Date: April 17, 2015
Author: Mark Hayes

Olympic course reveals hint of Royal Melbourne

The Rio de Janeiro Olympic Golf Course has been revealed – and with a distinct taste of Australia already shining through.

While the course is still in the bedding-down process more than 400 days out from the Games, Golf Australia high performance director Brad James said it had a distinctly “Royal Melbourne feel” to the bunkering.

“It looked very difficult around the greens,” said James while in Rio on a fact-finding mission to prepare for golf’s return to the Olympics for the first time since 1904.

“The bunkering looked very much like Royal Melbourne and the course had more trees than I thought by this stage as well.”

The course has been the centre of much controversy in Rio with environmental protesters claiming the city’s mayor Eduardo Paes was an “enemy of the Atlantic forest”  as he pushed development of architect Gil Hanse’s course.

But while protests continue, the course has begun to earn praise in many quarters for its minimal visual impact near the lagoons of Barra de Tijuca, just 5km from the Games village in western Rio.

Hanse nominated Melbourne’s Sandbelt as providing the template for how the holes, particularly those in low-lying areas, would look when the course is ready for play, hopefully this winter with a test event loosely planned for November.

His focus on several short par-4s is testament to that vision.

And, not unlike Melbourne’s jewels, there are several holes here that feature broad landing areas but tight, well-protected driving corridors for those looking to make birdies.

One hole that has won a lot of early praise is the short par-4 16th that features myriad alternatives from the tee on a hole that might tempt bigger hitters to search for glory.

But Hanse has a word of warning with a win that "blows all the time" at the coastal site.

"Wind is really going to be a factor on the course … especially at the time of year the Olympics are played."

Throughout his layout, Hanse uses strategic fairway bunkering to encourage thoughtful placement from the tee and his holes are aimed at testing both power and finesse.

Course superintendent Neil Cleverly said the course was both “exciting and challenging”.

"It favours the short game with a challenging last three holes — but every single hole has got a different measure of difficulty,” Cleverly said.

“There are going to be some players who will shoot horrible numbers."