Rio's Olympic golf course opens officially with test event
Course has been dogged by land disputes and environmental protests
World's top stars set to compete in Brazil in August
The scene is set for an epic battle between two of the world’s best golfers after Rio’s controversial Olympic golf course was opened for business.
Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth’s quest for gold will begin in August after the pristine links in the Barra di Tijuca area of the Brazilian city were played on for the first time.
Nine Brazilian players road tested the course and gave it a resounding thumbs up, paving the way for golf’s return to the Games after a 112-year absence.
“The course conditions are very good, the greens are perfect,” Miriam Nagl, who secured Brazil’s final qualifying slot, told the Rio 2016 official site.
“To be able to tell my daughter that I played in the Olympic Games is an extra motivation,” Nagi added.
Building work began on the course in March 2013, but question marks over who owns the land and disputes over environmental impact studies have delayed the process.
A lawsuit filed by state prosecutors forced an inspection by Rio’s Department of Justice who concluded the course had contributed to the growth of local vegetation.
“The environmental gain in the region is visible,” Carina Flores, Rio’s sustainability coordinator, told the Games website.
“Besides the flora, which increased extensively, we can observe the different species of animals that have returned to the area. The report now provides a scientific stamp to what we had already observed.”
Hanse said the environment was “sensitive” and emphasized how careful he was to limit the impact.
Four-time major champion McIlroy and Spieth, who has two to his name, are split on the importance of an Olympics gold medal in a busy year of golf, with the Ryder Cup scheduled for September.
“I’d definitely wait four years for another chance at the Olympics if I could win the Masters this year,” the 26-year-old McIlroy told CNN in February, referring to the Augusta event, which will be played between April 7 and 10.
Spieth says it would be “incredible” to compete in Rio.
“It’s the most watched sporting event in the world, and to be able to be one of those athletes would be something I’d never forget,” he told Rio 2016. “That ceremony, walking with the American flag there.”
Alexandre Rocha, a former PGA Tour player, was the man to officially open the course and strike the first ball in anger.
“I never had the chance before to inaugurate a course before and it’s something that no one can take away from me, a really cool thing that will always be with me,” said Rocha.
“Before we only had old courses in Brazil. This is a modern golf course.”
The competition will be a strokeplay event over 72 holes for men and women. The world’s top 15 players will quality automatically for the 2016 Games, but each country has a maximum of four entrants.
“Some things will be worked on to ensure we have a fantastic Games in August, but the level that we hoped to achieve today was reached,” said International Golf Federation executive director Antony Scanlon of the test event.
“We just need to attend to the details that will make the difference between a good tournament and a great tournament.”