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Saturday Brings Three New Olympic Golf Medalists into History

Posted in the players, Insight 21 August 2016 · 2,300 views

JON KIGER AUG 21 | If one of the goals for course set up between the Men's and Women's Olympic competitions was parity the organizers succeeded. South Korea's Inbee Park claimed the Gold Medal to end the tournament at 16-under the same score that Great Britain's Justin Rose shot to win Gold on the Men's side. The seven time major champion became the first woman in 116 years to earn Olympic gold.


New Zealand's Lydia Ko finished at 11-under to earn the Silver Medal and China's Shanshan Feng finished at 10-under for the Bronze.


(L-R) New Zealands Lydia Ko - Silver, South Koreas Inbee Park - Gold, and Chinas Shanshan Feng - Bronze


While golf's usual refrain for those who don't win is "wait until next year" Olympic participants and those who stayed home will have a four year wait to have a chance at Olympic glory. And with such a long wait until the next competition it is only fitting that the top three competitors are honored compared to the "winner take all" attention paid to traditional tournament winners.



The 120 golfers who participated can forever add "Olympian" to their resume and the 41 countries represented have reason to take great pride in being a part of golf's return to the Olympic stage after 112 years.


If there is another Gold Medal to award it's to Olympic Golf Course superintendent Neil Cleverly, his local crew and the volunteers from around the world. To pull tournament conditions off (TWICE!) under these circumstances was nothing short of remarkable.


Working double shifts for three weeks and enduring travel, lodging, security and other logistical challenges was beginning to take its toll on the volunteer crew by Saturday morning. Several volunteers reported general fatigue. Being a part of history in a special setting and the camaraderie of the rest of the crew carried them through the final hours of preparation.


Neil Cleverly (front in blue jacket) with local crew and volunteers for the Olympic Golf competitions. 


One of golf's enduring qualities is its ability to bring people together whether you're joining a threesome at your local muni or meeting colleagues from around the world to do something never before accomplished in the modern era. In Rio in 2016 it definitely accomplished that in abundance.


Welcome Back, Golf. See you in Tokyo in 2020.

Q&A with Vicky Whyte, Founder, Public Golf Association of Japeri and Olympic Golf Volunteer

Posted in volunteers 19 August 2016 · 1,682 views

JON KIGER AUG 19 |  During the Women's competition I caught up with Vicky Whyte, an Olympic volunteer and golf activist in Brazil.


JK: Please tell us about your background.

VW: I am Brazilian, and have lived in Brazil most of my life. I went to high school in England and university in the USA.


JK: When did you decide to try to volunteer for the Olympics?

VW: The whole process started back in 2014. It was a very long process.


JK: Are you a golfer yourself and if so, where do you play?

VW: Yes, I play golf out of Gavea Golf Club here in Rio de Janeiro.


JK: What will having golf in the Olympics in Brazil do for the sport here?

VW: I think the sport is going to benefit a lot because so far in Brazil golf has only been a sport for the elite because we don't have any public courses. And now with this -- a public course --  I think it's going to do us all a lot of good.


JK: What is your main volunteer role at the Olympic golf competitions?

VW: My role here is purely as a volunteer. I'm in charge of the standard bearers and getting them to the tee on time. But in golf itself I have been president of the Rio de Janeiro Golf Federation and vice president of the Brazilian Golf Federation.


JK: As a resident of Rio, what does it mean to you to have the Olympics here?

VW: It's absolutely fantastic. I know the whole world was very frightened and we had a lot of bad press leading up this but this was very important for us to show that we can do a major event -- any major event.  But this one is especially important as it is sporting but its overflowing into other areas. People are making friends and having a happy time and I think in general it is a huge success. So it's very important for Rio to have shown this to the world.


...the whole world was very frightened and we had a lot of bad press leading up this but this was very important for us to show that we can do a major event -- any major event.


JK: Do you have any comparisons between the Men's and Women's competitions?

VW: So far I feel the Women's field is a little stronger comparatively but that doesn't take anything away from the men. The Men's week was absolutely fantastic. It was better than any of us had dreamed of. Hopefully the same will happen this week.


Vicky Whyte's (l) volunteer duties included marshaling standard bearers.


JK: You mentioned you are a member of Gavea Golf Club. How many members would you estimate are volunteers here at the Olympics?

