Cam Cole: Olympic Golf Course is No Augusta National … But It’ll Do
RIO DE JANEIRO — I walked the Olympic golf course today. The roster of humans on the grounds appeared to be as follows:
(a) a couple dozen course workers with weed whackers, mowers and rakes, and others laying down miles of plastic interlocking walkways through the dust and sand for spectators.
(b) a guy studying the 18th green as if he’d lost a contact lens, but who was probably just mapping out pin positions.
(c) a handful of bored-looking army personnel with rifles and several cops sitting in their parked cars around the entrance with the roof lights flashing, for no apparent reason other than that’s how they roll down here.
(d) the usual phalanx of NBC roadies, checking out the camera towers and stapling green hoarding around the scaffolding.
(e) Four people at the security checkpoint.
No one apprehended me or said: “Where do you think you’re going, bub?” I basically had the course proper all to myself.
As to that … after all the years of debate and delay and ecological controversy, Campo Olímpico de Golfe, designed by American architect Gil Hanse, looks suspiciously like a pretty nice, 7,128-yard, par-71 linksy golf course, built alongside condo towers and apartments in an area most likely to be populated some day by the kind of people (i.e., wealthy) who can afford the time and money to play golf in Brazil without being inconvenienced by the impoverished hoi polloi, who are housed out of sight and far away in the favelas.
It has grass on its extremely wide fairways, and everything. The turf feels strong and well-rooted underfoot. It has 79 artistically shaped bunkers, no rough, waste areas that look like they could be in the sandbelt around Pinehurst or Melbourne, a mound or two covered in tangly foliage that must be what passes for Brazilian gorse, and a pond that, given the average water quality hereabouts, you might not want to fish your golf ball out of unless you are encased in Saran Wrap. (Pro tip: send your caddie.)
But what am I saying? You won’t be playing here. And the pros, who will be, perhaps starting as early as this weekend, don’t deign to rescue their Titleists from water hazards.
Dense bush lines part of the course perimeter, which must be where the dangerous animals lurk because in a couple of hours of walking and poking around, I saw not a single Rodent of Unusual Size — though they say at least 40 capybaras live on the course — or even one crocodile or boa constrictor (major disappointment).
I did see one hellish large wild turkey-looking bird and several smaller but noisier ones, which must be the ubiquitous burrowing owls that reportedly are known to dig six-inch holes in the ground, annoying the greenskeepers.
I saw several holes of roughly that diameter, but they had plastic discs labeled “Toro” on them, so I suspect these were what the Brazilians call “sprinkler heads.”
You know what I didn’t see? A mosquito.
I even forgot my can of OFF! — provided in the official press kit — back in the media centre, but after 15 minutes of perspiring like I’d just run the Belmont, having been warned to wear long pants and long sleeves, I doffed the jacket and even wandered down by the swamp … er, pond, looking for reptiles, and never saw a pest of any description.
An American colleague suggested Zika may turn out to be the Y2K virus of Olympic golf (i.e., much fear, scant evidence of harm), though it’s too early to tell. But if Zika-carrying skeeters are going to menace the golf venue, frightening off fully-grown golfers of the male persuasion, they should at least come out and fight like … women.
So, to sum up: Campo Olimpico de Golfe, located within the Reserva de Marapendi, isn’t exactly Augusta National, but it’s not Goat Hills, either.
It is a decent-ish sort of rolling golf course inside a construction site, which — like most other sporting venues of Rio 2016 — is shooting for a completion date of “What time do they get here again?”
For all the howling about what a disaster it could turn out to be, it will be nothing like it.
Too bad the International Golf Federation blew the format: 72 holes of stroke play is about as far as can be from the Olympic imperative of having to produce the goods on command, in one fleeting shot at glory every four years.
In fact, it’s such a ridiculous format, certain to be changed for Tokyo in 2020, that U.S. golfer Matt Kuchar didn’t even know it wasn’t a team event until a reporter told him this week. And he’s in the 60-man field.
But that’s not the golf course’s fault, or the architect’s.
Balls will be hit. Putts will be made. Medals will be won.