Featured photo: David Doguet, standing on the tee box of the 16th hole, is the man behind the Olympic Course’s Zeon zoysiagrass. Photo: Courtesy of David Doguet
For David Doguet, the president of Bladerunner Farms in Poteet, Texas, it’s almost like having a child competing in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Except in Doguet’s case, it’s a variety of turfgrass that is participating.
But make no mistake: The thrill of having his turfgrass — Zeon zoysiagrass — in the Olympics is beyond exciting and the career highlight for the veteran turfgrass breeder. Doguet just hopes Zeon, which covers the new Olympic Course’s fairways, tees and roughs, performs as advertised and provides the excellent playability required for the Olympic golf tournament, which kicks off this morning in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
The men’s tournament, featuring 60 players, runs through Sunday in a 72-hole stroke-play format. Sixty women will complete in the same format from Aug. 17-20.
“I am very happy with the condition of the course,” Doguet, who traveled last week to Rio and will be there until the Olympics conclude, wrote in an email earlier this week. “It is mowed very tight for a lot of ball roll. … It is out of my hands now, but I’m feeling really, really good about it.”
The Zeon should look green on television, but not lush, Doguet pointed out.
“Remember, this is a links-style course,” he said of the track, designed by Gil Hanse. “There will be a little browning on the humps.”
About four years ago, Bladerunner Farms shipped two handfuls of Zeon grass sprigs to Marcelo Matte, owner of Green Grass Brasil, who grew the sprigs into an acre of sod. That sod was then grown into 60 acres of Zeon, which was used to sprig and sod the Olympic Course in 2014. Zeon comprises about 90 percent of the 7,290-yard design.
Zeon is making a name for itself because it requires few inputs, mainly water and fertilizer. Zeon has a dark green color and soft leaf texture. The extensive root system allows it to recover quickly from drought, making it a popular warm-season grass.
Neil Cleverly, the Olympic Course’s superintendent, said Brazil is a perfect site to grow Zeon on a golf course.
“David did a great job with the breeding program,” Cleverly added. “It’s such a tight and close-knit quality grass that once the canopy was grown in, we reduced the amount of weed encroachment by up to 90 percent.”
Doguet and Cleverly have grown close the past few years and Doguet visited the course often in the last three years when it was built and grown in. Doguet marvels at the job that Cleverly had done on the course to get it ready for the Olympics.
“I am sure [Neil] is stressed and maybe tired, but he seems to me to be at a point where he feels that he is relieved that the tournament is finally here,” Doguet said. “He is handling the whole situation in a very professional manner. He seems content.”
Doguet says the course recently received more equipment from Jacobsen, and the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company also sent a support crew to help maintain the machinery. Bernhard and Co., based in Warwickshire, England, also sent extra equipment.
Cleverly has about 40 volunteers on his staff, which also includes nearly 30 course workers. Most of the volunteers are from South America and a few are from Europe, Doguet says. The International Golf Federation is in charge of setting up the course.
“Everyone that I have talked to is super excited that the tournament is finally here,” Doguet said. “[They] are pumped to get this thing started.”
Doguet believes the tournament will be like no other, simply because it is the Olympics and will feature the first gold medal golfers in modern times.