Gávea - Brazil

Gávea Golf and Country Club,
Estrada da Gávea 800,
São Conrado 22610,
Rio de Janeiro,

  • +55 21 3323 6050

  • Golf Club Website

  • 15 km SW of Rio de Janeiro city centre

  • As the guest of a member or when resident at certain local hotels

Gávea is Rio de Janeiro’s most prestigious golf club, dating back to 1921 when it was founded as Rio de Janeiro Golf Club by a group a group of expatriate technicians and managers of Companhia Tramway, Light & Power, holding company of The Rio de Janeiro City Improvements Company Ltd.

Five years after its formation, the club became known as Gávea Golf & Country Club, bringing in Arthur Morgan Davidson from Cruden Bay Golf Club as its first professional. The Scotsman was instrumental in having an 18-hole layout in play by the spring of 1929 and he would remain at the club for twenty years.

Stanley Thompson spent six months in Brazil during 1935, during which time he designed the new course at nearby Itanhangá and helped with the design of Teresópolis, a new course being built for the Guinle family in the mountains to the north of Rio. His third assignment was the remodelling of several holes at Gávea, adding new tees on #1, #15 and #18 and building new greens at #2 and #17.

The course is located in the shadow of Pedra da Gávea – an enormous rocky out crop that looms over the property – and it’s a short track measuring just over 6,000 yards from the back tees. It may not be that long but distance from tee to green is not important on such a strategic little charmer.

Gávea’s outward half twists and turns over hilly terrain before crossing a main road to begin the back nine. Holes 10 to 14 are laid out on a small parcel of land adjacent to the São Conrado beach, where a sizeable lake also comes into play. The busy main highway is then crossed again to complete the round adjacent to the fairways of holes 1 to 9.

The layout has been upgraded in recent times, notably by Dan Blankenship during the 1990s, when he redid the greens on holes 1, 2, 8, 9 and 15, constructed new fairway bunkers on a few holes, and installed the small pond in front of the 15th green. Gil Hanse, whilst working on the Olympic Course, remodelled the opening five holes on the back nine, creating large sandy waste areas and lessening the impact of the water on the playing strategy. He also reworked several greens in the main paddock to allow for more pin placements on these holes.

Gávea has hosted the Brazil Open sixteen times since 1945, most recently in 2014, and winners have included Billy Casper (1959), Peter Alliss (1961) and Gary Player (1972 & 1974). Brazilian golfing legend Mario Gonzalez, head pro at the club for thirty-five years, claimed four of his eight Open titles (and five of his nine Amateur victories) on home ground and he also beat Billy Casper by three strokes here in the very first head-to-head televised match in the series Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf back in 1961.

Special thanks to author Marcelo Stallone for gifting a copy of his book Gavea Golf & Country Club, published to mark the club’s 80th anniversary in 2001, which greatly assisted with composing this article.

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Description: Gávea is widely regarded as Rio de Janeiro’s most prestigious golf club. It dates back to 1921 and the course occupies a delightful setting to the south of Rio, adjacent to the Tijuca National Forest. Rating: 7.7 out of 10 Reviews: 6

I have just had a holiday in Rio and felt it essential I take my clubs for visits to Gavea and the Rio Olympic course. So was it worth it and would you fly into Rio specifically for a trip to Gavea?

Alex Frolish's review describes the course as a whole very well and it seems that it is is better than the sum of the parts with the variety of holes on offer and the spectacular scenery and elevation changes on the upper sections of the course. But I shall describe hole by hole as it hasnt been done on here yet.

My son and I played off the longer blue tees which stretch to a relatively short 6,002 yards although the tightness of the course makes this much tougher than you'd think.

Hole 1 - a 335 yard short par 4 that dog legs right about the 200 yard mark. There is a stream and tees to the left off the tee and the small practice ground and out of bounds to the right. On the end of the dog leg there are bunkers to catch any shots blasted long. The small but relativelty flat green is guarded by bunkers to the right and the stream to the left which makes the approach tight. It requires a highly accurate tee shot and approach to make the green in regulation. My advice is to take less club if needed to ensure the tee shot is in play. It can catch you out. It's a decent hole with plenty of risk as you would want on a short par 4.

Hole 2 - a 228 yard par three with a wall to the left and the practice ground on your right again as you loop back on yourself. The decent sized and relatively flat green is guarded to the front left with a bunker too. It requires a long and accurate tee shot to find the green. Again a decent hole.