VW: About twenty.


JK: Any final thoughts about having golf in the Olympics?

VW: I worked very hard for it because I was on the International Golf Federation for eight years. I was one of the people really in favor of it, because when any sport that's an Olympic sport gets government funding that's terribly important for the poorer countries. In most of Europe and the USA golf is a healthy sport financially but it's not in South America. It is very important for us and we hope it stays in the Olympics.


Learn more about Vicky Whyte's activities with the Pubic Golf Association of Japeri here.

Wednesday: Bring on the Women!

Posted in KIger on the ground 17 August 2016 · 1,254 views

JON KIGER AUG 17 | With all the excitement of the Men's medal round finishing on Monday, it could be easy to forget that there is a whole tournament of women's golf starting today. Unfortunately here, as is often the case in the States, the women's golf has a way to go to match the popularity of the mens competition.


Women's golf has actually been absent from the Olympics longer than the men (only played at the 1900 Paris Games.) Still there was a 7:30 AM first tee shot to witness and I was sure to be there  to capture it.


Volunteers with the first scoring standard in Womens Olympic history in 100 years. Will the stands fill up on 18 green?


The first thing that struck me was that the grandstands behind the first tee were empty. There was only a handful of spectators and media on hand as the first group of women approached the tee, so getting "up close and personal" with the golfers was no problem.


As was the case on Thursday with the men's competition, a Brazilian golfer -- Miriam Nagl -- was given the honor of hitting the first tee shot. She was joined by Leona Maguire from Ireland and Kelly Tan from Malaysia. One quick announcement, three tee shots and women's golf was underway.


Miriam Nagl (Brazil) Leona Maguire (Ireland) and Kelly Tan (Malaysia) are announced on the first tee. 


Geography is shrinking in today's world and Miriam Nagl (@NaglMiriam) is a prime example. She was born in Curitiba, Brazil, in 1981 but her family moved to Germany when she was eight years old. She attended David Ledbetter's Academy in Florida and then went on to play at Arizona State. Now a dual Brazilian/German citizen, she played on the German national team until 2015, and currently plays on the Ladies European Tour.  She was expecting her first child when approached by the Brazilian Golf Federation about playing for Brazil in Rio.


Brazil's Women's Golf team: Victoria Lovelady and Miriam Nagl.


Brazil's Miriam Nagl showing fine form for the opening tee shot.


From the groups I watched it seemed like all the women were familiar with each other and greeted each other in a friendly way. Unlike their male counterparts, they have the chance to beat the Brazilian heat by wearing shorts or skirts.


The women players seemed more congenial with their competitors than the men. 


If the men's rounds represented a relaxed, laid back approach to spectator golf, the women's competition is even more so.


Monitors around the course (here on the rear of some grandstands) advise on Golf's Do's and Don'ts.


I look forward to seeing how this competition plays out and hope that it serves as inspiration for women golfers young and old in Brazil to take up the game.

Men's Medal day at Olympic Golf

Posted in KIger on the ground 15 August 2016 · 1,464 views

JON KIGER AUG 15 | It's difficult to imagine that an Englishman could have a home course advantage on a golf course in Brazil, but that's what happened yesterday when Justin Rose won the first Olympic Gold medal in 112 years. Superintendent Neil Cleverly is from Great Britain and must have taken great satisfaction that his course helped his home country in their medal count (Great Britain is currently third in total medals.)


The day could not have been more perfect. Sunny skies, a nice breeze and the largest crowds of the week. Clearly Brazil is interested in golf. The demonstration areas (real clubs and balls this time) had a constant stream of participants from all the demographic groups we're trying to grow the game with here in the States.


The golf demonstration area outside the Olympic Course had a steady stream of new golfers.


Fans spread out on the golf course and filled the 18th grandstand well before the last group came down the fairway. There was talk that match play should have been the format for Olympic golf, but stroke play proved to be exciting as Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose were tied at -15 until the final hole. American Matt Kuchar (the locals even had the KUUUUU chant down pat) was a lock for the bronze medal.


Fans relaxing in the shade (grandstands are only on a few holes near the clubhouse).


Rose birdied 18 to win the gold medal. The greenkeeping staff, however, wasn't on hand for the presentation. Handwatering was the order of the afternoon.


