Its youth in the setting still makes it a curiosity. After Rio 2016 and then Tokyo 2020, next year in Paris golf will have its third Olympic experience since its return to the programme. But the first on a course with an established reputation on the professional circuit, the Golf National in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.
In charge of the competition is Paul Armitage (photo above). An Englishman by birth who has lived in France for more than 30 years, he can boast a unique course and a perfect knowledge of it. FrancsJeux continues its series of interviews with the sports managers of the Paris 2024 OCOG.
FrancsJeux: What was your life like before the Paris 2024 OCOG?
Paul Armitage: I now have dual Franco-British nationality, but I was born and grew up in England. In 1989, I came to France to study at the University of Dijon as part of the Erasmus programme. At the end of my course, the university asked me to come back and work as a reader. I stayed for two years. In 1993, I was asked to join a small local golf club, Dijon Quétigny, as a sports coordinator. It belonged to a group, where I stayed for many years, moving from one position to another, including regional management. In 2006, I left the group to join another, where I developed an independent programme, Club Golf. Then, in 2013, I was asked to become Director of the Golf National in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. I was in charge of its sporting model and operations, as well as preparing for the Ryder Cup in 2018. Finally, I joined the Paris 2024 OCOG last February, after being asked by the International Golf Federation (IGF) to look after sports delivery. The golf management is run by the organising committee, but the sporting side, athletes and course, is subcontracted to a consortium led by the IGF, with the PGA Tour, LPGA, DP World Tour and the French federation in particular.
What is your past experience of the Olympic Games?
I don’t have any. The Paris 2024 Games will be my first.
What do you remember most about the Games?
Golf has been a huge part of my life for a long time. I’ve made it my profession, but I’m also a fan. I closely followed the sport’s return to the Olympic programme at the Rio 2016 Games, where I witnessed the departure of our players. The gold medal was won by one of my compatriots, Justin Rose. It was a great moment for me, because even with my dual nationality, I’m still an Englishman.
The file at the top of the pile on your desk?
I’m in a rather special position, because I’m between an international body, the IGF, at the head of a consortium, and the Paris 2024 OCOG, where I’m a member of the teams. I therefore have the opportunity and the task of explaining, federating and finding expertise to satisfy the aspirations of some and match the delivery possibilities of others. A large part of my role consists of acting as an interface. But I’m used to it, because I was in a similar position for the 2018 Ryder Cup in France. After I arrived at the beginning of the year, I made a point of surrounding myself with the right people and the necessary expertise. That’s now complete. And very successfully. Now we’re entering a more operational phase.
The golf site: its assets, the challenges in the run-up to the Games?
The Golf National was an obvious choice, both from a sporting and logistical point of view. From a sporting point of view, it is recognised by athletes all over the world. Players want to come here. The course has proved its worth with the Open de France and was used for the Ryder Cup. Golfers speak very highly of it. At the Games, there will be no chance. The best players will win. There will be two stars: the players and the course. Logistically, its distance from Paris makes it less accessible than some other competition venues. But the Golf National is “plug and play”, meaning that it already has all the space needed to install everything. Spectators will have a perfect view of the golf course.
Paris 2024 will be a success for golf if…
On a personal note, I’d say that a French gold medal could be a trigger for further development of golf in France. The sport is doing very well, with 450,000 members of the FFG and an annual increase in the number of players. But the Paris 2024 Games could help to make the golfing population younger and more feminine. With Céline Boutier, France has a very serious chance of victory. The Games will bring non-golfers to the Golf National. That’s quite rare.