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Sep 09

Olympic Golf in Rio

Olympic Golf in Rio – Still Happening?

One of my favorite Olympic events was watching the Greeks race against time to finish all of the facilities before the opening ceremonies. I joked at the time that they cut it so close, but were so efficient, that the driving in of the final nail served as the starting gun for the first track event. However, the ongoing saga of preparations for golf’s re-emergence into the Olympics in 2016 isn’t nearly so much fun.

rio 1 A year ago, many of us were worried that it was already too late to get golf on the docket for the 2016 Summer Games. Legal disputes, which are by now well known caused the entire project to falter, considering that a test event was the hope as early as 2014 – that’s now.
Golf Simplified logoIn the most recent episode of courtroom drama, Rio-style, the city and the developer of the course have been sued, given new requirements for an adaptation of the Olympic course that may or may not be feasible, given the time, and a date of September 17 on which to tell the court whether they agree to do it, or not.

The latest problem is that the projected course cuts around, through, and into, one of the most fervently protected environmental areas in the region of Rio, and one of its last such areas. A lot of ground has been dug up, and  forestation has taken place, although developers claim that the effects are not irreversible. Nevertheless, a lot of wildlife is making fast adjustments to the goings-on.

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Environmentalism, which was, years ago, considered by many to occupy the undesirable fringes of society, has moved to center stage globally as a deadly serious topic and a requirement for human survival. Many of the most hard-core environmentalists in Rio, and elsewhere, would prefer to see the game of golf fade from existence entirely, but those who brought the suit mostly hope that the course will be moved, and that the events will be played at one of the two other courses in the city.

rio 2At the center of the environmentalist case is the judge handling the it, who has admirably stated that protection of the environment is, and will continue to be, a central part of the matter’s legality. He has, in fact, proposed changes to the course that would take part of it away from the notorious “pond” (in which fierce reptilian people-eaters dwell), to a location nearer a wide and busy freeway, where fierce and hostile human drivers live and make noise. Construction has been allowed to continue, but the court declared that “no new vegetation could be plowed under.”

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Where the interest of the Olympic Games is concerned, we are, as I figure, 21 or 22 months out? Any test event is months and months away, with a lot of luck, and the court, if not satisfied, seems willing to let the game of golf wait for one more Olympic round before re-entering the festivities. It is unknown whether the Itanhanga Golf Club could be used for the events. Is it too late to arrange it – is the Itanhanga club willing – can it fit the games into its schedule?

The powers that be, on the golf side of things, claim that there are contingency plans in place, but no one will say what they are. They also tell us that sod has been laid and irrigated, but they will say nothing else.

As for me, there is a bottom line problem that is identical to that of six months ago – a city bid for the games, claimed itself to be able and willing to pull it off, but failed to poll its various factions to see if it was wanted, possible, or legal within its own system. The legalities should have been airtight before the beginning. As for the environment, I am sure there is a way to produce a good event, stop disturbing one of the last pristine areas of the city, bring the game back into the Olympic fold, and even protect those horrible reptiles in the “pond.”

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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.