Henrik Stenson (Silver), Justin Rose (Gold), and Matt Kuchar (Bronze) display their medals for the fans at 18 green.


The medal winners' national flags are raised over an Olympic golf course for the first time in 112 years.


No sitting around watching the medal ceremony when there is hand watering to be done. UK volunteer Gary Walters waters after the medal round of Olympic golf.


The crew gathers to confirm watering assignments after Sundays Medal round.


After all the women start practicing in earnest today and start their competition on Wednesday. I was invited out on the course for the evening shift.


It was great to be in Rio for this historic day in Olympic Golf.


Audiocast: Rick Holanda on working in Brazil

Posted in Insight 15 August 2016 · 883 views

In this Syngenta Welcomes Back Golf audiocast, Jon Kiger chats with native Brazilian Rick Holanda about his recent stint as superintendent at SantaPaziena Golf Club in Sao Paulo, Brazil.


Holanda emigrated from Brazil to the Philadelphia area in 1989 as an aspiring fashion photographer, and took a job on the crew at Merion Golf Club under Dick Bator. Rick was hooked on golf turf management, and went on to superintendent positions at Aronimink Golf Club, Chestnut Ridge CC in Maryland, Rancho La Quinta Country Club in California, and then Shadow Creek in Las Vegas. After Shadow Creek he went to Oakmont Country Club in Glendale, CA to be closer to his two daughters. The job at SantaPazienza beckoned, so he returned to Brazil for three years before coming back to the States recently to take over at Scottsdale National Golf Club.


Focus on Olympic volunteer Tom Harper

Posted in volunteers 14 August 2016 · 1,016 views

During the men's portion of Olympic golf in Rio, TurfNet caught up with Tom Harper, a retiree from England who was volunteering as a marshal on the 17th green.

Tom HarperHarper, who has lived in Brazil for the past 2-plus years, volunteered his services as soon as the call went out. 
Like so many, he is hoping the return of golf to the Olympics will generate interest in the game in a country of 200 million people, many of whom follow soccer, sand volleyball and basketball much more than golf, said Harper, who is married to a Brazilian woman.
"Let's hope lots of Brazilians get involved in playing the game, because it's a game that isn't played much by Brazilians," Harper said.
"It's up to the Brazilian golf federation now to ensure that happens."
He also is looking forward to playing the course when the Olympics are over . . . as long as it is made public and affordable for all Brazilians.
"This is the big thing for us amateur golfers; we want to play the Olympic course after the guys and girls," he said. "Hopefully within a month we'll be playing this course and we're really looking forward to it. It will be a challenge, but it's always nice to play a hole which the professionals have played."
Harper says he has noticed many Brazilian families in the gallery. Their knowledge level of the game, he says, makes them easy to spot. Unlike those who are accustomed to viewing championship golf, many locals don't know to be still around greens when players are putting.
"They are not familiar with etiquette," Harper said. "(They) walk by greens not seeing if there is anyone on the green putting."


Catching up with Olympic GC superintendent Neil Cleverly

Posted in KIger on the ground 14 August 2016 · 1,607 views

JON KIGER AUG 14 |  Despite having the eyes of the world on the Olympic Golf Course in Rio, superintendent Neil Cleverly spent some time with me on Saturday of the Men's competition to share his thoughts on preparing for and hosting this historic event.


JK: You've had the course pretty much to yourself for the last three years, what's it like finally having the golfers and the spectators here for the Olympics?


NC: "It's good to see that the golf course is being played as a golf course instead of just being maintained as a golf course. When the first flag went in and the first tee markers were put out during the test event in March you could see the value of the golf course. You could see the design in its true form. Now the Olympics are here you see the Olympic flags and the Olympic tee markers out and it brings to reality what we've been doing for the last three years. So it's great to see spectators walking the golf course, and the pros doing what they do best and that's play golf on a great golf course."


JK: Tell us a little about your anticipation and expectations of this particular piece of land and what it meant to build the golf course here.


NC: "The expectations from everybody when they realized that golf was back in the Olympic games were that this parcel of land lends itself to having a great-designed golf course. And this is a great design. Gil Hanse and his crew put a golf course together and took it from paper to reality -- and we all had a hand in it from Day One from construction, to grassing, to grow in, to where we are now. Did we expect the golf course to be as good now as it is? I did. There were some others that had some difference of opinions but we all saw the value of having this golf course here and we're seeing it right now."


