Following the Brazilian revolution in 1930, the country opened up to foreign influences, particularly on the leisure front. The renowned Canadian architect Stanley Thompson was commissioned to work on several courses around the country at that time, including São Paulo and Gávea.
In the book Stanley Thompson and Icons of Canada , the author writes: “The plum job during Stanley’s six months in Brazil was the de novo construction of Itanhangá GC. Until 1935 Gávea had been the only golf course in Rio and there was now a demand for another course. The construction work was hot and grinding under the blazing Brazilian summer sun.
Once it became clear that Jones wasn’t coming [Robert Trent Jones refused to travel after being cabled by his design partner Thompson to join him] Stanley’s brothers Nicol and Bill came down to Brazil to help. Later, overseeing much of the work for Stanley, was civil engineer J. F. ‘Hennie’ Henderson, who Stanley sent for from Toronto.”
Patronised by President Getúlio Vargas when the initial nine holes were completed in 1935, Itanhangá became one of the most exclusive clubs in the country. The sporting complex is situated in the up-market suburb of Barra da Tijuca in the shadow of Pedra da Gávea, where the lush natural beauty of the landscape offers members and selected guests a secluded tropical site to play golf.
Measuring a modest 6,178 yards from the back tees, today’s main course at Itanhangá sits in a beautiful valley where the tight, tree-lined fairways have been intuitively routed around ponds and streams to make maximum use of a relatively small tract of land. All five par threes on the card are wonderfully constructed short holes and the lengthy back-to-back par fives at 15 and 16 threaten to derail golfers late in the round.
The Brazil Rio de Janeiro 500 Years Open was held at Itanhangá in 2000, the first of two European PGA Tour events held in the country that year to mark the discovery of Brazil by Pedro Alvares Cabral in 1500. Roger Chapman won the event when he overcame Padraig Harrington in a playoff but the big Irishman would go on to win the other commemorative competition at São Paulo a week later.
Not to be outdone by the male professionals, the LPGA organized the 36-hole Brasil Cup at Itanhangá in 2009 when fifteen professional women and an amateur lady competed in a tournament over two days. None of the $500,000 in the prize purse counted on the official Ladies Tour money list but that meant little to Scotland’s Catriona Matthew who won the event with a score of six under par, pocketing $100,000 of the prize money in the process.
In 2018, the club embarked on a renovation of the golf course, starting with holes 10 to 18. This involved re-ordering holes 11-14 for safety reasons so there are now back-to-back par fives at the 11th and 12th. The work involved architect Agustín Pizá installing new USGA-spec greens and he described the project as one where “some holes will require make up, some will require botox and others will require surgery!”
Played this course this past November in an IAGTO Fam Trip with other 15 TTOOs from the rest of the world. The trip was very well organized and we were able to also play Gavea, the Olympic Course and Terravista GC in Trancoso. It was the first day of the trip in a rainy morning when we experienced Itahangá.
Course despite some diferences has many similarities to courses at La Costa del Sol like Rio Real, same type of trees and design although this one is pretty much flat.
The firt thing to say is the course was in amazing shape, fairways tees rough bunkers are extremely well kept. Unfortunately greens were coming out of aeration so they were not perfect but can't complain about it.
It has tricky holes, tough tee shots, some hard dog legs and other short holes where you can attack to get some birdies.
1st is a tricky 290yds par 4 where it is possible to go for it but holding the ball on the sloped green is not easy, with water hazard all along the left side and at the back of the green. Driver is not the best call for this opener.
2nd is a long par 4 where tee shot demands a draw before a 200yds approach shot. Second shot at reachable par 5 3rd hole is demanding, with hazard on the left and bunkers on the right.
When you watch the scorecard and see a 480ds par 5 like 5th you dream of an easy birdie but this island green will not come with the little bird if you not hit the fairway before a tight second shot where if not in perfect position laying up is the correct choice. Par 5 11th is another of the good ones with a false front which makes it precise if you want to go for it. 12th might be one of the best holes, a dog leg left with a water hazard crossing the fairways 50yds before the green, the only bad thing is that you can't see it from the fairway and if you ar enot told it can be a ver bad surprise.
15-16 are back to back long par 5, specially 16th where almost every golfer will need 3 shots to get home. 18th is one of the best par 4s I have played in Brazil, water on both sides and a long demanding hole.
All in one the course is worth to play, nothing too special but good indeeed. And when you are in the Cuidade Maravilhosa to have a couple of very good golf courses to enjoy it will always be a reason to travel anytime of the year.
Very functional Club House, food was very good, treat yourself with the salmon and cheese sandwich at the Halfway House.
Last year, I had only 12 hours on a stopover in Rio, from 06:00 to 18:00, so I just had time to play the Olympic course and Gávea. In between, I managed a quick look around Itanhangá, after making prior arrangements with architect Agustín Pizá, who was involved in a course renovation at the club.
Head Pro Antonio very kindly took time to show me and my colleague Brian around the back nine on buggies, where all the holes have been upgraded, pointing out the changes that had been made. Fairways are now grassed with Zoyzia Zeon and greens have been converted to TifEagle Bermuda.
In particular, I loved the Biarritz green on the 17th and the offset tee position on the 18th, with water threatening on both sides of the fairway, now that a new irrigation pond has been built on the right side of the hole. I don’t know if the upgrade work has continued on the front nine as intended.
This Golf Club has an interesting story, apparently, Getulio Vargas at that time president/dictator of Brazil was a fan of golf but was unable to play at Gavea Golf Club because he had some mobility issues and the terrain there was very hilly. With that in mind his friends commissioned Stanley Thompson from Canada to built a nine hole course on a flat terrain at Barra da Tijuca, that was in 1933 and Rio de Janeiro was Brazil´s capital.
Now with 27 holes Itanhangá is one of the largest golf clubs in the country and still carries Getulio Vargas as it´s member number one.
The course starts with a drastic dog leg right with water defending the left side and threes the right. Long hitters can try to fly a 5 wood over the trees but the correct shot is an iron to the middle of the fairway leaving a short approach shot to a upsloped green. Number two is another dog leg par four but this time longer and not as angled as the first. Since the land is very flat the architect used doglegs and bunkers to defend the fairways so good players will need to move the ball from right to left and left to right in almost all holes.
My favorite holes in the first nine are number eight and nine, two medium length par fours that are in the western part of the club and very near the beautiful Pedra do Banco (Bank Rock). Big rocks surround Itanhaga but this is the closest and most beautiful.
The second nine starts with a nice par three where you cross a channel that is not in play but offers a nice setting. The one hole that I dislike is the par five eleven, this hole runs very close to the club´s fence and strong slices will send the ball not only out of bounds but maybe to some ones windscreen, knowing that I pull hocked my drive to find my ball in the fairway of the hole on my left. For me the first rule in golf is security so I don´t think that the lay out of this hole is correct but let´s move on.
Number 12 is the hardest hole on the course a dog leg left with the channel defending the front of a sloped green. It is one of those holes that you need to hit a good driver, a good approach shot and continue alert on the green. A par here is almost a birdie
After this test of golf you will relax on a beautiful short par three with water defending the front of the green and some bunkers. You can expect more water on the second nine because there is a channel crossing the property from north to south.
The best use of this hazard is on number 18 a superb finishing hole where you have the channel all the time on your left and a big lake on your far right. The correct shot here would be to aim at the channel and fade the ball away from it. You will need to take the big dog out on this one because with 431 yards and a lake defending the right entrance of the green there is no room for an easy lay up.
Itanhangá is a very technical course that will test good players while being gentle with beginners and since it is completely flat walking is definitively an enjoyable experience.