JTOG: The Genesis of the “Journey to Olympic Golf”…

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Everything starts with something.

'Torch' (1992 Infiniti) and my 'Journey to Olympic Golf' began with a farewell party at TPC Sawgrass.

‘Torch’ (1992 Infiniti) and my ‘Journey to Olympic Golf’ began with a farewell party at TPC Sawgrass.

Even something as crazy as hopping in your old 1992 Infiniti convertible and driving down through Mexico and Central America to Panama City, Panama. Then ditching (donating) the car and bopping around South America to Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and finally Brazil in search of the new Olympic Golf Course, reportedly under construction. As crazy as it sounds that is exactly what I did on a wing and a prayer, as they say, starting back in October 2013.

Looking back there were three experiences that came together in my mind, that inspired me and made it my destiny to complete such a bizarre odyssey. Someone I came to know had done something equally outlandish and comical, the trees at Augusta National Golf Course gesticulated that I do so and I actually had one sane and logical thought since I left Corporate America seven years ago. And there you have the genesis for embarking on the “Journey to Olympic Golf.”

There are a lot of interesting people in the golf business. Some out in front of the camera and lots more behind the camera or wandering around the PGA Show in Orlando or outside the ropes out on tour. I was fortunate to meet one of the most interesting of them all—David Wood. A former stand-up comedian, you might have seen him on the David Letterman Show way back when. While I love a good laugh (and gave it a go myself once as a stand-up comedian and failed twice), that is not what inspired me about David.

David Wood and his book 'Around the World in 80 Rounds' inspired me to do the 'Journey to Olympic Golf.' Photo Credit: Amazon.com

David Wood and his book ‘Around the World in 80 Rounds’ inspired me to do the ‘Journey to Olympic Golf.’ Photo Credit: Amazon.com

The first paragraph on the front flap of his book Around the World in 80 Rounds tells the  whole story of how he inspired me: “At forty-seven David Wood sold everything he owned and set out to fulfill every golfer’s dream: For one year, he traveled the world (covering sixty thousand miles and every continent except Antarctica) by plane, boat, train, motorcycle, and rickshaw, to play the game he loves in the most exotic locales, including the world’s highest, driest, hottest, coldest, and most remote golf courses, and lived to tell the tale.”

I wanted to be like David, not Letterman, but the other one—David Wood!

In a coincidental manner, someone you all probably know, if you follow golf and the business of golf whether it be the LPGA then or the PGA TOUR now, planted the Olympic Golf seed in me one night, not far from my home.

I had heard of the World Junior Golf Series (WGJS) and a “Mom & Coach Changing Junior Golf Around the World.” The WJGS came to Ponte Vedra in December 2011 and was personally hosted by Herb Peyton,  at his world class Ponte Vedra Inn & Club Beach Resort. Peyton, a larger-than-life figure in the Jacksonville area and nearly 80 years old at the time briefly addressed the youngsters at the Opening Ceremonies. In his youthful manner, the founder of Gate Petroleum pointed out that the juniors’ golf game may be better that his but there was one talent he had that they did not possess. He then demonstrated that talent by “whistling without moving his mouth” much to the delight and amusement of the youngsters.

But it was the man that followed him, The PGA TOUR’s Ty Votaw and his keynote speech at the Opening Ceremony that brought Olympic Golf and what it means into my mind. Votaw is the person who led an international delegation that gained consensus to get golf back in the Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janiero and then again in 2020. The last time golf was in the world’s biggest athletic event was 112 years ago in 1904 in St. Louis at Glen Echo CC.

Great players like Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson and Greg Norman did not have an opportunity to play golf in the Olympics. Ironically, as Votaw pointed out, 77 players competed back in 1904 in St. Louis, 74 from the U.S.A. and 3 from Canada and a Canadian George Lyon won. Votaw looked out over the sea of young faces and wondered aloud who in the room would aspire, prepare and participate in the Olympics perhaps in 2016 but more likely in 2020?

Ty Votaw's keynote speech at the WJGS Opening Ceremony in December 2011 Inspired me to take the 'Journey to Olympic Golf.' Photo Credit: Google Images

Ty Votaw’s keynote speech at the WJGS Opening Ceremony in December 2011 Inspired me to take the ‘Journey to Olympic Golf.’ Photo Credit: Google Images

He seemed to be talking to me, not as a golfer, but as someone who likes to experience golf history in-the-making, especially inspirational golf history in-the-making. In reality, no one alive on Earth has ever experienced Olympic Golf or even had a recent conversation with someone who had. Lyon had lived to be 79 and died in 1938. That night I began to think about what will define the Olympic Spirit of Golf to a new generation and future generations.

