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Mar 27

Olympic Golf Delays – Blame it on Rio

Olympic Golf Delayed in Lands Rights Dispute

I remember when the Olympic Games were rolling around in the city of Athens, and the world was up in arms about whether the ancestors of earth’s greatest democratic civilization would get the thing done on time. The International Olympic Committee was tearing its hair out, but the Greeks stayed calm, as calm as a country of Greeks ever do. Sure, they may have been driving a few final nails on the day of the first event, but the whole thing was done with the attitude of “Hey, we built the Parthenon, we can build this – back off.” And they were right.

Unlike Greece, Rio de Janeiro does not have a lot of experience with the Olympic Games, and even less with Olympic golf, since it hasn’t been in the games since the beginning of the twentieth century. Now, we hear that the special course for the 2016 games, designed by the great Gil Hanse is desperately behind schedule, and the IGF (presumably the International Federation of Golf, or “It’s Green Finally”) is tearing its hair out right along with the IOC.

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It’s not the design – that’s gone very well, the way it should go. Gil Hanse is as much a pro as the people who play on his courses, so no problem there. However, construction has been delayed innumerable times on the exquisite-to-be Venue Reserva de Marapendi Olympic course. The only problem is that there isn’t a speck of green on the whole thing. It looks like a Sheik’s paradise, eighteen holes of undug bunker – not even, in the words of the IGF, so much as a green shoot.

rio 2Apparently, there is a land rights hold-up, and a court case between a title holder and a developer who doesn’t want a golf course there at all, thank you very much, Olympics or no Olympics. This is a poser for some of us who thought this had all been decided. Wasn’t it normal to think that if a country was to prepare a course for the coming Olympics, they would make sure of which party owns the land? Rio can be pretty macho, historically, and I’m surprised that some big-wig didn’t put his foot down and say “I own the land until the Olympics are over, and then you can have it back and build whatever you want. For right now, it’s Olympic golf!”

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The other problem is that the IOC requires that every sport in the games has a test event well before the opening ceremonies. The golf “test” event is scheduled for 2014, but a lot of people close to the project are skeptical that it will happen, maybe not at all. Apparently, the plan has incurred many revisions, and there is no plan B, no beautiful pre-existing course that can be adjusted to Olympic standards – in one of the most upper-crust tourist centers of the world? Are you kidding me?

Other sports are suffering similar delays, and they are also under the requirement of a test event. Fortunately, none of the local developers want to build casinos on the site of the Olympic pool, or build Hiltons on the polo field. But that’s exactly what the golf guy wants to do, and nobody knows precisely when it will leave the courtroom.

rio 1Meanwhile, the pressure is mounting at the IOC, and they are issuing strong warnings to the Brazilians, a progressive, modern country, to get a move on and build the Olympic course, or else – (or else what is not explained). Many now wish the Rio folks had the confidence of the Greeks. This year is the 110nth since golf last appeared, and by 2016, it will be the 112th. Hey, c’mon, guys, you can do it – the Parthenon was a lot harder than this.


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About the author

G.F. Skipworth

has spent every available moment playing golf or studying the greats since the 60s, in between world tours as a classical musician, Harvard studies in Government or as the author of a dozen novels. Nicklaus and Snead may be the statistical greats, but Skipworth is a life-long devotee of Gary Player, and considers meeting the South African at the Jeld-Wen to be an unforgettable milestone. His driving passion in golf these days is to raise viewer interest in the LPGA.