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Aerial view of the Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.Felipe Dana/The Associated Press

From the 18th green at the Olympic golf course, spectators will take in a view of astounding dimension.

Off to the left is the rolling surf of the Atlantic Ocean and Rio's largest beach. Behind the green, the mountains of Tijuca National Park form an odd-shaped vertebra that compels you to ponder the origins of life. Directly ahead, Marapendi Lagoon twinkles in the afternoon sun.

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Something they won't see, however, lies beneath the green itself.

For it is there that Ian Andrew, a Canadian who assisted American golf architect Gil Hanse in construction of the course, did what has now become almost custom: buried a lucky loonie. So should Canadian superstar Brooke Henderson's putt on the 18th hole, in the final round, take an inexplicable, last-second turn into the hole for Olympic gold, we will know why.

"I loved the fact that the Canadian ice maker buried a loonie at centre ice at Salt Lake City," said Mr. Andrew, referring to the debut of the tradition at the 2002 Winter Games where the Canadian men's and women's teams won hockey gold. "The answer is good karma. [We buried it] where the final pin on 18 should be, and 18 inches deep under the surface, beyond where a cup cutter would find it. It seemed a fun thing to do at the time."

We will see whether news of the loonie causes an international incident, with golfers from around the world rising up in protest over the mystical edge the coin could give Canada's entry in the tournament. It is golf, after all. And it is little things like this that can sometimes prey on a player's mind, irritate them just enough to throw them off their game. Henderson and company can only hope so.

If it does stir controversy it would only be fitting. The golf course itself has been mired in it almost from its inception.

Initially, the golf tournament was going to be held at an existing private course in Rio. But in 2011, Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes announced a brand new course was going to be built on dormant lands west of downtown, in the quickly growing neighbourhood of Tijuca. The land was a legally protected area and home to birds and animals of various description and lovability, including two threatened species: the tree iguana and fluminense swallowtail butterfly.

Of course, Brazil being Brazil, nothing about this was straightforward. The mayor boasted about how this was not going to cost the public anything; it was going to be financed by a developer who would be able to build some small residential towers in exchange for underwriting the construction of the course. The public would end up contributing millions.

Initially, the residential towers were only going to be six levels. Soon that grew to 22. There was no environmental impact report done. The project never went to public debate. During a period in which the region was suffering a horrible drought, and some people had little to no water at all, there was anger over the vast amount of it being used to build the course.

It all gave birth to a protest group: "Occupy Golf," which branded IOC president Thomas Bach a "nature killer."

Eventually, the protests petered out and the golf course got built, although not without delays. Mr. Hanse told The Globe and Mail in an interview that was his biggest frustration – having to deal with daily setbacks you need to accept when leading a huge construction project in this area of the world.

"That was the hard part, to be honest," Mr. Hanse said. "Just dealing with all the inefficiencies that come with working here. Meantime, the clock is ticking, deadlines are approaching and the world is watching."

Now the golfers have arrived to play one of the more unusual courses they will ever compete on. Remember this was, and remains, very much a nature reserve. Mr. Hanse did not bulldoze everything in sight. In fact, if anything, it has become an even more attractive sanctuary for many animals.

Owls have burrowed their way into 80 per cent of the bunkers on the course, with the sod near the top providing a tasty treat for them each day. If a ball happens to roll into an owls' home, the player will simply get a free drop.

Somewhere out there, although most players won't see them, are boa constrictors and alligator-like caimans. There are monkeys and three-toed sloths. And, Toronto, you'll love this: there are capybaras, lots of them. Those are animals the players are most likely to bump into.

I caught up with Swiss golfer Fabienne In-Albon after finishing a practice round and she and her caddy were gushing about the cute little "water pig" that they saw. The "water pig" was, in fact, a capybara, the rodent that endeared itself to the people of Toronto earlier this year after a couple of them escaped from the zoo, inciting a mad hunt around the city for the fugitives.

"I took a picture of one and it was just two metres away," said Ms. In-Albon. "I think they are adorable, although pretty big. He was completely chill, enjoying life on the golf course as he should."

Word that there are aggressive and potentially more dangerous animals on the course did not faze Ms. In-Albon. She says the athletes will be safe, although she will certainly be keeping her eye out, especially if one of her balls gets close to water. You never know what might come snapping onto the land. She should take comfort, however, in the fact that there were will be five trained animal handlers stationed around the course, armed with sticks, whose job it will be to shoo away any alligators or boa constrictors that might try to use the competition to enjoy 15 minutes of fame.

Hopefully, there will be no athletes forced to run for their lives on live television. Olympic golf doesn't need any more setbacks. The competition was marred before it even began by the high-profile withdrawals of some of the game's biggest stars; Australian's Jason Day, American's Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, among others. Perhaps they got wind of the loonie on the 18th and figured they didn't have a chance.

It would be quite something if a Canadian medaled on either the men's or women's side and, let's be honest here, Ms. Henderson is our best hope in this sport by a long shot. She is currently ranked third in the world. But let's not forget also – although it might be easy to – that we are defending the gold in the men's competition. The last time the sport was played in the Summer Olympics was 1904, in St. Louis, and Canadian George Lyon took home top honours.

So we have history on our side, ancient as it may be, but also a coin buried on a green that is just waiting to cast its own spiritual spell on these Games.

Follow me on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

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