By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With World Cup fever spreading and all eyes on the twelve host cities’ preparations, construction for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio has been progressing positively yet under the radar for the most part. The sport of golf has been making great strides in particular, especially as the construction of the new golf course begins to take shape.
The course is being built at Reserva de Marapendi (Marapendi Reserve) in Barra da Tijuca, one of four zones which will serve as home of the majority of Olympic Games. Earlier this year U.S.-based firm Gil Hanse was selected by the Olympic Organizing Committee to design the golf course for the 2016 event.
Rio 2016 president Carlos Arthur Nuzman describes the monumental importance of the new venue. “As it marks the return of golf to the Olympic Games after over a century of absence, this course represents the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the sport. It will enable Rio to host important events in the international calendar and it will be an example of sustainability and preservation of an environmentally protected area.”
Gil Hanse was selected in part due to the promise they intend to accentuate natural dune formations and retain the natural colors of the land. Another goal is to make the course public and encourage more Cariocas to take up a sport they may not have considered playing before.
Jeremy Lovelace, a British expatriate living in Rio and a keen golfer told The Rio Times, “I think there is an opportunity. With the rise in purchasing power of the middle income groups in Brazil, previously out of reach leisure activities are likely to grow in popularity. Golf is no exception. Current barriers are twofold: lack of awareness, and expensive facilities. Will be interesting to see how the new course is priced to see if it can capture this middle income demographic.”
One concern about the new course, along more unusual lines, had initially been raised: that of caimans. Caimans are smaller members of the crocodile family and it was feared they would move into water hazards on the golf course.
Anthony Scanlon, executive director of the International Golf Federation, made a visit to the site and described the risk as minor. “We’ll have a strategy in place that will minimize any possibility of a player or spectator coming across these. The risk is minimal,” he said.
It is estimated that 6,000 caimans inhabit Zona Oeste (West Zone) of Rio de Janeiro, where the new golf course is situated. However, a huge increase in construction works in that part of the city has left the animals’ natural homes disturbed, making the clean water hazards an ideal new home for the caimans.
Anthony Scanlon said there was the potential for a really great course in Barra. “Twelve holes are already being shaped. The Olympics could be a really unique opportunity for golf. “It is a once-every-four-year event rather than the dozens of opportunities that come their way every year.”
The turf for the course is being provided by Green Grass Sod Farms of Brazil. Company owner Marcelo Matte said the Zeon Zoysia turf, which is environmentally friendly and drought resistant, could play a vital role in the future of golf. “This is the first time golf is in the Olympics after 100 years and we’ll have the whole world watching the best players for weeks in Rio. I can imagine it will be the most important golf course in the year of 2016,” Matte said.