Featured photo: Neil Cleverly couldn’t be happier with the way the Olympic golf tournaments turned out. Photos: Courtesy of David Doguet
“Relief and a sense of gratification.”
Those were the six words that Neil Cleverly used to describe how he felt now that the men’s and women’s Olympic golf tournaments are over. It has been a long and grinding haul for Cleverly, golf course superintendent of the Olympic course.
Cleverly, who was named superintendent of the course more than three years ago, has practically lived on the property where the first-ever course for the Olympics was built, an undeveloped parcel of sandy land at Reserva de Marapendi in Barra da Tijuca, a suburb west of Rio.
Cleverly and others associated with the project endured challenge after challenge in getting the course built. There were issues in getting the proper equipment and putting together a capable crew. Cleverly was also limited in what inputs he could use. He and his crew members had to hand pick millions of weeds because they were not allowed to eradicate them with herbicide.
Others close to the project say most superintendents would have quit the gig, not wanting to deal with the red tape and aggravation. But Cleverly, wanting to be part of Olympic history, endured.
“We as a team proved to all that, even in a country that at least at street level does not understand or have any interaction with the game of golf, we succeeded in our goal to provide a worthy golf course for the world’s top players to show what they do best,” Cleverly said in an email Sunday. “The positive comments from all entities, including both men and women golfers, were a testament to all the hard work that went into preparing the course both before and during the games. I had high expectations of what we needed to achieve given the circumstances presented during construction, grow-in and management of the golf course.”
David Doguet, who bred the Zeon zoysiagrass on the course, and Cleverly talked often about the Olympic course’s condition and playability in the weeks leading up to the men’s and women’s golf tournaments.
While they were satisfied, they both knew that what they thought about the course didn’t matter if the players didn’t like it.
“We were pretty confident, but we were still a little worried,” said Doguet, president of Bladerunner Farms in Poteet, Texas, who spent two weeks in Rio de Janeiro at the Olympics.
“It turned out that the players loved the course and the grass they played on,” Doguet said. “There were so many compliments. It was amazing. The big one that I remember the most was [American golfer] Bubba Watson saying that this was the best-conditioned course [the players] had played on all year. The women players were worried that the course would be beat up after the men’s competition, but they said they found a course that didn’t look like it had been played on at all.”
Doguet and Cleverly attended the medal presentations together.
“He was beaming from ear to ear,” Doguet said of Cleverly. “I have never seen him smile so much. There had to be great satisfaction in the fact that he had just pulled off one of the toughest assignments ever given to a golf course superintendent, presenting a world-class golf course … for the Olympic Games!”
Cleverly said building the Olympic course was a massive undertaking and a huge achievement. “It’s hard to envision or predict if anything can top this experience,” he added.
When the ladies’ tournament ended, Cleverly said he told his crew that they were part of golf history.
“I told them that they are the only golf course maintenance crew in modern history to have successfully prepared a golf course for two events for the Olympic Games,” he added.
Cleverly plans to get the Olympic course ready for the Brazilian Open in four weeks. From there, he’s not sure of his fate.
“I will get some rest before moving on to my next project, wherever that may be,” he said.
Something tells us he will be in high demand.