Did we expect the golf course to be as good now as it is? I did."


JK: Were you at the first tee for the first group (on Thursday) or was there work to be done elsewhere?


NC: "Unfortunately I was working on the golf course when the first tee shot was struck. I think the organizers got it right. The Brazilian golfer Adilson da Silva -- great guy, I've met him a few times -- had the honor of opening the first round and that was great move by the organizers."


Adilson da Silva takes the first tee shot of the 2016 Olympic Games. (Alex Miceli photo)


JK: I heard from some other members of the crew that when that inaugural tee shot was struck and the word came over the radios at 7:30 that folks did pause to realize what an historic time this was for golf. Explain a little more about how you and the crew felt at that particular time.


NC: "It was a great sigh of relief when the first golf ball was hit from the first tee. Almost relief more than anything else that we got where we needed to get to for the first round and the golf course looked great!  (Leading up to the Olympics) the weather wasn't really paying attention to what we wanted but we got through it. It's been quite a bizarre winter in Rio considering what the locals are telling me, but we got through it and now we're on Day Three (Saturday.)"


JK: You worked with mainly local workers until the volunteers arrived.  Tell us a little about the impact the volunteers are having now that they are here.


NC: "My crew comes from zero turf background. There's no turf school in this country. Everything they knew I taught them to do with the help of other people that I've been in the business with for a number of years. The crew jelled and became a team prior to the tournament, so we've been maintaining this golf course as best we can with what we had.


The crew jelled and became a team prior to the tournament..."


Obviously the volunteers are required to maintain the golf course in tournament condition in a very short space of time. The number of crew that I have are not the numbers that are required for this tournament -- or any tournament. So we definitely had to have volunteers from the industry itself -- many from Latin America, some Europeans, and some Americans. It was vitally important that we had people that understand golf and understand what we are trying to achieve and what we need to do. And that's what we have right now."
Volunteers - many from Latin America, Europe and America - at the ready.


JK: We are three days into the Men's competition. Do you anticipate any changes in your operation as you look ahead to next week and the Women's competition?


NC: "Not really. We have the program where we need it to be. The only thing we can't control is the weather, so we adapt the program to whatever weather we get. The golf course should play the same in terms of parity between men and women.


The organizers will place the tee markers where the ladies will hit their tee shots and second shots in parity with the men, hopefully. Pin positions will more or less be the same where the men are playing them now -- just again to get parity between both ladies' and men's tours."


JK: What have you enjoyed the most about your time in Brazil?


NC: "Training the crew in terms of work because it's been seven days a week work. I've enjoyed seeing them learn how to use a machine or understand why we do certain jobs at certain times. Even weed picking -- they never got it, they never understood it -- but it was unfortunately one of those necessary evils that you get on a golf course when you're not allowed to use any herbicides. Having a crew now after three years doing what they're doing so well. They're my heroes. That's what I've enjoyed."


Full crew meeting before the Saturday afternoon shift at the Olympic Golf Course maintenance facility.


JK: What is the most meaningful thing you'll take away from the experience?


NC: "The willingness of a lot of people who didn't understand golf -- I'm talking about the crew again --being willing to work long hours in the rain, in the sun, in the heat doing what they knew nothing about. And then seeing them enjoy what they do. That's one of the lessons I've learned from this particular task, having been around the world in other countries doing the same thing training other people on different golf courses. Achieving what we've achieved in respect to how difficult it has been is a takeaway point also." 


Afternoon downtime for the crew. "Zero turf background" among the local staff. "They're my heroes..." - Neil Cleverly

The technical support staff, including several specialists from Jacobsen.

Behind the scenes: the Rio Mower Parade

Posted in KIger on the ground 13 August 2016 · 2,285 views

Jon Kiger Aug 13 |  One thing differentiating golf at the Rio Olympics from other major golf events that I have attended is the much more relaxed on-course security and crowd control from course marshals. Naturally I was interested in taking a peek at activity around the maintenance facility and was invited back by the support staff.


One thing differentiating TurfNet is that we don't do the usual, like the almost-cliche' photos of fairway mower formations on the course. So... I was lucky to be at the maintenance facility Thursday afternoon when the fleet of fiveplex and triplex mowers was going out for the second cut, led by superintendent Neil Cleverly... the Rio Mower Parade!



