|Olympic gold medalist, George S. Lyon.|
The biggest obstacle to having golf at Rio de Janeiro in 2016 is a course. I understand there are a handful of courses in and around Rio, but apparently not a single one of Olympic quality. So, in conjunction with the International Golf Federation (IGF), Rio 2016 organizers are holding a competition to determine who will design a new course specifically for Olympic golf.
I took a quick look at the initial Request for Proposal, which contained a few oddities. Get this one, a mandate that the successful bidder have an office in Rio de Janeiro? Golf architects don't usually open offices in every city where they work. The timelines on submissions and review were incredibly tight, too.
Regardless, over a mere few weeks between mid-October and now, the selection committee has revealed a short-list of eight who remain in the running for what may be the most talked about, and anticipated golf course design commission in recent history.
The Olympic course commission is so sought-after, in fact, that Jack Nicklaus has teamed up with Annika Sorenstam on a bid. Greg Norman has done the same with Lorena Ochoa. Both Jack and Shark are short-listed, too, along with Robert Trent Jones, Jr.; Martin Hawtree; Peter Thomson and his partner, Ross Perrett; Gary Player; Gil Hanse; and, Tom Doak.
It's a good thing I'm not on the selection panel. It'd be difficult for me to be impartial. I sincerely believe there are but a select few golf course designers who can provide Rio with exactly what it needs; and, that's not a course that simply tests the world's best golfers in Olympic competition for a single week. As the IGF and Rio 2016 organizers have made clear, this is a huge legacy opportunity. The Olympic course not only has potential to promote interest in golf worldwide, but create a beacon in South America's largest country and a city of more than 6 million people where the game is largely unknown. And, as my Australian friend and fellow golf course designer Paul Mogford points out in a response to this blog at Facebook, "an educative example of the right approach to golf course architecture, worldwide".
Rio doesn't need what's become typical. That is, too much money spent on course construction; too many tees to accommodate 8,000 yards; too many bunkers and water hazards; narrow fairways bordered by thick rough... you get the picture. All of this translates into high green fees (or bust); six hour rounds; too many lost balls; and, too many people who become so frustrated with golf they don't stay with it. No, Rio needs a course that, first, can somehow be accessible and affordable for the masses following the Olympics and that epitomizes all of those wonderful characteristics we saw at Royal Melbourne a few weeks ago, during the Presidents Cup, for example. An absence of artificial water hazards; a conservative number of attractive bunkers in the right spots; plenty of width and short grass; and, influential contouring that presents interest and challenge in lieu of extreme yardage.
It's going to be interesting to see how this competition plays out. But, in my biased opinion, there are only two guys on the short-list who are capable of appropriately delivering in this circumstance. With no disrespect intended, I'll give you a hint... their names aren't Jack, Greg, Bobby, Martin, Peter, or Gary.