When the first tee shot in 112 years is struck at 07.30 on Thursday morning, one remarkable lady will be watching on television at home in Madrid and permit herself a very deserved, satisfied smile.
For two decades, Emma Villacieros campaigned vigorously for golf’s return as an Olympic sport. In typically determined fashion, she never took no for an answer and led a resolute and unwavering campaign as the then President of the Royal Spanish Golf Federation to make good her pledge.
Now well into her 85th year, Villacieros is unable to make the journey from Spain to Brazil to witness first-hand the fruits of her labour, but her successor as President, Gonzaga Escauriaza, admits that the formidable lady in question deserves to be lauded.
“It was Emma who set the ball rolling,” he said. “She was very determined to take golf back into the Olympic Games. She formed an alliance with Claude Cartier of the French Federation back in the 1990s and from the outset she was very tenacious. She never relented in her quest and it was that strong-minded tenacity which kept the issue alive, even at times when it seemed to be dead.”
Villacieros also had a close affiliation with another powerful Spaniard, Juan Antonio Samaranch, the President of the International Olympic Committee from 1980 to 2001. She lobbied hard for golf to be restored to the Olympic movement and used her powers of persuasion to get Samaranch on board.
Escaurazia, who succeeded Villacieros as President in 2008 following a 20-year spell in which she sat at the top table of Spanish golf, continued: “She never relented and started talking to the different Tours, The R&A and the USGA at every available opportunity. At every World Amateur Team Championship she would raise the subject again and again and again.
“Emma and Claude convinced the USGA and The R&A of the possibilities and what happened next was they talked to the different Tours to get the calendars sorted. We knew the IOC wanted professionals from the beginning and then Samaranch took a strong role in helping us, which led to the creation of the IGF to lead the route back into the Olympics.”
Escauriaza believes that his predecessor’s unwavering commitment came from a simple philosophy. He said: “Spain is quite a sports-oriented country but golf was considered very elitist at that time. The only way to bring the game to everybody in Spain was through the Olympic Games.
“People consider a sport in the Olympics as a sport for everybody. We have coverage this month on terrestrial television as opposed to pay TV. Everybody can see the golf, not just people who pay money for the privilege. All Spaniards can watch the game at the highest level and hopefully take an interest. Of course, it is very good publicity to promote the game and broaden horizons.”
The Real Federacion Espanola de Golf, to give the Federation its native language title, has appointed two greats of Spanish golf as Team Leaders in Rio – Ryder Cup star Manuel Pinero and Marta Figuerar-Dotti, both of whom won a clutch of titles on the men’s and women’s Tours.
“We are excited to have Manuel and Marta as part of the delegation, and we know the players are also thrilled to be playing” added Escaurazia. “Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello are great ambassadors for our country in the men’s game and Azahara Munoz and Carlota Ciganda on the women’s Tours. Maybe they have not won majors yet, but what a prize an Olympic Gold would be.”
No-one would feel a greater sense of pride, should that occur, than Emma Villacieros.
Her successor concluded: “She will be watching very proudly. She knows she has played a part in golf coming back into the Olympic Games. It needed somebody to grab hold of the issue and take it forward. There was no-one better than Emma.”