Hole 3 - a 483 yard par 5 that has a strong dog leg right going up a hill for the second shot. You tee off through an avenue of trees that makes the shot feel tight but it opens up at the dog leg. If you hit too long and don't fade it hard enough/cut the corner enough you can easily hit through the dog leg. The green is reachable for longer hitters with a good second shot but it is elevated and with some bunker protection so take plenty of club. It is a good birdie opportunity and a relatively easy par. As you go up the hill, you see the start of the hilly part of the course. Another decent hole and the start of the more enjoyable part of the course.

Hole 4 - a 176 yard par 3 which plays up hill to another elatively flat green on a mini plateau with big fall offs all around it but no bunkers. Getting the club right is key as well as a straight shot. I took too much in the wram air where the ball flys well and bounced off the back of the green for a tricky recovery with some foliage to get around while my son made his up and down from the steep hill off to the right. A good hole.

Hole 5 - a 398 yard par 4 which you hit from a very elevated tee down into a landing area with a stream to catch anything long and right. Very long hitters may be able to take on the stream but for most it will be less off the tee to be safe. After landing the hole dog legs slightly up the hill to another elevated green which is protected by bunkering front left so it takes a lot of club and without elevation on your shot its easy to bounce it through the back of the green. It's a tricky and very spectacular hole. I think it's the best hole on the property. By this stage you are well up into the elevated part of the property with it's soaring birds and rain forested mountain around you.

Hole 6 - a 166 yard par 3 which you reach by walking back on yourself and over a road, past a green keepers shed and a water station (which you need in the heat). The green is protected by bunkers left and right as well as big fall offs on all sides so hitting the target here is key to making an easy par. It is a very good and spectacular hole and the ocean lays in the background as you hit your shot.

Hole 7 - just 375 yards as par 4 as you hit back up the hill to an elevated green. The tee shot needs to be accurate and the elevation makes it hard to keep it on the green but take plenty of club as it is steep. It is a good hole.

Hole 8 - 188 yards par 3 down a very steep hole witha small stream to the front and big fall off for anything too far right. There are bunkers left and right too. Take three clubs less for the down hill. Another spectacular hole due to the elevation change in the rain forest setting.

Hole 9 - a 493 yard par 5 that takes you back down the hill to the club house. You hit down across a stream through an avenue of trees with a few fairway bunkers too. A good tee shot sets up a potential birdie to the green guarded by bunkers front right. Another good hole.

Hole 10 - a 163 yard par three which you reach by crossing the road through a tunnel onto the beach side part of the property. It has water short and left and bunkers left and right but its quite a flat and unspectacular hole.

Hole 11 - a short 336 yard par 4 which requires shorter hitters to hit right of the lake which protects the tee shot t the left/short. The second shot into a flat green is relatively easy if the tee shot is in play. It is a pleasant short par 4 which played into a sea breeze the day we played it and played longer off the tee than you would think.

Hole 12 - a 371 yard par 4 with a big slither of sand to the right around the landing area off the tee and sand waste area further off to the right. the green has plenty of sand around it. A decent hole.

Hole 13 - a short 484 yard par 5 that played with the wind behind. The fairway pinches in with sand for longer drives. The second shot to a thin green is full of risk with water behind and to the left and sandy waste/vegetation short and right as well as bunker protection. It therefore deserves a cautious approach as a three shotter for most. A birdie will come easily only for those who can hit a very high, quick stopping and accurate long iron on their second. It is a good hole.

Hole 14 - a 434 yard par 4 that played into the sea breeze for us with loads of sand down the right and green protected with lots of sand short and right. This played hard on the day and needed plenty of club into the green. A decent hole again. This completes the beach side part of the property, Others have compared this 5 hole section to Seminole. It provides a pleasant change of scenery with some decent holes but if Seminole was only this good I wouldn't be that bothered to make a big trip to see it. I would say this section of the property compares more with the flat course at the Olympic track which I think superior and more enjoyable although the holes are generally decent a providing a change of scene.

Hole 15 - back across the road to a straight 378 yard par 4 up a gentle hill. It is ok.

Hole 16 - a 220 yard par 3 slightly up to a long elevated green with bunkers either side. It needs a long and accurate tee shot. Again an ok hole.

Hole 17 - a 366 yard par 4 that elevates up by the green witha big fall off to the left. Th green is a thin slither requiring an accurate approach. The tee shot has trees to the left and up hill to the right. It is tricky and a good hole.

Hole 18 - a 408 yard par 4 back down hill to the club house that plays shorter than the card suggests and to complete this par 69 course. It is a pleasant hole and a nice way to finish with the downhill.

