The 2016 Rio Olympics will see golf return after an absence of 112 years. The Olympics golf course has been constructed in Barra da Tijuca, a district of Rio de Janeiro that contains the largest number of Olympic Games venues and is located 7 kilometres from the Athlete's Village.
American, Gil Hanse and his team won the battle to design the course and were awarded the contract following submissions from seven other high profile companies. Hanse was voted 'Architect of the Year' by Golf Magazine in 2009, the same year that one of his designs, Castle Stuart in Scotland, won the accolade of 'Best New International Course'.
After a delay due to a customs-related issue with the irrigation system, construction began towards the end of 2013. Based on a typical layout that would be found in Australia's sand belt around the Melbourne area, the course features natural vegetation, extensive bunkers, a lagoon and sandy rough ground lining the fairways.
The mix of grass species is an interesting one, with Zeon Zoysia used extensively on tees and fairways, whilst SeaDwarf Seaside Paspalum is used on the greens. Both species are drought tolerant and the Paspalum is also saltwater tolerant, which is important as the quality of the irrigation water will be variable.
None of the grass on the course has been grown 'in situ' from seed; all the grass cover has been laid as turf or sprigs. Marcello Matte is the owner of Green Grass Brazil, who is responsible for producing the grass that has been used across the 35 hectare (85 acre) site.
The Zeon Zoysia cultivar, explicitly for use on golf courses, has been developed by grass breeder David Douget of Bladerunner Farms in Texas, USA. The planting of the golf course began in May 2014, using three different approaches; the majority of the Zeon Zoysia areas - tees and fairways - were planted using large rolls of turf, but some areas were planted using oblong shaped turf sods. The SeaDwarf Seaside Paspalum used on the greens were all planted as sprigs. As well as being drought tolerant, Zeon Zoysia has low fertiliser requirements and grows in a dense mat, which helps with weed suppression.
Course Superintendent Neil Cleverly, International BIGGA Member and International Superintendent Member of the GCSAA, is the successful Englishman who landed one of the most sought-after jobs in the industry back in June 2013. With a portfolio that encompasses Europe, Asia and the USA, he is extremely experienced in the management of warm season grasses.
Commenting during a conversation with Golfdom magazine back in October 2014, Gil Hanse said; "I didn't meet him until after he was selected. He was interviewed at the GCSAA show in San Diego, which I was unable to attend. Jim Wagner from our c ompany went down and was part of the team that interviewed him. By all accounts Neil did a great job, he's got a ton of experience overseas, primarily with warm season grasses, which was a bonus."
"Although he doesn't have experience with Zeon Zoysia, which is the primary grass on-site, he's well equipped to deal with it and he has been a Godsend. During the early parts of construction, it was basically me and a couple of guys who work with me down there. Working without a project manager and trying to make sense of it all was difficult, and then when Neil showed up he immediately took over as project manager."
"He got very involved in the earth moving and quickly demonstrated what he could bring to the project. He is not only a great turf manager, but also an excellent project manager from the construction standpoint. So he has been the rock of the construction part of the project."
With turfing und erway in May 2014, the initial delivery of 18 Jacobsen machines followed a month later. This consisted of three Eclipse 2 walking greens mowers, two Eclipse 322 hybrid powered ride-on greens mowers, four Greens King walking mowers, one SLF1880 super light fairway mower, two LF3800 fairway mowers, three Turfcat out-front ride-on rotary mowers, two UK-built TR3 reel mowers for tees and surrounds and a GA30 pedestrian aerator.
"The Eclipse mowers are an important part of the package," said Jacobsen's Frederico Santa-Barbara. "A key element is that there is absolutely no possibility of an oil spill on the greens, because these are hybrid machines and do not use hydraulic oil."
By the time the first test event takes place early next year, a total of 35 Jacobsen turf maintenance machines will be employed at the course. In the interim, Jacobsen's Product Support Manager Andrew Echenique will be providing technical training for Neil Cleverly's team and he will be part of a team of technicians who will be running the maintenance facility over the course of the event.
During the Games, the course will host two 60-competitor tournaments, with the women's event following the men's competition over a two-week period. It will accommodate 2,500 spectators in grandstands with space for a further 17,500 around the course.
'Legacy' is an important word in Olympic circles and the Rio Olympic Golf Course is no different. The International Golf Federation (IGF), who successfully lobbied for golf's return to the Games, will organise the two events and are responsible for 'promoting a positive legacy from the Olympic Games.'
Post-Games, the course will be the only 18-hole public facility in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. The Clubhouse will become a multi-purpose venue used for public meetings and social engagements, while the driving range and golf academy will be used for golf practice, instruction and education.
From an ecological and environmental perspective, degraded land will be restored by the creation of green space with local access. The venue will be certified as environmentally sustainable by creating a watershed and providing attenuation, natural filtering and water treatment. The biodiversity of the area will be enhanced by managing the water run-off, thereby conserving the soil structure and restricting erosion. Improvements in the ecosystem will increase native plants and encourage the local wildlife.