Gil Hanse Wins Olympic Course Design Competition

Gil Hanse has won the Rio 2016 Olympic golf course design competition. He issued this statement on his website confirming the news.

The announcement of the four-person jury panel’s decision, originally slated for February 4th following two-days of architect presentations in Rio de Janeiro, was made Wednesday with the blessing from a six-person International Olympic Committee contingent upon making a site inspection. Hanse’s bid bested the presentations of finalists Jack Nicklaus-Annika Sorenstam, Greg Norman-Lorena Ochoa, Gary Player, Martin Hawtree, Tom Doak, Robert Trent Jones II and Peter Thomson-Ross Perret.

(Full disclosure: I have worked with Hanse on several projects, but remained out of the Olympic design loop.)

A number of factors aided Hanse’s bid even as he was arguably the least well-known finalist. The International Golf Federation’s lone jury panel voter, R&A Chief Officer Peter Dawson, publicly praised the 48-year-old designer's work at Scottish Open host Castle Stuart. Hanse was also strongly supported by the PGA Tour, whose Design Services division guided the Rio Organizing Committee.  Among the first architects to visit the Rio site a year ago before the design contest was opened to all interested bidders last fall, Hanse reportedly impressed Brazilian Golf Advisory Board member and jury panelist Arminio Fraga with a design approach respecting the environmentally sensitive land while fitting Rio’s goals of creating a sustainable design meld with its native surrounds.

Politically—after all, this was an IOC-influenced project--Hanse allied himself with LPGA Hall of Famer Amy Alcott, whose enthusiasm for the public golf component of the project reportedly impressed the panel, as did support from environmental consulting firm, The Larkin Group. Insiders say Hanse’s presentation in Rio was reportedly boosted by a video endorsement from former USGA Executive Director David Fay, one of golf’s biggest Olympic advocates during his stint with the International Golf Federation.

The Malvern, Pennsylvania-based course designer is best known for Castle Stuart and as renovator of Deutsche Bank Championship host TPC Boston. Hanse learned of the commission while in Miami to debut plans for a renovated TPC Blue Monster. Golf Channel was on hand to record the phone call from Brazil and also captured each of the eight finalist presentations. (A documentary is expected to detail the Rio course’s completion as part of NBC/Golf Channel’s Olympic coverage.)

A transcript of Hanse's press conference at Doral with PGA Tour VP and International Golf Federation representative Ty Votaw will be posted when it appears online.

Hanse’s career commenced thanks to receiving Cornell’s William Frederick Dreer Award, which allowed him to study the best links of Great Britain. He founded his firm in 1993 after an apprenticeship with Hawtree and Son (an Olympic competitor) and after a stint as Design Partner with Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design (another Olympic design runner-up).

Hanse has since built nine 18-hole designs, most notably the Boston Golf Club (Hingham, Mass.), a second course for the Crail Golfing Society (Crail, Fife, Scotland), Rustic Canyon (Moorpark, California) and two courses near his home, the French Creek Golf Club (Elverson, PA) and Applebrooke Golf Club (Malvern, PA). Hanse’s roster of restoration work includes such noted designs as The Creek Club (C.B. Macdonald/Seth Raynor), The Country Club (William Flynn), Fishers Island (Raynor), Los Angeles Country Club (George Thomas, Billy Bell), Plainfield (Donald Ross), Quaker Ridge (A.W. Tillinghast), Winged Foot Golf Club (Tillinghast) and Ridgewood Country Club (Tillinghast).

Because of issues with the site and the land owner, it is unclear when construction will commence but officials have stated they expect to play a preview event on the course in 2015.