Brazilian golfers think Olympics will grow sport in their country

ablondin@thesunnews.comAugust 30, 2012 

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— Golfing options for the general populace in Brazil are very limited.

So too, apparently, is interest in the game.

“It’s not usual to play golf,” said Luis Dias, one of six Brazilians playing in the 29th annual World Amateur Handicap Championship. “I ask all my friends, ‘Let’s go play golf.’ They say, ‘No.’ They think it’s a game for older people. They don’t know how good it is.”

The availability and interest level in the game are likely to change over the next four years and beyond.

Golf is returning to the Summer Olympic Games in 2016 for the first time in more than 100 years, and Rio de Janeiro is the host city.

“I’m sure the Olympics will help golf a lot,” said Joao Tomazeli, organizer of the six-player contingent from the Sao Paulo area.

Brazil is home to approximately 100 courses and 14,000 golfers, according to the R&A of Scotland, which governs the rules of golf in most countries, including Brazil.

The potential is for a lot more, considering Brazil has the world’s fifth-largest population at 190 million and is one of the few countries with rapid economic development buoyed by a strong agricultural export business.

The Brazilian Olympic committee will spur growth and interest because it is providing money to organizations of all Olympic sports, so the Brazilian Golf Confederation will be able to implement growth programs. It had already recently received a sizable donation from the R&A for junior golf development.

“They’ll get a decent amount of money from the government to try to qualify people for the Olympics,” Tomazeli said. “What that will do is create an atmosphere for our young kids to come and play more.”

As the host country, Brazil will have at least one golfer competing in the Olympics.

The most famous and most successful Brazilian player to date is PGA Tour member Alexandre Rocha. The Mississippi State graduate lost in a playoff at the Reno-Tahoe Open in early August.

There are up to 10 Brazilian players on golf teams in either U.S. or European universities, Tomazeli said.

Excitement surrounding sports in the country is heightened by its hosting of the World Cup soccer tournament in 2014.

“There is a lot of excitement, because we have the Olympics and two years prior we will have the World Cup, which is bigger than the Olympics because the Olympics are only in Rio de Janeiro, the World Cup is all over Brazil,” Tomazeli said. “People from all over the world will come there.” Tomazeli has no doubt the country will be a fitting and welcoming host for the world’s two largest sporting events. “One thing I know for sure, Brazil will put on a great show for the Olympics,” he said.

Large parties and general reveling are also promised in the seaside city. “For sure,” Dias said. “It’s a very nice city and beautiful people. In the summer you don’t see too many clothes.”

The Brazilian group is enjoying the golf and libations at the World Am this week.

Tomazeli, a member of the private Campinas Golf Club, came to the tournament for the first time last year with his wife and fellow first-time participant Luiz Albiero.

He was told of the tournament by Dias, who regularly travels from Brazil to play in tournaments – six times already this year. “[Dias] mentioned to me a few years ago that there’s this tournament but nobody would ever come,” Tomazeli said. “So I Googled it and decided to come.”

He returned from the tournament last year with the intention of bringing more friends in 2012. “You have a chance to play four nice courses,” Tomazeli said. “And even though you’d like to win and go to the finals, it’s more of a spirit of friendship, everyone’s enjoying meeting other people.”

Next year, Tomazeli expects to organize a group of between 20 to 30 players. “Next year we will bring more people,” Tomazeli said. “We’re like a virus.”

Tomazeli said of Brazil’s 100 or so courses – the same amount as the Grand Strand – just two are municipal courses owned by the government and open to the public, a few are semi-private courses where the public is invited, and the remainder are private. About 20 of those were built and are personally owned by wealthy men, for use only by them and their guests.

Between five and 10 golf courses are being built in Brazil, according to Tomazeli.

Though golf isn’t widespread in Brazil, it is very well organized, with the overseeing national Brazilian Golf Confederation and subsidiary governing bodies at the state levels.

“It is extremely organized,” Tomazeli said. “More than here, because the players here don’t know the rules as much. There if you play you have to know the rules. They take it very seriously.”

It’s also very expensive. Dias’ membership dues for some land and golf at Fazenda da Grama is $1,500 per month, and green fees for a public round can be as much as $300.

Brazilians have a traveling tournament each year featuring 100 or more players. Last year it was held in Lisbon, Portugal, this year it will be held in Orlando in October and next year it moves to Ireland.

The six-day tournament includes three tournament rounds and three practice rounds. Based on his experience at the World Am, Dias believes that event could find its way to Myrtle Beach. The players take the event pretty seriously. “You have no idea,” Tomazeli said.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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