As no doubt most golfers are aware, the sport will make its much-vaunted return to the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro 2016. After 112 years absence, 60 male and 60 female golfers will compete over four rounds of golf to decide who is the first Olympic golf champion in over a century, but will Brazil have a venue ready to host a golf tournament for the 2016 Olympics?
The decision to include golf for the 2016 Olympics, but not the 2012 is a strange one. The UK, or more precisely St. Andrews, is widely reputed to be the spiritual home of the game and there was a concerted effort to have golf included as part of this year’s London Olympics. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) however voted against including golf in time for London and so the sport was only admitted to the 2016 games.
Why not London 2012?
Indeed, 2012 would have been an ideal place for the first Olympic golf tournament of the 21st century. With so many outstanding courses around the UK to choose from, including many close by to the capital such as Wentworth, or many other classic courses around the country, it would have provided a fitting venue for the tournament.
Brazil, on the other hand, is an odd choice for golf to begin its journey in the modern games. The country has no discernable heritage with the game and has relatively few courses for a country that is immense in size. The lack of suitable courses is underlined by the fact that for the 2016 games, a brand new golf complex is being built from scratch.
The Rio 2016 Olympic Golf Dream
A plot of land has been bought in the Reserva de Marapendi in Barra da Tijuca, at the heart of the 2016 games planned Olympic celebrations. It will be located 5 kilometres from the Athlete’s Village and 7 kilometres from the main press centre and international broadcasting centres.
After a bidding process that ended earlier this year, Hanse Golf Course Design fought off competition from several other major golf course design companies, including those fronted by Greg Norman, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, to win the $300,000 contract to design and produce the course (shown below) in readiness for play, ideally before a warm up tournament planned for 2015.
The only problem is that with four years to go, barely any work has been completed on the ground towards getting the course in shape.
In fact, there is no course to speak of at present, merely a vast tract of uncultivated land near to Rio.
For those with an interest in golf becoming a major Olympic sport, this is a worry. With barely four years to go, is it possible for Rio to host a golf tournament, when the land they have earmarked for it is still totally unprepared?
Hanse executives are confident that they will begin work on the course later this year, with preparation and the design of the course on paper at least, very much underway. The original estimate was that the course would take around 12 to 18 months to build. Indeed part of the bid that won the jury in Rio over was the fact that the head architect of the course offered to move to Rio while the course was being completed to oversee the project.
This is a good move and at first glance there is still plenty of time available. There are various estimates of how long it takes for a top class golf course to be built, ranging from anywhere from a year to two years, depending on the location, legal issues and the relative ease of the site. The more complex the site is to develop a course on and the more legal issues a company faces, then the longer it will take.
Indeed, the Rio 2016 committee are convinced that the golf course will be ready a year before the opening of the 2016 games, so that a number of test events can be held.
Even so, this is an optimistic schedule and while there are precedents for new golf courses to be used almost immediately for major events, such as the 2010 Ryder Cup at the 2010 Course at Celtic Manor, it does not give the winning Hanse Golf Course Design team much time to correct any problems with the original layout of the course.
There are also concerns that any new course needs time to bed in and that while the course may be new for the opening of the Olympics, it may not yet be in the peak condition that the designer and architect would hope it to be.
Another Worry About the 2016 Olympic Golf Legacy?
Another interesting issue is the fact that the Rio 2016 committee want the new course to be lasting legacy for golf in Rio. Certainly this is a positive move to grow the sport in Brazil, but given the cost of building the course, how likely is the average Rio resident (millions of whom live in the poor Favela’s on the edge of town) to make use of the facility?
There is a real danger that unless golf is promoted and made affordable for the majority of the Rio population, that it will become simply another country club for the more affluent to play at. Hardly a fitting legacy for the Olympics, which is built upon the foundations of inclusion and participation, rather than exclusion and alienation.
There is a great deal hinging on golf performing well at the Rio Olympics and there will be a course built in time, whether the course has the long term effect that the Rio 2016 organising committee are hoping for is doubtful unless they take an innovative approach to promoting the game to the vast majority of Rio citizens who will not be able to afford it.
Rio will have a plush new golf course for 2016 but a more pertinent question might be, does it really need one?
All Images Courtesy of Gorilla Golf & Rio 2016 Olympic Committee