By Rob Sawers, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – It’s official: golf will be played for the first time since 1904 in the Summer Olympics, right here in Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games. The 2009 decision from the International Olympic Commission (IOC) came much to the delight of golf fans around the world. While the current options for golf courses are limited, Rio’s two eighteen-hole courses are top-rate and have unforgettable views of the Cidade Maravilhosa’s famous morros (hills).
The Itanhangá Golf Club in Barra da Tijuca sits nestled between the Pedra da Gávea, the Pedra do Itanhangá, and the Tijuca National Park. Carpeted in lush Mata Atlántica vegetation, the hills provide a beautiful backdrop for a round of golf amidst the 86 different species of trees found on the course. The first to tee-off can start at 7:30AM amid the sounds of tropical birds calling down from the Mata.
The private country club offers memberships for those who have come to Rio for the long term, but those just passing through can buy day passes for R$250 on weekdays, or R$350 on weekends. Discounts are given for seven-day passes and to groups.
Earlier this year, the Itanhangá Golf Club stepped forward and put its par 72 course in the hat to host the golf tournament of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio. Late last week, though, the news came through that they had not won the bid. The IOC did not pick either of Rio’s existing courses, but instead decided to build a third one specifically for the Olympics near Lagoa de Marapendi in Barra da Tijuca.
The reason given to Itanhangá was that the IOC would have wanted significant remodeling of the golf course, and did not want to inconvenience the country club with prolonged closure. Assistant Manager of Golf and Tourism at the club, Corina Barcellos, lamented that this is “just politics,” as Itanhangá was fully prepared for the inconveniences of remodeling. Club staff had not yet pulled down the banner reading “Itanhangá 2016: An Olympic Dream” (“Um Sonho Olympico”).
Spanning between Tijuca National Park and the beach at São Conrado, the Gávea Golf & Country Club is the city’s other golfing option. Built in 1926, the club offers a par 69 course and a clubhouse with a nostalgic ambiance of the grand old days.
Visitors to the club can take-in the views of both Pedra da Gávea and the Morro Dois Irmãos hills between holes of golf. The country club offers limited memberships but golfers can buy eighteen-hole day passes for R$350 on weekdays and R$400 on weekends.
The Gávea club also had Olympic dreams, only to be disappointed by the IOC decision. Building the new golf course in the proposed Barra da Tijuca site will not be an easy task. The empty lot was originally destined to become a condominium park and, by many accounts, it is not large enough for an eighteen-hole course.
Olympic spectators will have to travel from the center of Rio to the far side of Barra da Tijuca to watch the tournament. However, the government plans to complete a third metro line to Barra da Tijuca in time for the games.
Visitors to Brazil who want to get out of the busy city and try the relaxed feel of one of Rio de Janeiro State’s resort towns, should head up the coast to luxurious Búzios. The Búzios Golf Club offers day passes for R$165, or seven-day golf passes for R$808. Golfers can also save some time and money for the beaches and bars in Búzios by practicing on the driving range for only R$18.
Whether scouting locations for the Summer Olympic or just trying to work-off their handicap, golfers in Rio have some great options, each with their own awe inspiring views.