Green conditioning was ok although signs of fairly recent aeration work. They ran at a mid pace and mostly true. Mostly gently undulating. Bunkers were decent condition and mostly fairly traditional design. Limited rough made finding balls easy but the fall offs and water provided plenty of challenge. The tightness means its worth playing off the shorter tees unless a long hitter even though the white tees are only 5,673 yards long. It is difficult for a short course.

The club made us take a caddy (about 30 pounds including the tip) as we were new to the course. Even then I suggest a buggy. it was over 30 degrees and sunny when we played and with the hills I found this exhausting even though I happily walk hilly courses at home in a lot less than 3 hours. Also use insect repellant for your legs as I got about 10 very itchy bites which took days to go down without that protection.

The club didn't seem to have a record of our reservation via the Grand Hyatt which was disappointing (not sure who's fault) and made access through security difficult and very unfriendly. As we didn't feel very welcomed we didn't bother to go in the nice old club house for a drink afterwards. They had a small but decent practice area to warm up next to the first tee. We played millionaires mid afternoon golf with no hold ups and the green fee at about £50 each was very good value.

Overall. it's a very good course well worth playing if you go to Rio. Would I fly from England just to play it. Most definitely no. But would I fly from say Sao Paulo to Rio for the experience, most definitely yes. It only has a small number of spectacular/very good holes but the scenery and elevation changes make the course seem much better than the sum of the individual holes as already mentioned. Well worth a visit and if you go to Rio well worth the hassle of taking your clubs (of borrowing a set) to play.

January 03, 2022
7 / 10
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Alex Frolish

As humans, we like to categorise things and attach labels to them. Golf is much the same, whether it be the type of shot you hit, the ball you play or the course you walk. Having wrestled with it for some time, I have found categorising Gávea Golf Club in Rio De Janeiro particularly difficult. It is by the sea but I wouldn’t say it was a links design. It is tree lined and perfectly manicured but I wouldn’t say it was a parkland course. It is measures short in terms of yardage but long in difficulty. Gávea is as unique, vibrant and diverse as the streets and jungle covered mountains that encircle it.

First and foremost, the club is steeped in history and is one of the oldest and most prestigious golf clubs in Brazil. Originally laid out by a group of British golfers in the early 1920’s, it was later re-designed by Stanley Thompson (one of four of his projects in Brazil) in the 1930’s and it is then that it really took the shape of the course we see today. Gil Hanse then further modified the course (particularly the greens) in more recent times.

You could be forgiven for imagining yourself on the set of Jurassic Park while standing on the first tee and looking to your left. Jungle swathes cover large portions of the mountainous landscape and the air is alive with the sounds of wildlife. Take a look to the right though and you will see and hear the sights and sounds of one of the most bustling cities on earth. The contrast of the two backdrops is as mind blowing as it is dramatic. The layout wanders up and down the side of the iconic craggy barrier of mountains that pin most of the metropolis of Rio de Janeiro to the Eastern coastline of Brazil. From the top of Pedra da Gávea, hang gliders take off and soar above the course sharing the sky with the Frigate birds before eventually descending on to the beach beyond the holes on the back nine. Looking at the course from the clubhouse (and I’m sure from those hang gliders also), it makes you wonder just how anyone ever imagined a golf course could be built on such ground. Equally, one could be persuaded that the course has been here for thousands of years as it merges so beautifully with its surroundings.

I felt the course played in three distinct phases. The initial nine holes wrap around the clubhouse and take you from sea level up to the highest parts of the property (with some of the most enchanting views of any golf course I have seen in the world). The two par 3’s (No’s.6 and 8) in the middle of the front nine are particularly dramatic, No.6 for its extraordinary sheer green perched on the top of a precipitous outcrop and No.8 for the huge vertical drop between tee and green. After No.9, you then cross the highway to play the coastal holes which are much flatter (but no less interesting) and surround a large lake. The final four holes come back across the road and tuck themselves at the foot of the hills. No.17 is particularly dramatic with a near 100ft drop awaiting any shots missing the green by no more than a couple of metres left.

Pound for pound, I would say Gávea is one of the toughest courses I’ve played for such a short yardage (just over 6000 yards from the back tees). Hitting short clubs off the tee, although initially providing a greater margin for error, only serves to crank up the pressure on what are already tight and punitive approaches. It really is a course where you have to play to your strengths. Once on the green, you will rarely find a flat putt and unless your proximity to the hole is consistently good, you will find yourself having more 3 putts than 1 putts.

