Golf Course Architect Gil Hanse designed the Olympic Golf Course and Practice Facility for the 2016 Summer Games
By: Sally J. Sportsman
Until now, golf had been part of the Summer Olympics only twice: in 1900 at the Compiègne Club, near Paris, and in 1904 at Glen Echo Country Club, in St. Louis.
The hiatus is over, and the purpose-built Olympic Golf Course, designed by renowned architect Gil Hanse with Hall of Fame player Amy Alcott as a consultant, marks golf’s return at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Hanse took every detail into account when transforming the picturesque plot within the Marapendi Natural Reserve in the Barra da Tijuca zone of Rio de Janeiro into a venue worthy of Olympians.
“You can hear the waves from the practice range,” says Hanse, a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.
The course begins and ends adjacent to the range, bordering the shore of Lake Marapendi – a long inland lake that runs along a barrier island with the Atlantic Ocean sitting just beyond. Spectators are able to see the practice range and the short game area from the grandstands.
Contested this month, the Games of the XXXI Olympiad includes separate men’s and women’s golf competitions involving 60 players each in a 72-hole stroke-play format. Players will avail themselves of the practice facility at the golf course, which currently is the only public regulation 18-hole layout in all of Brazil.
“The size of the tee area at the range is bigger than usual because we anticipate more action,” Hanse says. “Our approach was a tournament focus first, while knowing that public play after the Olympics will be a crucial element.”
According to the International Olympic Committee, after the 2016 Summer Olympics, the course will be used as a public facility with the chief purpose of promoting golf in Brazil and around the globe, representing one of the most important Olympic legacies for sport development to come out of the 2016 Games.
Hanse and his team also constructed a four-hole academy course, where beginners can learn to play in a compact, friendly environment – reflecting the concerted effort to grow the game in Brazil. The academy course, like the 18-hole layout, has a natural links feel, as do the contours of the practice range.
“That’s the look and feel we wanted to promote,” says Hanse, who invited his associates to design one hole each on the academy course, drawing on their experience in Scotland.
The short game center, with four practice greens and a chipping area, is attached to the academy course and adjacent to the practice tee, with the clubhouse in the background.
Aside from the required dimensions, Hanse and his crew had full liberties in designing all aspects of the practice areas. Hanse saved native vegetation by shifting the far end of the range east of its originally-planned location. A stand of trees between the range and the academy also was preserved, reaffirming Hanse’s environmentally responsible aesthetic. The range was the last part of the project to be grassed.
“It was a tight construction process,” Hanse says, “and we wanted grass on the golf course first, to provide additional maturation time.” The Zeon Zoysia turf, provided to the Olympic facility by Green Grass Sod Farms of Brazil, is environmentally friendly and drought resistant. It is hoped that this turf will be used as a benchmark for golf courses in Brazil if the game takes hold throughout the country.
Hanse and his family lived in Rio for seven months as the Olympic golf facility took shape. “We practiced and played the course,” Hanse says. “The golf course will be a key piece of the legacy of these Games, but the academy and the range will be equally important.”