Rio Olympic golf course owes debt to Inverness

The skyscrapers of Rio provide the backdrop to the new Olympic course, a far cry from its roots at the Castle Stuart course outside Inverness. Picture: Getty
The skyscrapers of Rio provide the backdrop to the new Olympic course, a far cry from its roots at the Castle Stuart course outside Inverness. Picture: Getty
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One is renowned for its colourful annual carnival, world class footballers and scantily-clad beauties on sun-drenched beaches, the other for its historic castles, rarely seen monster and midges.

But now Rio and Inverness have something in common – the new Olympic golf course in the Brazilian city can trace its roots to the Scottish Highlands.

Golf will this year return to the Olympics for the first time in 112 years on a course that has begun attracting outstanding reviews for its creator, world renowned designer Gil Hanse.

Hanse is also the man behind the Castle Stuart Golf Links, near Inverness. Since opening seven years ago, it has achieved worldwide acclaim and has hosted the Scottish Open on three occasions. Hanse says he and co-designer Mark Parsinen, used the Highland course, which overlooks the Moray Firth, as a model for the stunning new Olympic course.

Hanse said: “The wide fairways are a comparable feature and the bunkering in Rio is very dramatic and innovative, I feel the same way about the bunker work at Castle Stuart.

“We worked very hard on the pace and flow of the routing in Rio, which was very much the philosophy at Castle Stuart where the routing also has a very natural flow to it, from low to high, from coast to bluff, and back again.”

The Rio de Janeiro golf course is a new venue built for this year’s Olympics, within the area’s Marapendi Natural Reserve.

Hanse says one constant on both sites is the unpredictable wind and the dependence on it to provide a major challenge to the class of golfer playing the courses.

The American said: “We witnessed this at the Scottish Open, where the scoring average fluctuated dramatically depending on the wind conditions. I believe the same will be true in Rio.”

Located on the outskirts of Rio’s Olympic Village, the new par 71 course has no rough, the fairways flow directly into native sand and grass areas.

Hanse said: “The lack of rough will allow balls to move faster towards these areas which provide a more difficult challenge to the players. The bunker work really stands out as the most dramatic feature on the course, our team worked hard to create a look and feel like the bunkering at Castle Stuart, it paints a picture of golf we are very proud of.”

The award-winning course designer said his aim with Castle Stuart was to “keep golfers engaged and hopeful” by creating wide playing corridors for the tee shot and to have short grass recovery shots with humps and hollows around the greens.

“We believe this style of design has worked at Castle Stuart and has been a great model for us on the Olympic course,” Hanse said.

He added: “We always hope we get a great champion on our courses – that certainly held true the last time the Scottish Open was held at Castle Stuart in 2013, with Phil Mickelson winning and going on to lift the Claret Jug the next week.”