Capybara among Olympic course’s playing partners
August 09, 2016
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
- The capybara is described as the the world's largest rodent. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
RIO DE JANEIRO – Roaming the grounds at the Olympic Golf Course are the capybara, one of several kinds of wildlife that have grown quite fond of country club-style living at Rio’s newest 18-hole track. Many golfers and officials have seen the animals during the ramp-up to this week’s men’s tournament.
Few, however, seem to agree on how best to describe the capybara.
“It’s an interesting combo – it has a miniature moosehead on it, but with a gigantic rat’s body,” said USA’s Matt Kuchar, who got his first look at one during Tuesday’s practice round.
Said USA GOLF Executive Director Andy Levinson: “I think it looks like a dog. Almost kind of a like a dog-pig, with a massive head.”
Spain’s Sergio Garcia, in a practice round with countryman Rafa Cabrera Bello, was trying to think of the best comparison. He finally came up with “mongoose, something like that. They’re massive. I saw some pictures (before arriving in Rio) but I didn’t expect them to be that big.”
In fact, Garcia was so close to one capybara that he saw a big wound on the animal’s face. “I was a little bit sad,” he said. “… You could see it was fresh.”
The International Golf Federation’s technical delegate, Tyler Dennis, has been a frequent visitor to the course in the last two years, giving him multiple looks at the capybara. “It’s kind of a cross between a miniature hippo, a pig and various other animals you can think of.” And, Dennis adds, “apparently, they are quite heavy. I also heard – this could just be a rumor – that while they don’t bite, they will charge you and kind of tackle you. So be careful.”
Adilson da Silva should be more familiar with capybara than anybody else in the field; after all, he’s the lone Brazilian men’s golfer. “Like pigs. They’re huge,” da Silva said. “I’ve never seen them so big. I’m from the south, and they’re much smaller.”
When da Silva saw one Sunday, he initially dismissed it as just a bush in the native areas surrounding the fairways. Then he saw the head. “Then the big nose,” he noted. “I said, ‘Oh, wait a minute, this is more than a bush.’”
Jhonattan Vegas also has seen his share of capybara having grown up in Venezuela. “Ours are as big or even bigger,” he added. Asked if he was trying to one-up the Brazilian version, he shrugged. “The closer you get to the animals,” he replied, “the bigger they get.”
Search the Internet and you can find capybara described as a “giant, long-legged guinea pig” or a “tailless, semiaquatic rodent.” But perhaps the most direct – and boastful – description is this: The world’s largest rodent.
In other words, a rat of Olympic-sized proportions.
The capybara share the stage at the Olympic golf course with other interesting wildlife, helping to turn course architect Gil Hanse’s creation into a mini-zoo.
Caimans have been seen in the large pond on the front nine, as well as the smaller one near the 10th tee. If you’re not familiar with caimans, consider them Brazil’s version of the alligator – although with one addition. “They have a fin on their backs,” Dennis said.
Boa constrictors and three-toed sloth also are in the area. Evidently, so are monkeys, although finding someone who had actually seen them yielded no success stories thus far. “I think they’re by the 16th hole,” said one. Added another: “They hang out around 2 and 3, that far corner area.”
And then there are the ground-nesting owls. Unlike the other animals, their existence might actually come into play during the next two weeks of Olympic competition. That’s because a few owls have shown a preference for burrowing into bunkers, creating small craters in which balls might come to rest.
“I reckon they have been in 80 percent of the bunkers,” said Mark Johnson, the director of international agronomy for the PGA TOUR, who is working as one of the two agronomists at the Olympics.
No one wanted to deny the owls their new home, so rules officials have included the owls’ dwellings into their local rules, with players getting free drops should their ball be affected. “We’re not going to move the owls,” Dennis noted.
In fact, they may even offer some assistance. Joked International Golf Federation president Peter Dawson: “We are trying to train the owls to find the ball.”
Why are the owls so fond of the bunkers? “The sod is perfect for them,” Johnson said. “I am not a biologist by any means, but these owls routinely have excessive amounts of babies. There is something they like here.”
It wasn’t always the case.
Prior to the creation of the Olympic course, the area was basically just a sand pit, a left-over from a mining operation. Hanse and his team were careful to work within the guidelines and demands of local officials, to build a course that was environmentally sensitive.
Not only did they achieve that, they created a home that didn’t previously exist for all this wildlife. That’s a 180-degree switch from most preconceived notions of golf courses being built-- and in the process, driving away the animals.
“There wasn’t much wildlife out here,” said Dennis. “Since we built the course, they’ve flourished. It’s a wonderful story.”
Within the last week, the Golf Environmental Organization bestowed GEO Certified Development status on the course, recognizing the “commitment and contribution to the enhancement of the environment.”
Players not only are aware of the animals, they appear to be growing fond of them – as long as each other’s boundaries are respected, of course. The environmental importance is understood.
“It’s a unique place,” Vegas said. “You don’t see this a lot in the U.S. or Europe. It represents a lot of Brazil and a little of South America.”
Added Kuchar: “I’m sure the locals are laughing at us, but it’s always interesting to see different wildlife.”
Perhaps his USA teammate Rickie Fowler summed it up best.
“They’ve done a great job with the golf course, keeping somewhat of the natural habitat,” Fowler said. “If I was a capybara, I’d love to live there at the Olympic course.”