Rio on course for greatest show on earth

But for Rory McIlroy’s solo march to his second major at Kiawah Island, golf’s final grand event of the season, the USPGA, might have been shunted into the sidings by the medals and records, inspiration and heartache of the London Olympics.

It is, though, the last time, they will suffer such an indignity, for once London’s closing ceremony handed responsibility for the greatest sports show on earth over to Rio de Janeiro, golf officially became part of the Olympic family.

Along with rugby sevens, golf successfully applied in 2009 to be included on the International Olympic Committee’s roster of sports for the Rio 2016 Games. Yet while the world’s top players are relishing the opportunity to compete for gold medals and golf fans have the opportunity to join the party, the International Golf Federation, which successfully lobbied the IOC for their sport’s inclusion, still has plenty of work to do to ensure a smooth return to the programme after an absence of 112 years.

At the centre of the problems surrounding golf at Rio 2016 is the site for the new championship golf course at Reserva de Marapendi in Barra da Tijuca, the district that will contain the largest number of the Brazilian city’s Olympic venues.

The Rio 2016 organising committee has appointed its designer and outlined the all-important legacy issues for the course. Gil Hanse, the American behind the well-received Castle Stuart Links near Inverness, Scotland, and former LPGA star Amy Alcott were unveiled in March as the team to design Rio’s Olympic course.

The legacy issue was addressed as part of the IGF’s submission to the IOC with the course to be used as a public facility after the 2016 Games “with the chief purpose of promoting golf in Brazil and the globe, representing one of the most important Olympic Games legacies for sport development in the country”.

All it needs to do now is solve a very messy legal dispute over who owns the land for its chosen site. There are two developers battling for control of the land with the final decision in the hands of Brazil’s Higher Court of Justice, who could halt the construction scheduled to begin in October if the dispute is not settled.

IGF president Peter Dawson was on the committee that selected Hanse and Alcott and he does not appear perturbed by the legal wrangle.

“Disputes in Rio about land ownership apparently are very common, and we’re assured by Rio 2016 and the mayor’s office that they can legally proceed with the building of the golf course,” Dawson said. “We continue on track to break ground on the course in October and November this year, which will put us well into the timetable we need to run a test event prior to the Olympic Games, probably in 2015.”

There is a lot riding on a successful Olympic tournament, on a continent seen as one of the great untapped markets for a sport seeing participation slipping in established ones such as the US, the UK and Europe.

With Asia already delivering one boom area for its emerging markets, the prospect of establishing a foothold in South America through the Olympics is too good to waste and the Rio 2016 president Carlos Arthur Nuzman recognises as much.

“This course represents the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the sport,” Nuzman said. “It will enable Rio to host important events in the international calendar and be an excellent facility for the practice and development of golf and inspire millions of youth across Brazil and the globe.”

With so much at stake, Rio 2016 dare not get bunkered.

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