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Olympic Course Rises from Acrimony’s Ashes

Olympic golf course

It has been 112 years since golf was last played in the Olympics, in St. Louis in 1904. And for some folks, it feels that it took nearly that long to construct the Rio de Janeiro course on which Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Lydia Ko and others will be vying for medals this August when the sport makes its return to the Summer Games.

There were battles over land ownership and lawsuits contesting environmental matters. Construction delays and bureaucratic disarray stalled the project as well. But in the end, the work got done. And by all accounts, the layout that Gil Hanse created at Reserva de Marapendi in Rio’s tony, Barra da Tijuca district is a worthy venue.

“Gil built a very good, modern-day layout that is a throwback to the great Sandbelt courses of Australia and the great links of the United Kingdom,” says PGA Tour executive vice president Ty Votaw, who in his role as vice president of the International Golf Federation was deeply involved in the development of the Olympic track. “It should prove to be a wonderful test for competitors.”

As president of the IGF, former R&A chief executive Peter Dawson is just as familiar with the project. And he feels much the same way.  

“The course was constructed on an old sand quarry in the city limits of Rio de Janeiro and is quite linksy in appearance,” Dawson says. “Gil’s vision and commitment was outstanding, and he produced the sort of layout where hitting the ball to the right portion of the fairway will say a lot about one’s ability to get close with his or her approach shots. Course management will be key, and so will be one’s skill in playing in the wind, as it often blows there.”



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