AUGUSTA, UNITED STATES (AFP) - Men's and women's gold medallists at this summer's Rio Olympics will be rewarded, if they need it, with exemptions to all of the major golf tournaments in 2017, golf officials announced at Augusta on Monday.
The news came as practice got underway for the 80th Masters tournament, the first of this year's men's majors, and will come as a boost to the Rio tournament, which sees golf return to the Olympics for the first time since 1904 but which has not been met with universal acclaim among the players, especially over the issue of scheduling.
Masters chairman Billy Payne said that golf's visibility "will be dramatically elevated by the global platform that only the Olympics offer.
"New audiences from all over the world, some for the very first time ever, will be exposed to our great sport and come to know and appreciate the amazing athletes and heroes in golf," he said.
"So I'm very pleased to announce that the gold medal winner of the men's competition in the Olympic Games will receive an invitation to the following year's Masters Tournament."
Similar statements were then made by the Chief Executive of the R&A, Martin Slumbers, the Chief Executive of The PGA of America, Pete Bevacqua and the Chief Executive of the United States Golf Association, Mike Davis.
That covers exemptions for the Masters, and for the men's and women's US and British Opens and PGA Championships.
Additionally, Davis said, the Rio women's champion would be able to play in the two other women's majors - the ANA Inspiration, from next year, and the Evian Championships, in France in September.
"I think it's exciting that all the nine majors have come together to support the Olympics," Davis said. "I think we all realize what Olympics can do in growing the game worldwide, and for that, I think this was exciting news."
Davis also said that, for the US Open alone, the Rio silver and bronze medal recipients would be handed a place in the first of two qualifying stages for the tournament.
"I think that the way I would probably put it, if you're runner-up this week in the Masters, you're runner-up in The Open Championship, you're runner-up in the PGA Championship, that does not get you into the US Open championship. I think that a win is a win and that's how we do it," he said.
The Olympic golf tournaments will be played over two weeks in Rio from August 11-14 for men and August 17-20 for women. Both tournaments will see fields of 60 golfers play 72 holes of stroke-play over four days - the same format that is used for all of the major golf tournaments.