There’s nothing that brings strangers together faster than discovering a shared passion for golf, and there’s no one better equipped to talk about the global reach of the game than this episode’s guest. 

The following excerpt has been edited for space. Check out the full interview here.


Alyson Johnson: With the Tokyo Olympics postponed to this July, and Hideki is our new Masters champion, you couldn’t write that story any better. You really led the charge in getting golf into the Olympics, what were some of the barriers that you faced in getting it to be recognized as an Olympic sport?

Ty Votaw: We started the process of getting golf into the Olympics in April of 2008. We were up against six other sports over this 18 month period, where presentations were made, meetings were held; they call it lobbying for a reason because you were typically in a hotel lobby talking to IOC (International Olympic Committee) members about the merits of golf. To be candid, the PGA Tour made many previous attempts to get golf into the Olympics, but were somewhat neutral to negative, simply because of when the Olympics are held, which is right in the middle of our prime season. We have TV contracts, we have sponsorship agreements, we have tournaments that are in that time frame. So from a scheduling perspective, finding a week for our schedule for an Olympic competition in that time frame was always difficult. 

But we were approached by the USGA and the R&A, the two founding organizations for the International Golf Federation, in 2008 and they shared with us that their member organizations, the other national federations from around the world, had conducted a survey where they asked them (other countries), “what would be the fastest and most efficient way for you to grow your sport, golf, in your country?” and 85, 90% of the response was, make it an Olympic sport. So when we were brought that information, we did not want to be seen as an obstacle or obstruction to the process, and we joined in. 

It was determined that if we were going to be involved and be supportive, that the PGA Tour leadership at the time wanted there to be a PGA Tour executive and representative to be there every step of the way, because the IOC was requiring the top players in the sport to play, and those players are PGA Tour members. So how the experience was, what it was structured like, what the competition format was, where it was, when it’s going to be scheduled, formats, etc. were all things that needed to be dealt with. They asked me to (do it) because I’d been the LPGA before that before my time with the PGA Tour, because it was a women and men joint bid. So we traveled the world for 18 months trying to get golf in the Olympics and fortunately in Copenhagen in October of 2009, the IOC voted golf in, and we were on our way to preparing for the Rio games. 

Adam Grubb: Why do you think it took years and so many Olympics in order for someone to go, “Hey this let’s put that (golf) in there?”

Ty Votaw: That question was one that was raised a number of times; there are some naysayers to whether golf should be an Olympic sport because within the Olympic movement and within the golf media. There is a sense, in some corners, that unless Olympic achievement is the highest achievement in a sport, it shouldn’t be an Olympic sport. So people feel that way about tennis, people feel that way about basketball, and they felt that way about golf. They felt the four Major Championships, the Players Championship, Ryder Cup, President’s Cup- those events happening every year or every other year were the pinnacle of the sport. So, “do you need an Olympic golf competition to be added to that collection of events?” We had to overcome a little bit of that naysaying and we always took the position that Olympic golf was not going to be in replacement of those other achievements, that was going to be in addition to.

The platform of the Olympics itself is very powerful, and we thought that golf would be good for the Olympics and we thought the Olympics would be good for golf. Some of the obstacles that I just mentioned were part of the discussions had with IOC members; they also asked questions about golf’s elitist image, there were a lot of questions about private clubs, membership issues, gender equity issues for membership. We had to talk about all those things in 2008 and 2009 and we were fortunate enough to overcome those observations and criticisms and get in. 

Alyson Johnson: So you got us into the Olympics, and now you’re getting us into sports betting. Just recently, you announced the tourist deal with Draft Kings to open a sports book where fans can bet on all sports during Waste Management at TPC. Why now, and why all sports?

Ty Votaw: As soon as we saw the Supreme Court legalized sports betting in states across the country, we knew that this was going to be a movement amongst other sports. There was a window into what we thought the future would look like with sports betting, and we thought that as long as it could be done in a way that is consistent with our values and with the integrity of our sport, we thought it would be an excellent way for us to engage a diversified fan base who would be interested and engaged in betting on our sport. We have a whole team at the tour working with the various state legislatures who are considering or have considered and passed betting in their states, and we’ve made business relationships with a number of gaming operators like MGM, Draft Kings, etc., and we see it as an opportunity for us to grow the fan base and the engagement of that fan base in our sport.

Adam Grubb: It’s a good thing, are there are naysayers, of course; but this is a good thing for a lot of the pro sports because you are embracing it, and you’re saying, “look, we’re not going to push that aside and pretend that’s not happening, we’re going to embrace it.” Were you surprised at how easy it was to get this deal done with Draft Kings?

Ty Votaw: Well, we have six official betting operators and so they all were interested in having a relationship with the PGA Tour, and from mobile apps to sports books in casinos around the country- I’ve never lost my capacity to be surprised- so when opportunities like this present themselves we wanted to make sure that if it was inevitable, that this was going to take place across sports, we wanted to do it in a way that was consistent with the culture and ethos of our sport and the values that we represent in terms of integrity. So we put those protections in all of our agreements and they’re moving along at a nice pace.


Key takeaway: Growing the game of golf is not just vital within our own communities, but also across the globe.

Listen here for more discussion of the PGA Tour across the country, and why it was important that Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama was regarded as a hero post-Masters and pre-Olympics.