 Olympic course

By Brad Lendon, CNN
February 3, 2012 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Golf legend Jack Nicklaus is bidding to design the course on which the 2016 Olympics will be played in Rio.
Golf legend Jack Nicklaus is bidding to design the course on which the 2016 Olympics will be played in Rio.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Gary Player among eight finalists to design Olympic course
  • Rio Olympic organizers scheduled to award design contract Friday
  • Golf returns for 2016 Games, was last played in 1904
  • Competition will be for male and female competitors

(CNN) -- Golf returns to Olympics in 2016 after a 112-year hiatus and some of the greatest names in the sport are battling to put their name to the new course on which the event is to be played.

18-time majors winner Jack Nicklaus, South Africa's Gary Player and Australia's Greg Norman are well past their playing primes but the three legends are among eight finalists in the running to design the 18-hole course on which the Olympic golf tournament will be played in Rio de Janeiro in four years time.

Gary Player Design, Greg Norman Golf Course Design and Nicklaus Design join Hawtree Ltd., Hanse Golf Design, Renaissance Golf, Robert Trent Jones II and Thomson-Perret Golf Course Architects in the competition to design the course that will be built in the Barra da Tijuca area of Rio, the part of the city that will host the largest number of Olympic venues.

The winner was scheduled to be announced by Rio Games organizers Friday.

In soliciting bids for the course, Olympic organizers stipulated that it be available as a place for the public to play once the games end.

"After the Games, the course will be managed by a private operator with the chief purpose of promoting golf in Brazil and South America, representing one of the most important Games' legacies for sport development in the country," organizers said.

For a nation of more than 200 million, Brazil has about 100 golf courses, many of those only nine holes. In contrast, South Carolina has more than four times that many courses with a population that's just 2% of Brazil's.

We have one chance for golf as an Olympic sport to stay in the Olympics. ... So we've got to put our best foot forward. We've got to get the best golf course
Jack Nicklaus

Nicklaus said the Olympic course can build golf in Brazil and across much of the world.

"I think the Olympics is the greatest thing that could happen to golf on an international basis," the American said in 2010, because it means governments will support the game by building courses that young people have access to, and some of those young people will turn to golf in search of glory.

"All the other parts of the world, if you look at the kids when they grow up, they don't know about the Masters or the British Open or the PGA. They know about a gold medal. And the gold medal is the best you can get in a sport," Nicklaus said.

"We have one chance for golf as an Olympic sport to stay in the Olympics. ... So we've got to put our best foot forward. We've got to get the best golf course."

In an interview with the Golf Channel, Norman emphasized the big responsibility taken on by whoever gets the Rio contract.

"Whoever gets the golf course design job, they have to be the spokesperson for golf in the Olympics, because golf is only in for 2016. It hasn't been voted in for 2020.

"So whoever gets the job has to be beating the drum for the game of golf for the IOC for four years after that. They have to be a staunch proponent of the game of golf," Norman said.

And Norman echoed Nicklaus on the accessibility of the course.

"It has to be a course built for the general public at the end of the day. It can't be a private golf club," Norman said.

On his website, Player said he sees the Olympic course as an opportunity to grow the game around the world.

"The Olympics will expose millions of people in non-traditional golf markets to the game, and that is great for the sport," Player said. "This facility can, and should be, a catalyst for golf in Brazil long after the Olympic competition is complete."

Whichever group wins the Olympic bid, Norman says, they won't be doing it to make money. And that's true. Organizers will pay $300,000 for the course design.

Golf was last an Olympic event at the 1904 games in St. Louis, with Canada's George Lyon winning the gold medal. Golf was also played at the 1900 Games in Paris.

There was no women's competition in golf in those games, but there will be in Rio.

When making a pitch to Olympic organizers to include golf for 2016, a younger LPGA star, Hawaii's Michelle Wie, emphasized what it could mean to kids.

"For so many boys and girls around the world, their heroes have been Olympic athletes. Until today, I never thought there was any chance that I could share in that dream," Wie said.

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