The 72-hole, stroke-play competition at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will be one of the most compelling of our generation.
Consider that many of the 60 professionals from 34 countries who will be making their debuts in the games – of course they are, it’s the first time golf has been included in the Olympics since 1904 – will never qualify again. There is no prize money and nothing will ever compare to the physical weight and personal accomplishment of gold, silver or bronze around the neck. A medal is forever. In the very least, all are filled with unparalleled pride in representing and wearing the colors of one’s country in the global event that showcases the best athletes just once every four years.
The arena, as it were, in which the Olympic Golf Competition will be contested is a sporty track designed by Gil Hanse. Dubbed Rio Olympics Golf Course (or Campo Olimpico de Golfe in Brazil’s native Portuguese), it sits exposed to the Atlantic Ocean west of Rio. As a par 35-36=71 at just 7,128 yards with the full set of four par 5s, you can connect the dots to understand that a prevailing breeze from the southeast helps defend the course. Sustained winds of anywhere from 10-20 mph are forecast throughout the competition, but direction will vary. And despite the fact that it’s the meteorological winter in Rio for the Summer Games, gradually rising daytime highs might touch 80 degrees by Sunday’s final round. Skies should be mostly sunny, so Hanse’s handiwork will play fast and firm. There is no cut.
Paspalum greens average 6,800 square feet and their undulations will be noticeable. Mitigating the unfamiliarity to a degree, they’re unlikely to run faster than 11.5 on the Stimpmeter. That will enhance the enjoyment of the course, which figures to be an 18-hole playground.
There are no trees in play and there is no rough on Rio Olympics GC. Other than wind, the strategic placement of 79 bunkers will act as guards. (Golfers will be allowed to extricate pebbles found in the bunkers without penalty. It’s one of the compromises since Hanse was required to use sand on site, a portion of which was once a sand quarry. Three different grains populate the property.) Because of the propensity of short and long holes, particularly the nine par 4s, expect quite a bit of discussion about half-par holes, which is a tidy way to label the expectation of swings via risk-reward scoring. Some pars may feel like birdies, while others bogeys. With an array of tee boxes built in, course elasticity will further keep the field on its toes.
Rio Olympics GC won’t challenge the Olympians as much as their emotions, especially with the potential for eagle-birdie-eagle to conclude the final round. The par-4 16th will probably be drivable before the field navigates the short par-3 17th and par-5 finisher. Certainly, wisdom and talent will prevail, but patience in pursuit of history will help separate. Not unlike how any trophy can’t be won on a Thursday, victory can be forfeited early. Or can it? With a dynamic design that allows for recovery and the potential for a showstopping performance, he who wants it the most will have every opportunity to go for the gold.