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Mar 28

Rio Olympic Golf Update

Course May Make Make It After All

In the past year or two, I’ve checked the latest progress on the difficulty-plagued golf course being designed and grown for the Rio games in 2016 at least three times. There’s a lot at stake in terms of national pride. The game of golf hasn’t been seen in the Olympics since the beginning of the twentieth century. For the women, golf hasn’t been seen since 1900.

Rio has fought over this one olympic event since the beginning. There have been a flurry of land ownership conflicts, and an ongoing fight with environmentalists over the choice of a prized wetland for development of the course. The Mayor of Rio responds that the establishment of the course has actually added assets to the condition of plants and wildlife in the building zone. When asked if he received political support money for his campaign, he replied only that he didn’t know, but that it wouldn’t be illegal if he had.

The upshot of it all, now that it’s late March of 2015, is that the course, they say, is almost complete, and will probably be ready for a test event, a required element for the facilities of all events, by the coming November. The real reason that I’m interested in updating this progress, is that I wouldn’t have given two cents for the chances that it would succeed. I felt certain that golf in the Rio olympics was going to be a bust – a great big, ghastly bust that would bring olympic dishonor on the dynamic country of Brazil.

The course cost about twenty million US, and it was built with the knowledge that two other credible courses exist in Rio, both of which can and have been used as tournament venues. Now, we have Barra di Tijuca, what has been described as similar to a rolling, pastorale Scottish course, although available photographs show a somewhat flatter terrain.

rioCourse superintendent, Neil Cleverly says that any golfer coming to Rio without good short game, especially “bump and runners,” are in huge trouble, and that some at the bottom of the leaderboard are going to put up “horrible numbers.  The course will not be renowned for its distance, but the greens are said to be very fast. According to Cleverly, “You can drive the green, but you can’t hold it.” His general feeling is that there is a natural advantage built into the course for those who excel at British style courses, those who can chip out of harsh rough at short distances, and handle a quick putting surface. He specifically mentions Irish great Rory McIlroy, as if he needed an advantage already.,

Rio is looking at development of this course in the long run. The idea of building a course, using it, and then letting it become overgrown and re-swallowed by the earth, is ridiculous. The Mayor sees it as a pioneer program for a junior golf movement in his country, for a game not currently popular, except among the rich. To produce a junior champion who could come out and compete with the world ten or twenty years down the road is a major goal, so the city has no intention of seeing their creation rot once the international teams leave after a few weeks.

I’m glad that I didn’t take that bet. It looks like the Gods of Olympus are going to bring Rio through, just like they did in Athens, to the amazement of many. The scuttlebutt is, though, is to avoid taking the course for granted. Don’t get driver crazy, and bring three or four wedges. Easy with the putter, and good luck to all.

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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.