Brazil is a wonderful place and Rio is as hectic as it gets but Gávea Golf Club is an oasis within the madness. Golf course design to me is a form of art and although provided with an excellent set of ingredients, Thompson has once again displayed a level of imagination and craft here that is truly remarkable.

Review of the Month January 2021

January 31, 2021
8 / 10
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Bob McCoy

A busy main road runs through the course. Tall apartment buildings are on two sides of the course. Another side of the course is a stone’s throw from a beautiful beach and the roaring Atlantic Ocean. The outstanding feature viewed from the course is the tall, steep, flat-faced, sheer mountain called Padre da Gavea. Obviously this magnificent beauty is why the club is called Gavea. You get up close and personal to Padre da Gavea as you walk uphill to the 7th green.

The score card presents only a 6,027-yard par 69 course. But do not be fooled, because there is a little bit of everything here. The terrain is two extremes. After relatively flat holes at 1 and 2, the course becomes extremely hilly through the 9th hole. Then you use a tunnel under the highway for dead flat holes 10-14. Coming off the 14th green it is back through the tunnel, past the 2nd green and clubhouse to the 15th tee. The rest of the course is fairly hilly.

There are forests, water, doglegs, forced carries, ditches (burns), very steep uphill and downhill shots, very elevated greens, large greens, small greens, steep falloffs around greens, only 62 bunkers, sand waste areas, and monkeys in trees. Pin point accuracy on approach shots is a must at Gavea.

The picture of hole #17 has the two most memorable aspects at Gavea. In the background you can clearly see the size and steepness of Pedra da Gavea. The other aspect is the severe 25-foot falloff immediately at the left side of the green. In 2017, Gil’s partner, Jim Wagner, redesigned greens 6, 16, and 17 to make them more playable. I would hate to have played to the 17th green pre-Wagner.

The Odyssey

December 31, 2020
7 / 10
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Jim McCann

I’d played the Rio Olympic course early in the morning then looked in at Itanghangá to have a look at the renovation work being done there on the way to Gávea so my round here would see me look at fifty-four holes on the first day of my short visit to Brazil. I’d corresponded with David Davis before playing here and I’d read Javier Pintos’s review so I pretty much knew what to expect on arrival (apart from the crushing afternoon humidity). If anything, both guys undersold the club and the course because, as far as playing experiences go, it’s right up there with many of the best that I’ve been fortunate enough to sample.

For a start, it’s such a unique property, squeezed into a tiny estate at the foot of some monolithic mountains that literally tower over the fairways – space is so tight a few of the holes are set out on the other side of the coastal highway, next to the beach, which actually brings about a welcome change of tempo before you return to complete the round in the main area around the clubhouse. And just to add another surreal touch to the situation, the biggest favela in Brazil at Rocinha is built into a steep hillside just over a kilometre away!

I’ve seen life-sized statues outside clubhouses at a number of places I’ve visited (no names, no pack drill) and inwardly cringed at most of them as they’ve been erected in memory of somebody (often from another land) with only a tenuous link to the club (to my mind). On the other hand, the sculpture of Mario Gonzalez (who only passed away last year, aged 96) close to the first tee is a fitting tribute to a much-respected man who’s rightly regarded as The Father of Brazilian Golf and his golfing legacy lives on at Gávea through his three sons, Mario, Jaime and Rafael, with the latter two leading teaching professionals.

Out on the course, holes on the front nine are arranged according to the very difficult landscape so there are four brilliant par threes to be played (at #2, #4, #6 and #8) and each one of these short holes is as good as, if not better, than the one before. It’s a tough walk (though I was in a buggy, thankfully) as the fairways rise and fall sharply with the tight contours. Probably the pick of the holes on the outward half is the par four 5th, rated stroke index 1, which plays from a very elevated tee down to a fairway that’s bisected by a gully before rising uphill to a green on the other side.

The work that Gil Hanse has done in the small, flat enclosure housing holes 10 to 14 is outstanding, as he’s re-shaped the lake and fitted the holes around it in a more sensible way, as well as introducing long sand scrapes on either side of fairways to emphasize their close proximity to the beach, which is literally on the other side of the wall that runs along the 11th and 12th holes. Gil’s also reworked some of the greens in the main arena on the other side of the road, though the jury’s still out for me on the 15th, with its pronounced mound in the middle of the putting surface.