With the seed now planted, the water and fertilizer came later the next Spring at the inspirational home of golf—the Augusta National Golf Club and the 2012 Masters Tournament. It was my fourth Masters being there the whole week, sun up to sun down. It was also the third year that the Asia-Pacific Amateur Champion was given an invitation to compete in the Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts created major. Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama was back for his second consecutive year and won the Silver Cup, which is presented to the lowest scoring amateur. The next year China’s Guan Tianlang at age 14 years, 5 months and 18 days became the youngest ever to make the cut on the PGA TOUR and in a major championship. The next year after that, in 2014, junior golfers, ages 7 to 15, would be playing golf, albeit only on the Tournament Practice Range and the 18th green, at Augusta National Golf Club in the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship. This year Latin America Amateur Champion Matías Domínguez  competed in the Masters. Now every year an amateur from Asia-Pacific and one from Latin America will be playing in The Masters.

The point being, the Augusta National Golf Club along with golf’s major governing bodies are intent on growing the game of golf around the world. Golf is a world-wide sport soon to become an Olympic sport. It was in this spirit that I found myself walking up from the 7th green through the vast parkland area, that used to be the original practice area, towards the clubhouse. I noticed the tall pine trees swaying in the wind. Their movement was almost as if the giant inspirations in my life were walking along with me, waving hello and encouraging me to continue walking down this path of golf voyaging and inspiration-seeking. I thought of my mother and father who passed in their mid-seventies and how short life itself really is. Life is for the living and each day alive is precious.

I have had some inspirational thoughts under the oak tree at Augusta National GC but none better than to embark on the 'Journey to Olympic Golf.'

I have had some inspirational thoughts under the oak tree at Augusta National GC but none better than to embark on the ‘Journey to Olympic Golf.’

I walked along as if mesmerized and made it up to the oak tree that gracefully adorns the clubhouse. I turned around to see all the grace and beauty of the property that Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts must have seen when they first laid eyes upon it. I knew then that knowing the possibilities of golf travel that David Wood had demonstrated, the vision of Olympic Golf and the answer to a simple question, there was one thing I needed to do.

The simple question was “What will be the biggest thing to happen in the game of golf in the next ten years?” The simple answer is “inclusion in the 2016 Summer Olympics.” This is a new era and a different world full of different people than a century ago in 1904. What was nice back then, but did not ignite anything significant at the time, may be the right catalyst now. This could be golf’s biggest opportunity to become the beloved sport of the world. And beyond that, because golf is a lot like life, who knows what can happen?

That one thing for me to do was to journey from where Olympic Golf was played in 1904 at Glen Echo CC outside of St. Louis to where it is going to be played in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I heard they were going to be building a new Olympic Golf Course there. Maybe I could visit Olympic cities along the way, extract the Olympic Spirit and combine it with the history and traditions of golf and discover the Olympic Spirit of Golf. Of course, only the 60 women and 60 men golfers that will be competing in Rio will experience playing Olympic Golf. Maybe they will need a writer to clarify their thoughts?

Little did I know that the “Journey to Olympic Golf” would take 100-days traveling through 14 countries and total 18,471 miles in the winter of 2013/2014.

I will be reliving those “100 Days of the Journey to Olympic Golf” beginning on Monday, April 27th, starting the dialogue on what exactly is the Olympic Spirit of Golf, and raising $100,000 for The First Tee. The reliving of the 100 days will end on Wednesday, August 5th exactly one year prior to the Opening Ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

This is going to be fun!

I am looking for 100 new friends in the next 100 days to make a $100 donation (or any amount that you are able to make) to The First Tee. Each day I will be reliving the original “Journey to Olympic Golf” and hope to find a new friend in golf. Is that you? Please join me in giving back to the game we all love.

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Please select ‘Andy Reistetter’s Journey to Olympic Golf’ on the drop-down menu for the question ‘What inspired you to make a gift today? This is for tracking purposes only, Andy does not receive any part of your donation or anything financially from The First Tee organization.

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