The Rio 2016 Organizing Committee and the International Golf Federation joined forces during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games to bring environmental education and awareness to the forefront of the Golf event through walking tours across the Olympic Golf Course for spectators and media. The AISTS organized one such 45-minute tour for members of the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and cities. Engaging the NOCs and past and/or future host cities in a sustainability drive was one of the main aims of the tour, with the hope of inspiring them for future initiatives. The tour was structured to focus on the sustainable actions and environmental aspects of the golf course, which is one of the most unique courses in the world.
The sheer expanse of a regular golf course could lead people into believing that the flora and fauna of a significant area of land is always affected in the process of creating and maintaining the course. Contrary to this popular belief, the native flora and fauna of the area was retained or transplanted inside the course and even some new native vegetation was introduced, as illustrated during the tour. Participants could witness birds and small animals trotting around the course freely. There was a fence around the course to prevent bigger animals from entering it; a fence that would be removed after the Olympics.
Brazil is known for having great diversity in its plant and animal species and the tour participants received first-hand experience of this. There was no shortage of sloths and capybaras (the world’s largest rodent) in plain sight. The area contained a host of natural sandbanks with small bush like vegetation inhabited by owl families – a common feature of deteriorated rain forests. As the participants continued on the “awareness on foot” tour, they were introduced to various varieties of plants, the most fascinating of which was the camboata tree. Nicknamed the “thin stick”, tea made from the leaves of this plant does exactly that – make one slim.
The course included a couple of natural lagoons, one of which was inhabited by an alligator like animal known as caiman. The caimans, which can measure up to 4 meters, are considered endangered and despite having a sinister look about them, are “protected by law”. The original native vegetation comprising of crawling vegetation, turfs, bushes and small trees left ample space for free movement of the wind, another distinguishing feature of the course. In fact, the course, in many ways, resembled much of a traditional golf course in Scotland – the birthplace of golf.
We wanted to make sure that the debut for Olympic Golf was remembered for all the right reasons and the tour was important to show people how well we had done to preserve the flora and fauna, and create an environment of harmonious coexistence. It’s not every day that you tee-off under the watchful eye of a capybara!
Antony Scanlon, Executive Director, International Golf Federation
The one-of-its-kind sustainability initiative not only brought to light the diverse flora and fauna of the region but also addressed other Rio 2016 sustainability projects like the solar energy recharge station and the waste management programme. The course, in itself, was regarded as being unique and will potentially make the bucket list for golf professionals and followers around the globe. The tour helped to associate golf with environmental protection and generated positive media to counter some of the open questions of concern surrounding the Olympics. It also provided a unique experience for the media and spectators, and although being very different from other sustainability initiatives, it addressed the fundamental point of all sustainability drives – “awareness leads to action, and action leads to change.”