My host at the club was author Marcelo Stallone, the 3-time club champion who represented Brazil twice in the Eisenhower Trophy in his amateur prime and who still competes in the R&A Senior Amateur Championship. After our round, Marcelo very kindly invited my colleague Brian and I back to his apartment overlooking the beach holes to present us with a couple of his books: a biography of Brazilian golfing legend Mario Gonzalez and a history of Gávea Golf & Country Club which was published in 2001 to mark the club’s 80th anniversary of formation.

What a way to round off an afternoon of golf, with a cold beer in hand looking out from Marcelo’s high rise apartment along the narrow strand of the Praia de São Conrado – it really doesn’t get much better than this in Brazil! But, we had no time to dally as we’d an evening flight to catch down to São Paulo so, reluctantly, we had no choice other than to sup up sharpish then head off along the road past Copacobana beach (as you do) to the airport for the next leg of our short Brazilian golfing adventure…

Jim McCann

May 18, 2020
8 / 10
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Javier Pintos

I had heard Gavea GC was a great Club but had little to no info about the course. And sometimes this is good because you don't create false or extra expectations and just play the course to afterwards evaluate it, review it and make your own conclusions.

I played it twice furing the Riolize Fam Trip last week, first time with 15 TTOOs on November 23rd in a cloudy day which takes some Gavea Golf Course - Photo by reviewer beauty of the views and on 28th on my own in 1h45mins to give it another look and have a better total impression about it.

The course opened in the 1920s and has a lot of tradition inside the Coub House, where the boards are full of historic names winning the Brazil Open and best amateur where some of my local argentine heroes were winners in the past. It is a very nice and classic Club House where staff gives you the feel of a first class club being extremely helpful and nice. My only "negative" point is that nobody speaks english, in an international course there should be people being able to communicate with somebody who doesn't speak portuguese.

The Course is going under some renovations (greens 6-16-17) and what I celebrate about this is it is not being done without a plan and without expertise, they hired Olympic Course Architect Gil Ganse which will for sure bring great changes and armony between new greGavea Golf Course - Photo by reviewerens and the existing ones in a uniform blend with the rest of the course.

The other thing that needs to be said is course maintenance: every blade of grass was just perfect, tifeagle greens rolling at 10ft and perfect, firm bunkers where a skilled golfer will be able to choose the shot he wants to make and every tree perfectly well mantained. In my second round some greens had been aireated but no worries on that, it is a necessary process to keep them healthy and true.

About the course, in the first round we didn't play 16th and used a pprovisional par 3 between holes 6.7 as the long par 3 has new green under construction. On the second round 17th green had been torn out as Hanse plans to make this green better and more playable as it isa blind secnd shot of around 140yds where you need to have some escapes being the original green to tough and sometimes unfair.

About the holes, it is fair to difference the mountain/jungle part (holes 1-9 & 15-18) from the Ocean part (10-14) which has some similarities to Seminole at some point. It is a beautiful mix between these two parts of the course and I feel gives it an extra touch when compared to other courses to have this contrast in between the two parts of the course.

Par 5 3rd hole is one great golf hole, 90 degrees dogleg right where and agressive tee shot will allow you to get home in two. Green is small and tough, with a small false front and a very tough pin Gavea Golf Course - Photo by reviewer position on the far left corner. Then par 4 5th is one great hole with the elevated tee shot to a fairway that ends at 290yds with a small stream and an uphill second shot where one extra club is needed. Par 4 7th was one of my favourite, another elvated (not as much as 5th) tee shot to a slight dogleg left and an uphill approach shot way more sharp than 18th at Augusta National. Par 3 8th downhill plays similar to 11th at Los Leones in Chile, where calculating the distance is a tough challenge.

The holes on the Ocean are maybe the easiest, where you have to get your score specially 10-13 as 14th is a long tough par 4 before going back to the jungle part of the course. From this clearly 14th is the best hole to play like 450yds to a green sorrounded by waste bunker and OB at the back of it.

The last 4 holes will bring you back close to the Club House where 16-17 will be my favourite, first a long uphill par 3 playing 240yds and then 17th will that blind second shot.

Loved the course, liked the experience, accepted the challenge and feel that set up in championship conditions will really demand the best players. Definitely a course to be played, which Gil Hanse will for sure slowly improve step by step to make it a modern classic in the future years.

November 30, 2017
8 / 10
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Jerry Dirvin

An incredible setting for a golf course. My round was made special by playing with the then Club Pro, Roberto Gonzalez-- Brazil's most famous golfer

June 06, 2016
8 / 10
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