Machrihanish? Barnbougle? Cabot? Nah, the ultimate golf pilgrimage is now the Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro. After its two-week star turn hosting the Games, the course should be atop the must-play list for every well-traveled big-game hunter. But how exactly does one play the OGC?
"Just come by," says Marcio Galvao, the executive director of the Brazilian Golf Confederation. "We are open for business!"
Well, not quite. The course officially opens to the public on October 1st, though a soft opening is likely in late-September. As the Games demonstrated, the Gil Hanse design is in championship condition but it is now closed to allow workers to remove the grandstands, scoreboards and other infrastructure. Details are still being finalized but Galvao expects that green fees for visitors will be roughly $150 U.S. dollars on weekdays and $225 on weekends. Rio residents will pay around $75. A website is currently being built to handle reservations and should come online by mid-September. The high-end tour operator Kalos Golf is already including the Olympic course in an October package that hits a handful of South American courses.
As the only public track in Rio, the Olympic Golf Course is an important part of the Games' legacy. The BGC will manage the course and Galvao is aware that the eyes of the golf world are upon them. "The course is a crown jewel and we intend to take very good care of it," he says. There is a spiffy restaurant on-site to help generate revenue but the BGC is courting investors in the private sector and partnerships with local corporations to ensure there will be adequate resources to not only maintain the course to a high standard but also help the OGC fulfill its larger mission. A teaching academy will be built on-site to introduce the game to the masses and nurture aspirants to a national team in hopes of contending for future Olympic medals.
Beyond that, Galvao says the OGC will be "a vehicle for social inclusion." Teenagers from the favela will be steered into a caddie-training program, to learn the game and a well-paying craft. Partnerships with local universities will help groom a workforce of experts in agronomy and maintenance practices. "From the pro shop to the restaurant to the caddies to preparing the golf course, there are many types of jobs to fill," Galvao says. "It is a great opportunity for the young people in Rio to begin new careers."
There is also a mandate to continue hosting tournaments on the Olympic course. Next month the Brazilian Open (a PGA Tour Latinoamerica event) will be played there, and in March a Web.com tournament is slated to come to town. The confederation is thinking big, hoping to attract an annual European tour event, or perhaps a WGC. If the PGA of America ever takes its flagship championship out of the country, the Olympic Golf Course would be a natural destination; after all, the name says America but doesn't specify North or South. To hear the talk around Rio, the OGC is more than a golf course, it is a field of dreams.
"We have a very big vision," Galvao says. "The Olympics was amazing for us -- we were very proud and happy with the feedback we received about the course from the players and public. It was way above our expectations. We have never seen Brazil so excited about golf. A legacy has been created for us, and we intend to honor it."