Consider what is behind, or rather beneath, golf’s return to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next month after a 112-year hiatus: the turf.
Zeon Zoysia is a durable, warm-weather grass developed 5,000 miles from Rio in tiny Poteet, Texas, a town of 3,260 best known as the home of country singer George Strait and a strawberry festival.
Bred and developed over the past 20 years by Bladerunner Farms, a turf nursery 40 miles outside of San Antonio, Zeon Zoysia is making a global debut on Rio’s Olympic golf course. The grass could play a role in the sport’s potential growth, particularly in South America, an expanding market for course construction.
“It’s one way to make the Olympics,” said David Doguet, the owner of Bladerunner Farms. “We didn’t make the Olympics as athletes, but we made it as grass farmers.”
Gil Hanse, in consultation with the Hall of Famer Amy Alcott, designed the 7,290-yard, par-71 course in the Barra da Tijuca area, about 3 miles from the Olympic Village. Nearly 90 percent of the 88-acre course will feature Zeon Zoysia, including on the fairways, the roughs and the tee boxes.
Zeon Zoysia requires less water, fertilizer, nitrogen and pesticide than most other types of golf turf, Doguet said. Perhaps most important, he said, it can endure Rio’s poor soil and water quality and meets the strict environmental regulations that prohibit the use of chemical fertilizers and weed killers on the course, which is on a nature preserve.
Doguet added that the turf is dense and stiff and props up the ball for cleaner contact and that it plays well in summer or winter, dry or wet.
“The playability of the surface is always good,” he said.
Course designers also like the grass for its minimal requirements for water and care, which can reduce operating costs.
Zeon Zoysia first appeared on U.S. courses in 2001. Most recently, Tiger Woods used it on Bluejack National, his first course in the United States, outside Houston. Trinity Forest Golf Course, a new site in Dallas that will host the Byron Nelson PGA tournament in 2019, also features Zeon Zoysia.