Featured photo: The Olympic Golf Course crew pulls weeds by hand during construction. Photo: Marcelo Matte
I’m sure that Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy — the four top-ranked golfers in the world — have no idea what it took to get the Olympic Golf Course built. If they did, I’d like to think they wouldn’t have bailed on competing in the 2016 Summer Olympics this month in Rio de Janeiro.
If they are aware of the obstacles that the people who built the course had to endure and still neglected to play, then shame on them — Day, Johnson, Spieth and McIlroy have little respect for the game that has been so good to them.
Day, Johnson and McIlroy cited the Zika virus threat as their reason for not going to Rio, and Spieth declined to play because of “health reasons,” whatever that means (also Zika and other things, I guess). They have been criticized for using the threat of Zika as a convenient excuse. Golfing great Gary Player told a major news organization: “This excuse about Zika is feeble. You have Zika in America in some states right now. … I think it’s pathetic and I’m sad to see it.”
Back to the Olympic Golf Course, which was built first and foremost for Day, Johnson, Spieth, McIlroy and other golfers to compete for a gold medal. The building of the course did not go smoothly. Golf Course Architect Gil Hanse, Golf Course Superintendent Neil Cleverly and others working on the project endured challenge after challenge. There were legal barriers and land disputes. There was second guessing of how the course should be built by ill-informed people who had no right to do so.
“There were instances during the construction process that were immensely frustrating for all of us,” Hanse says.
Hanse, Cleverly and others were also labeled as ecoterrorists by locals for building a course on the site of a so-called nature reserve, although the site now contains more native plants and animals than before the course was built.
“We went through a whole barrage of abuse — being sworn at, and things being thrown at us as we entered and left the property,” Cleverly says.
And get this: Cleverly and his inexperienced crew had to get on their hands and knees and literally hand pick millions of weeds before the course was grown in because they weren’t allowed to use any herbicides to kill the weeds.
We’re talking blood, sweat and tears here — genuine blood, sweat and tears — to get this course built. Cleverly has practically lived on the site for three years.
It’s a wonder that Cleverly, Hanse and others didn’t walk off the job considering the inanity they had to deal with. But they stuck it out — wanting to be part of something special and historic like golf returning to the Olympics for the first time in 112 years.
If Day, Johnson, Spieth and McIlroy knew the herculean effort that Hanse, Cleverly and others put forth to get the course built, I would hope they might have thought twice about playing — even if they are truly concerned about the Zika virus.
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