RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Many Brazilians who lined the fairways at the weekend to watch the first Olympic golf tournament in a century say the sport’s growth in South America’s largest country is no hole-in-one.
They took curious delight in walking among some of the world’s top players, but doubted golf would take off.
“In golf you need a lot of patience. Brazilians aren’t patient. We are more fiery,” said Lena Salgado, one of the few Brazilians to have played the game.
The new course, carved out of natural park in the southwest of Rio de Janeiro, will become a public facility after the Games, a legacy for promoting the sport in Brazil.
Brazilian fans say the main issue, though, will be cost.
The green fees will be set at $80 for Brazilians and between $200 and $250 for tourists, with golfers charged $8-$10 to play a four-hole practice course, says the Brazilian Golf Confederation.
In a country facing economic hardship and a minimum wage equal to $275 a month, even the practice course will be a stretch for many Brazilians. Then there is the pricy equipment.
“Even $8-$10 for a local, that is a lot of money and they could spend that money somewhere else and go to beaches and have even more fun,” said 16-year-old Taichi Fukai, a Sao Paulo resident who was roaming the course with his family on Sunday to see the gold medal winner, Justin Rose.
Fukai, who started playing golf last year at a private golf club at Sao Paulo, is one of only 20,000 golfers in Brazil, a country of 200 million people. Argentina has 100,000 golfers.
The world’s golf industry, which has suffered since the 2008 global financial crisis, has seen sales of golf apparel and equipment falling for several years, and is looking to emerging countries like Brazil to find growth.
To appeal to occasional golfers and beginners, course designer Gil Hanse included the small practice course. On the main layout, he opted for large greens and open fairways.
Paulo Pacheco, president of the Brazilian Golf Confederation, said Brazil aimed to overtake Argentina to become the top golfing nation in South America in the next 10 years.
Brazil has only 123 courses, less than half of the 319 in Argentina which has a third of Brazil’s population, according to a 2015 report by the R&A, the British Open organiser. Golf’s biggest market, the United States, has 15,373 courses.
Bridgestone Corp, the Japanese tyre company that also makes golf balls and clubs, is an Olympic sponsor and set up a mini-golf course and golf demonstration zone at the course.
Phil Pacsi, Bridgestone’s vice president of sports marketing, said 3,000 people dropped by for the golf activities and that about 60 percent of them were Brazilians.
“We want to try to build the exposure of golf and help this course be successful,” Pacsi said.
Many Brazilian spectators seemed skeptical.
Rodrigo Braga, 42, picked up golf in South Africa and tried to keep up the hobby in Rio by buying clubs.
“I’m a golf addict but I keep my clubs in Brasilia because golf in Rio is just too expensive,” he explained as he camped out at the first tee to watch top players like Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and American Rickie Fowler.
Refael Silva, a doctor who lives in Rio, was following the tournament’s lone Brazilian player, Adilson de Silva, on the ninth hole on Saturday. What did he think?
“The course is very nice but I think the sport is boring,” he said with a laugh. (Additional reporting by Brad Brooks; Editing by Mark Bendeich)