Features

Golfing around Rio: Olympian challenge

1 Apr 2016 by BusinessTraveller

Minty Clinch checks out options near Rio, including the brand-new course built for the 2016 Olympics – the first time the Games has included golf for more than a century

1) THE OLYMPIC COURSE

Where is it? 40km west of Rio.

What’s it like? The expense involved in building a venue for the first Olympic golf tournament since 1904 was widely criticised, not least by Rio’s existing clubs, which wanted to stage it themselves. Environmentalists reacted because part of the course is in the Reserva de Marapendi nature park, but the project was greenlighted on the understanding that it would become Rio’s first public golf course, a boost for a game that has been restricted to those who can afford private members’ clubs.

The layout occupies gently undulating land near the ocean in the suburb of Barra da Tijuca, home to the Olympic Park, the main stadium and the athletes’ village. Its 15 competition venues include swimming, cycling, tennis and athletics. The golf course has been designed by American Gil Hanse, best known in the UK for the course at Castle Stuart on the Moray Firth in Scotland.

The land has been reclaimed, with two large artificial lakes as the centrepiece for fairways, greens and thick rough, but the real challenge lies in the south Atlantic winds. Purists hope they’ll blow up a storm to test the world’s finest golfers come August.

  • Contact Avenida das Americas, Barra da Tijuca; rio2016.com
  • Price Not yet available.
  • Facilities 18 holes, par 71, 6,522m (7,133yds); golf academy, driving range, practice area, putting green.

2) ITANHANGA GOLF CLUB

Where is it? 25km south-west of Rio.

What’s it like? This exceptionally welcoming private club was established in 1933 by President Getulio Vargas, Brazil’s longest-serving political leader, first as dictator from 1930 to 1945, then as elected president from 1951 until his suicide in 1954. He set up Itanhanga as the antidote to Gavea (overleaf), known in those days as the “Englishman’s Club” and, therefore, unacceptable to a dedicated nationalist.

A passionate, if indifferent, golfer – his handicap was 30-plus – Vargas took time out from his programme of industrialisation and social reform to play on a flat course laid out in the imposing shadow of Devil’s Rock. Nowadays, 10,000 trees shed 30 billion leaves a year, a daunting task for greenkeeping staff. Coconut palms dominate, but mangos provide protection from the sun and a succulent snack from November through New Year.

The river that snakes among the fairways is at its most menacing at the Three Twins, par fours at seven, eight and nine with water to the left that wreck many a promising card.

  • Contact Estrada da Barra da Tijuca 2,005; tel +5521 3883 8323; itanhanga.com.br
  • Price Championship course, weekdays R$300/£56, weekends R$425/£80; nine-hole course, weekdays R$180/£33, weekends R$245/£46; caddie (compulsory for visitors) R$100/£19 plus tip; buggy R$150/£28; club hire R$150/£28 for 18 holes (brands include Callaway, Taylor Made and Titleist).
  • Club hours 6am-7pm. Visitor tee times available on weekdays and at weekends after 1pm.
  • Maximum handicap 32
  • Facilities Championship course, 6,695yds, par 72; nine-hole course, 2,840yds, par 36; driving range, putting green.
  • After the golf The spacious clubhouse has a terrace with seating overlooking the 18th green, and serves an international menu. There’s a large outdoor pool, plus the only polo club in Rio.

3) GAVEA GOLF AND COUNTRY CLUB

Where is it? 20km south-west of Rio.

What’s it like? The grande dame of Rio golf, opened in 1926 by Scottish and English expats, and redesigned by Robert Trent Jones Sr and Stanley Thompson in the 1930s, retains the exclusivity that repelled Vargas. That’s no reason not to play it – its location at the foot of the huge Pedra da Gavea mountain is spectacular, and it has the yesteryear charm of a course where strategy and skill are more important than pure power. When city expansion demanded a new highway, Gavea demanded a tunnel to access the four holes nearest to Sao Conrado beach; not that you’d know it, because a high wall keeps beachcombers out.

As befits the stratospheric value of its real estate, this is a short, compact layout, with the emphasis on land-saving doglegs. The opening holes loop over hilly terrain above the clubhouse: the par 34th provides the best overview, but don’t admire the seascape at the expense of your tee shot as missing left carries a heavy penalty. After the ninth, players duck under the highway to tackle 10 to 13, dominated by hazardous lake, before ducking back for the final stretch.

  • Contact Estrada da Gavea 800, Sao Conrado; tel +55 (21) 3323 6050; gaveagolfclub.com.br
  • Price Weekdays R$350/£65; weekends R$450/£85; caddie (compulsory) R$80/£14 plus tip; buggy R$200/£39; golf shoes R$30/£6; clubs R$50/£10.
  • Club hours 7am-9pm, visitor tee times available Mon/Wed/Fri from 8am, Tues/Thurs from 12.30pm.
  • Maximum handicap Men 24, women 28.
  • Facilities 18 holes, 5,950yds, par 69; floodlit driving range, practice area and putting green.
  • After the golf The clientele is international, with Rio’s elite well settled on the clubhouse’s long terrace, and the interior is luxurious, with floral chesterfields and brass chandeliers.

4) PETROPOLIS GOLF CLUB

Where is it? 60km north of Rio.

What’s it like? Petropolis was named after the popular Emperor Pedro II, nicknamed “The Magnanimous”, who used it as a summer haven during a reign that lasted from 1831 until 1889, when the monarchy was abolished. No golf in his day, but 20th-century enthusiasts were quick to appreciate the benefits of playing in cooler, drier air at 900 metres above sea level.

The Petropolis course, located in the lovely Nogueira Valley in the mountains overlooking Rio, opened on March 1, 1939; pictures in the clubhouse suggest it hasn’t changed much. Expect a bit of a workout, as the terrain is steep and must be tackled twice to complete 18 holes. The course is very much a world of its own, confined by the surrounding hills and dominated by the river that runs along the valley floor. The opener is an inviting downhill drive, a bit of sweetener for hostile camber and watery perils ahead. Tropical flora growing here includes flame trees, sapucaia (meaning “monkey pot”, named after its bowl-shaped fruit containing edible seeds) and pink ipe, Brazil’s national flower.

  • Contact Avenida Country Club 6,321, Nogueira, Petropolis; tel +55 (24) 2221 2534, petropolisgolfclube.com
  • Price 18 holes weekdays R$120/£23, weekends R$200/£39; caddie R$50/£10 plus tip; buggy R$100/£19; club hire R$70/£14 (random mixed sets; brands include Callaway, Titleist and Ping). Club hours 7am-7pm daily.
  • Maximum handicap Men 28, women 36.
  • Facilities 18 holes (nine with two tee boxes on each), 6,268yds, par 70; driving range, practice area and putting green.
  • After the golf The clubhouse has a simple restaurant and bar. There is also an on-site hotel and a riding centre.
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