Rio 2016: What's for sale?

Posted in KIger on the ground 13 August 2016 · 1,118 views

JON KIGER AUG 13 |   I have a theory when I'm at a special event. If I see a shirt, gewgaw or other item for sale that I like, I buy it then and there rather than wait until later, even if it means carrying it around all day. Too often in the past I have returned to the merchandise tent only to find that the item had sold out.


That seems to be a good practice here at the Olympics. There are two main Olympic merchandise stores one at the main Olympic Park and another on Copacabana Beach. Additionally, every venue has a smaller store that has the basics and anything that might be specific to that sport or venue.


The Megastore in the Olympic Park


There was a very popular Brazil flag pin that sold out in the first five hours of Day One. No re-orders or re-stocking. On the third day, the Copacabana store sold out of all their hats.


The selection is smaller than usual and what one would expect, in every category. Brazilian and South American culture is much less about accumulating things and more about living a sustainable lifestyle. Part of that echoes the European tradition where homes are generally smaller and don't have a lot of storage; another factor is Brazil's well-documented economic downturn.


It was difficult to find golf-related items until I got to the actual golf course. I was pleased to find Olympic golf flags on sale and even Olympic golf ties. For the first few hours during Thursday's golf session, the VISA payment system wasn't working so they only accepted cash.


As for food, there is a basic selection and the menu is the same at each venue. By American standards it would be slim pickin's. One brand of beer (Skol), Coca-Cola products (the Atlanta-based company is the oldest Olympic sponsor) and about four types of sandwiches. You have a choice of chicken, a hot dog, a double cheeseburger, or a cold sandwich.


With such a limited menu one would expect service to be fairly quick, but it is a two part system where you order your item at one counter (paying cash or with VISA another Olympic sponsor) and are given vouchers for what you bought, You then move to another counter about four feet away with your vouchers to pick up your items. The line to order and pay takes longer than you would expect despite photo menus that international visitors can point to. The good news is you can come back at any time with your vouchers and bypass the payment line. Hot food is hot and the drinks are cold.


Lines to pay for food can be particularly long at larger venues. 


Americans are also used to venues having everything on the menu available at all times. That's not necessarily the case here. On Tuesday we were at the Rugby 7s session (about four hours of rugby) and they ran out of beer at the entire venue a third of the way through the session. No word on when they would get more... just a shrug that there was no more beer.


they ran out of beer at the entire venue a third of the way through the session. No word on when they would get more... just a shrug that there was no more beer.


Could you imagine if a sporting event in the States ran out of beer? One would think that someone in F&B here would have anticipated the mostly male audience and the tendency of us to drink lots of beer.  Or, at the very least, supplies would have been monitored and restocked early on.


Surprisingly, tickets to many events are readily available. The ticket office at any Olympic venue is set up to sell tickets for there and any other available event in Rio. This means if you find yourself already in the Olympic Park with a couple of hours between events you can usually buy a ticket on the spot to see something in the area. That is in contrast to the 2012 London Games when no official tickets were for sale during the events and very few were available on the secondary market.


Two tickets for the historic first round of Olympics golf in the modern era. 


One Olympic sport is collecting the beer cups that include many of the Olympic sports. When the beer stands are busy you get the random cup for rowing, equestrian, swimming, etc. When it's not as busy you can usually request your preferred sport. I have even traded with a few fellow fans for a coveted golf cup.


Collectible, event-themed beer cups.


On the entrepreneurial side, there are many independent vendors on the public trains that aren't dedicated to Olympic transportation. You can buy cookies, chips and a variety of household items from people who move between the coaches.


Jose' Francisco: Local perspective on Olympic (and public) golf in Rio

Posted in KIger on the ground 13 August 2016 · 1,052 views

JON KIGER  |  The effect of the reintroducing golf to the Olympics will linger long into the future in Rio de Janeiro, as the Olympic Golf Course will be the first (and to this point, only) golf course in Brazil that will be available to the public. 


As I waited for the gates to open early Thursday morning for the first day of golf competition, I chatted with a local Rio resident, Jose' Francisco.  Mr. Francisco, an 18-year golfer himself, was also eager to witness the first group teeing off.  Needless to say, he is excited about golf returning to the Olympics but also on a high quality, public level in Rio.



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