Featured photo: Despite protesters’ claims that it was an environmental foe, a study proved that the Olympic course has increased native plant and animal life exponentially. Photo: David Doguet

The environmental protesters were back. At the beginning of the men’s Olympic golf tournament, a small group of protesters gathered outside the newly constructed Olympic course, which was built on a nature reserve, to voice their displeasure and contend that the course was having a negative impact on the environment.

Yes, the protesters were back — even after the course is being hailed for increasing the biodiversity on the site. Last February, the State of Rio de Janeiro’s Department of Justice issued a report — initiated by by a civil lawsuit filed by state prosecutors who questioned the environmental impacts of the project — that the course has contributed to the growth of local vegetation and animal life in the area.

For Gil Hanse, the course’s golf course architect, Neil Cleverly, the course’s superintendent, and others who helped build the course, the report provided sheer vindication, considering what they went through while building the course the last three years.

“To read the report … the emotion that runs through your body … it was a culmination of everybody’s work,” Cleverly says.

For months during construction of the course, Hanse, Cleverly and others were labeled as eco-terrorists and accused of destroying the land.

“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. “They were absolutely abusive and demonstrated their disgust with us.”

Hanse says he never let the environmental protesters get to him.

“Those things were the things happening outside the gates, and we didn’t let it impact us,” he adds. “All we could worry about was what was happening inside the gates and what we could control.”

Cleverly and Hanse were not surprised with the report, saying they and others worked closely with local environmental authorities during construction and grow-in and did everything possible to preserve the land, including replanting trees and shrubs native to the area.

According to the report, native vegetation has increased by 167 percent and the number of animal species has doubled. During the Olympic golf tournaments, much was made of the wildlife seen on the course, including the capybaras, the world’s largest rodent.

Recently, the Olympic course won Golf Digest’s Green Star Award for outstanding environmental practices.

The Olympic course features Zeon zoysiagrass on its tees, fairways and roughs, a variety that features a tight canopy and requires low inputs of water and chemicals. Cleverly says the zoysiagrass only needs to be fertilized twice a year. Cleverly says the construction of the golf course was always about how it fit into the environment, not the other way around.

With the Olympic golf tournaments now over, the Olympic course becomes Brazil’s first public golf course.