The course is being carved out of an environmentally protected area, and demands for new changes to protect a nature preserve must be addressed by September 17 to avoid still more hurdles and make it possible to return golf to the Games after a 112-year absence.
The process of building the Olympic golf course in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has hit numerous hurdles since its American designer, Gil Hanse, broke ground in March 2013, six months after construction was due to begin. Now, in a move to protect a nature reserve, a Brazilian court has proposed changes that throw into question the future of the course being built for the 2016 Games.
The Associated Press reports that the course’s developer and the city of Rio de Janeiro, both defendants in a lawsuit brought by a public prosecutor, have until September 17 to say if they will make changes to the layout proposed by the court and Rio Judge Eduardo Klausner.
If they don’t respond in a way that satisfies the course or settles the issue, it’s unclear where golf will be played in the 2016 Olympics, when it returns after a 112-year absence.
The course is being carved out of an environmentally protected area—some of the city’s last green space and most valuable real estate—and was approved by Rio’s city government in a legal move that’s being questioned.
Under the judge’s proposal, the golf course layout would need to move away from a lagoon on its south side and toward a multi-lane highway on the north. By shifting the course northward to make room for a 400-meter-wide green corridor, some of the course would have to be built on land zoned for the construction of high-end apartments selling for between $2.5 and $7 million.
A key developer in that project is Pasquale Mauro, one of the largest landowners in the Barra da Tijuca area of suburban Rio, where many of the Olympic venues will be located.
“It is in society’s interests that the Olympics take place,” the judge said. “And it’s also in society’s interests that the environment be preserved. What has to be observed is legality, and within legality is respect for the environment.”
The Olympic golf project has been in dispute since plans to build the course began almost five years ago, the AP noted.
Public prosecutor Marcus Leal, arguing before Judge Klausner, said questions of ownership and environmental problems surrounding the course were well-known. “This is not a surprise,” Leal said.
The court’s proposal, which allows construction to continue but no new ground to be broken, seems to have caught many flat-footed, the AP reported.
Some in the country have questioned the need to build a new course for the Olympics, noting that at least one other venue in the Rio area, the Itanhanga Golf Club, might have been suitable. Itanhanga has hosted the European Tour and a U.S. LPGA Tour event.
Others have suggested financial and real estate interests were behind the push to build the Olympic course.
Ty Votaw, Vice President of golf’s world governing body, the Internaional Golf Federation, tried to find a bright light.
“Construction continuing is something we see as a positive,” Votaw told the AP. He said sod and grass had been laid over the last few months and that the course was being irrigated.
The city of Rio said it was “analyzing the proposal.” A request by the AP for comment from Hanse was not answered and Rio’s local organizing committee also declined to comment.