According to multiple sources with intimate knowledge of the challenges facing the 2016 Rio Olympics golf course design project, the course is “dangerously close” to not being completed on time and has obtained only a single permit for limited work at the site. Additionally, members of other international sports governing bodies are calling for Rio 2016 and PGA Tour officials to explore other venues for the tournament. In a related matter, PGA Tour officials have confirmed both that only a single, limited-purpose permit has been issued and that the PGA Tour does have a role in the building of the proposed course.
Two separate sources, both requesting anonymity, have expressed concern, (and other independent sources have confirmed), that the Gil Hanse design, which won a competition where seven other architects participated, is “dangerously close” to not being completed on time for a required venue-testing tournament before the 2016 Rio Olympics. The testing event would presumably be scheduled for some time in 2015. With just two years to go before the deadline, no earthmoving has begun and only a single permit for the limited purpose of removing “non-native vegetation” by hand has been issued. According to those sources, no machinery is permitted on the site at this time.
Moreover, the sources also confirmed that not one, but two land disputes still plague the site – one over ownership of the land set aside for the Hanse design and one involving a prior owner’s non-payment of what was called a “substantial fine” for “environmental issues.” The sources also confided that PGA Tour officials are equally “worried” that the course won’t be ready for a pre-Olympics tournament, a requirement of all venues in the Olympics.
Other high-level officials expressed concerns as well. Congressman Jose Cojuangco, President of the Olympic Committee of the Philippines stated, “It’s going to be tough for them to get it done in as short a time as is left. The greens need to age, the course needs to grow in, and they have to conduct the prior tournament to test the venue. The IOC needs to push this to get them to move faster. Any venue gets built faster when the IOC pushes them.”
Then when asked about the reasons for the delays, he laconically lamented, “There’s more politics in sports than there is in politics.”
PGA Tour Vice Commissioner Ty Votaw confirmed both that a single permit has been issued for removal of imported, “non-native” vegetation, and that the PGA Tour has a role in the building of the club.
“Our role now is that the IGF [International Golf Foundation] and the landowner-developer, the Mauro family, have asked for the PGA Tour’s design services and construction services subsidiary to assist in the overall construction and building of the golf course. Going forward it will be managed by a public-private partnership.”
Votaw could offer no further details as to either the identity of that public-private partnership or any additional information regarding the land disputes. However he added that, “the overall application for permitting is in progress.”
When asked if the Tour or Rio 2016 officials were considering other venues to host the tournament he replied, “It’s premature to talk about that.”
Other sources disagree. “They really ought to consider having two courses – one for the men and one for the women,” said Congressman Cohuangco. “It would work better logistically and agronomically.”
“They could have at Itanhanga, which has hosted a European Tour event and an LPGA event,” echoed one of the two anonymous sources. “It’s no secret that the project has been behind from the start and loses more ground every day they don’t have the permits. The Tour is putting a brave face on a tough situation, but Itanhanga gives them an out should they need it.” Itanhanga would be convenient as it lies within Rio city limits, easily accessible for the event.
“It’s a shame that everyone can’t get on the same page,” the source, a Latin American, continued. “There are so many unresolved issues so close to deadline that getting it done will be difficult at best. They have started off badly, and we don’t to see it finish horribly for golf’s one and only chance to rejoin the Olympic movement.”