The Rio Olympics will reintroduce golf to the Games for the first time since Teddy Roosevelt was president and a brilliant invention, the ice cream cone, had just debuted at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, more commonly referred to as the St. Louis World’s Fair. For those counting, that’s 112 years.

 

The 1904 tournament was basically a group of American men and a few of their Canadian friends. Those were the only two nations to compete, and the field was made up of 74 Americans and just three Canadians. George Lyon took the gold home to Canada for the individual tournament, but America won the overall medal count.

 

A lot of changes, obviously, had to be made to bring golf back to Olympics. The event will now include both men’s and women’s individual competition. The tournaments will feature 120 golfers, 60 for each, from 41 different countries.

While commentators and sports writers will eventually tell the story of golf’s return to the Olympics through the eyes of the players, a small marketing and public relations firm located in Mount Vernon has been working hard to tell the story of something most spectators might take for granted: the grass the game is played on.

 

The challenge

Building a golf course in Rio was an incredibly difficult process. For starters, the location chosen for the course was within the Reserva de Marapendi, a natural preserve located in the Barra da Tijuca zone of Rio.

 

The Barra da Tijuca zone is located on the west side of Rio, right next to the Atlantic Ocean. This created many problems for the course designers who were not initially sure of the water conditions where the course was to be built.

 

Any grass selected for the course would not only need to be able to survive in the warm climate, but it would also need to be tolerant of salt, due to the nearby ocean water, and able to survive without the use of fertilizers and herbicides due to the course’s location next to the ocean and protected wetlands.

 

Any weeding on the course would need to be done by hand.

 

The dream

Stacie Zinn Roberts is the woman who would eventually help solve the problem of getting grass to the Rio greens.

 

Roberts founded the What’s Your Avocado? Marketing and PR firm in 2012 after relocating to Mount Vernon from Florida, where she’d spent most of her life. Coming from a golf and agricultural marketing background — Roberts met her husband at the Golf Industry Show, a golf course and facility management convention — Roberts knew she wanted a career that utilized her skills as a marketer and allowed her to do something she enjoyed. She just didn’t know what that would be.

 

One night during this period of uncertainty, Roberts said she had a dream that a friend of hers in agricultural business told her he had been saved from financial crisis by the suddenly high demand for the avocados he had planted as a lark. In the dream her friend told her, “The avocado, the thing I had completely overlooked, this is the thing that’s going to save me.”

Roberts was moved by the dream, though she initially could not figure out what it meant. During a phone call with her mother, Roberts said she had an epiphany. Her version of the avocado, what was going to save her, was starting her own company to help tell the stories of innovative people in the golf and turf industry. It was something she was good at, and it would allow her to help others.

 

And so What’s Your Avocado? was born. Roberts not only incorporated the dream into her business name, but she said it is the driving force behind the company’s mission statement, “Every person, every product, every business has something about them that’s special. That unique element? That’s your avocado. We help you find it and tell the world about it.”

 

The grass

In February 2013, just five months after starting her company, Roberts broke the news that her client, Bladerunner Farms, owned by David Doguet, would be supplying a special strain of zoysia grass called Zeon Zoysia, one of many grasses the farm grows.

 

Bladerunner, located in Poteet, Texas, is the world’s largest privately owned zoysia grass breeding and research facility.

 

The Zeon strain is dense, but with fine texture, able to reduce weed growth and survive varying water qualities, including salt water. As a bonus, the texture of the grass allows the ball to sit on top of the grass, which makes it easier for golfers to strike cleanly.

 

The grass covers nearly 88 acres of the brand new Olympic Golf Course, including tee boxes, fairways and roughs, accounting for more than 80 percent of the course.

 

After the Olympics, the golf course will open to the public, becoming the first public golf course in Brazil. Roberts says the hope is the course will help spread the sport of golf throughout South America.

 

As for Roberts and her client, Bladerunner Farms, the Olympics are just some of the excitement around their Zeon Zoysia grass. Zeon was used at Tiger Woods’s first U.S. golf course, Bluejack National, located outside of Houston, and Zeon will also be featured at Trinity Forest, the new home of the AT&T Byron Nelson PGA golf tournament.

 

The solution

Once Zeon Zoysia was selected, the tricky part was getting the grass to Rio from Texas. Zeon is not a grass that is planted from seed, but from a live plant. Roughly two handfuls of the grass were shipped to Marcelo Matte of Green Grass Brasil at his farm 1,000 miles south of Rio. The process of growing enough of the grass at Matte’s farm, then trucking it up to a farm he had purchased closer to the city, and finally getting it to the golf course took a couple years, finishing at the end of November 2014.

 

Roberts also has a connection to the grass selected for the course’s putting greens. The course uses SeaDwarf Seashore Paspalum, a highly salt tolerant grass developed by her former employer Environmental Turf, where Roberts was president of marketing for eight years.

 

“I’m watching it on TV and it’s like my children are there,” Roberts said.

August 16, 2016: Stanwood Camano News, by Ryan Parish