Rio offers limited golf options for Olympics
Rio de Janeiro might well make for a spectacular host city for the 2016 Summer Olympiad. But this teeming metropolis of some 13 million residents on the southeast coast of Brazil is no golf destination. There are only two full-length, 18-hole golf courses in the city, and it is by no means clear whether Olympic golf will take place there or in an adjoining region. Among the candidates (see box below) are the coastal resort of Buzios, 100 miles to the east, and Sao Paulo, 275 miles to the southwest.
John Byers, director of rules and international affairs for the Brazilian Golf Confederation, said that when it comes to the logistics of site selection, “we’re moving onto unchartered waters here.” At this writing, it was still unclear whether men’s and women’s golf at the 2016 Games would be contested on the same golf course or on two layouts. Details are likely to be made in a joint decision involving the International Golf Federation and Brazilian Olympic authorities.
There is no clear frontrunner among established courses and no provision in Brazil’s winning $14 billion bid for construction of a new course, which could be upwards of $10 million to $15 million to the total price. But it is hard to imagine a private developer not jumping at the chance to build such a facility with private money and then to capitalize on the international publicity for decades after.
Rio de Janeiro’s most prestigious golf course, Gavea Golf and Country Club, dates to a 1926 design that includes five spectacular oceanfront holes but is only par 69 and 6,000 yards, with no room for parking or spectators. Its neighbor, Itanhanga Golf Club, is centrally located near the planned Olympic Village and measures 6,600 yards and is par 72. In 2000, Itanhanga played host to the European PGA Tour’s Brazil Rio de Janeiro 500 Years Open (won by Roger Chapman). Itanhanga hosted the LPGA HSBC Brazil Cup 2009, a 15-player exhibition won by Catriona Matthew. Preliminary plans for 2010 call for expanding that event to include 30 players.
Among the 105 courses in Brazil that will get serious consideration as home to Olympic golf is Sao Paulo Golf Club, the oldest and most prestigious course in Brazil’s most populous city. The course hosted the European PGA Tour’s 2000 Brazil Sao Paulo 500 Years Open (won by Padraig Harrington) and the 2001 Sao Paulo Brazil Open (won by Darren Fichardt). The par-72, 6,574-yard layout recently was renovated by Robert Trent Jones Jr. to include updated irrigation, drainage, bunkering and greens.
Also in the mix: Buzios Golf Club & Resort, a Perry Dye design measuring 7,056 yards and par 72. The course sites in a relatively remote coastal resort area 100 miles east of Rio.
Brazil’s winning Olympic bid of $14 billion did not anticipate construction of a new golf venue for the 2016 Games. But it is hard to imagine a private developer not jumping at the chance to fund such an undertaking. The long-term goodwill and publicity likely would prove to be a valuable asset. And given the listless state of today’s golf-development market internationally, there would be no shortage of big-name golf-course architects lined up to devote themselves to the project.
Brazil’s leading contenders
Buzios Golf Club & Resort, Buzios
- Founded 1995
- Designed by Perry Dye, 1997
- Par 72, 7,056 yards
- Pros: plenty of length; windy, seaside setting
- Cons: 100 miles east of Rio de Janeiro in relatively isolated area; Bermuda turf grasses would have to be upgraded to tournament-quality standards
Itanhanga Golf Club, Rio de Janeiro
- Founded 1933
- Course designed by Stanley Thompson, 1933
- Par 72, 6,600 yards
- Home to: PGA European Tour’s 2000 Brazil Rio de Janeiro 500 Years Open (won by Roger Chapman), LPGA’s HSBC Brasil Cup 2009 (won by Catriona Matthew)
- Pros: proximity to Olympic Village and downtown Rio, 27-hole site offers staging area
- Cons: tight, narrow holes; little spectator room; proximity to Olympic area could be a logistics liability
Sao Paulo Golf Club, Sao Paulo
- Founded 1901
- Course designed by Stanley Thomson, 1915
- Renovated by Robert Trent Jones Jr., 2007
- Par 71, 6,574 yards
- Home to: PGA European Tour’s 2000 Brazil Sao Paulo 500 Years Open (won by Padraig Harrington), PGA European Tour’s 2001 Sao Paulo Brazil Open (won by Darren Fichardt)
- Pro: readily accessible to major population center; recently updated; plenty of staging area, parking and spectator room
- Con: 275 miles from Rio de Janeiro; course envelope is tight for staging major international event; accommodating 3,000 spectators for the week of a PGA European Tour event is no test of the crowds likely in 2016.