As we all know golf is returning to the Olympics at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro following a 112 year absence from one of the most significant sporting events on the sporting calendar. Considering the fact that Brazil isn’t exactly choc a block with top class golf courses the International Olympic Committee have been thinking long and hard about just who will be responsible for designing arguably one of the most important new golf courses in recent memory.
Great names from professional golf’s history were all mooted to be leading candidates for the job with players such as Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Greg Norman all making the shortlist.
Handing the job to one of these three would have been an understandable decision considering the influence their names would have had from a marketing perspective and, of course, the quality of their course designs would have been a major factor as well.
Nicklaus has brought us not only countless golfing memories, the likes of which include his legendary Duel in the Sun with Tom Watson at Turnberry and his stirring back nine charge at the 1986 Masters, but he has also provided us ordinary, mere mortal, club golfers the chance to sample golf courses of the highest order. Notable Nicklaus designs include Monte Rei in Portugal, Killeen Castle in Ireland and the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles, which by the way is set to host the 2014 Ryder Cup. However despite the Golden Bear’s best efforts he didn’t quite make the cut when it came to the Olympic Course.
Gleneagles – PGA Centenary Course
Neither did Gary Player, also known as the Black Knight. In addition to his stunning effort at Thracian Cliffs in Bulgaria and his amazing Saadiyat Beach in the Abu Dhabi desert; this multiple major winner has graced his native South Africa with golfing delights including the much revered Fancourt Links Course. Granted, these are all world class golf courses but again, they were not enough to convince the IOC!
So with two of the game’s greatest champions falling short down the stretch could Greg Norman, also known as the Great White Shark, bag the gig? Well…no…despite his best efforts that include his magnificent creation at Mission Hills in China, a fantastic desert course at the La Quinta Resort in California and his traditional Doonbeg links course.
La Quinta Resort – Norman Course
So who got the nod from the IOC then?
Well…despite having a modest, albeit very impressive portfolio, the Olympic job went to one of the finest golf course architects of the modern era, Gil Hanse. Hanse may not have completed an extensive body of work but his completed projects are undoubtedly among the finest and most sought after in the world.
Hanse previously worked with Tom Doak whose work includes the Pacific Dunes and Old MacDonald courses at Bandon Dunes and the breathtaking Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand. After learning a few tricks of the trade Hanse formed his own design company in 1993 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Bandon Dunes – Pacific Dunes Course
So what of this history?
The Crail Golfing Society, the sixth oldest golf club in the world, commissioned Hanse to design their second course, the Craighead Links, which opened in 1998 to rapturous applause. Hanse is known for his minimalist designs which rely heavily on the natural environment rather than manufacturing heavily landscaped courses. Perhaps this is a big reason as to why such a prestigious golf society went to him to create a course that, while being judged against its revered neighbour, the Balcomie Course, has not failed to live up to expectations.
Crail Golf Society – Craigshead Links
Hanse also has another links course in Scotland to his name. In 2009 he unveiled Castle Stuart which was widely viewed as the most anticipated new golf course in the UK since Kyle Philips brought the mighty Kingsbarns to the table in 2000. Featuring wide fairways, sweeping undulations and extraordinary greens, all bordered by thin fescue, broom, gorse and heather, Castle Stuart is the epitome of contemporary links course architecture.
In addition to his Scottish efforts and previous work he has completed in the USA, Hanse has also recently been commissioned by Donald Trump to complete a drastic overhaul of the famed Blue Monster Course at the Doral Resort in Florida; a golfing complex that ‘The Donald’ has recently acquired to go along with his other golfing ventures including the Trump International Golf Links which Trump himself has described as “the greatest golf course in the world”…something he may just be right about judging by the pictures of the finished article!
Doral Golf Resort – Blue Monster Course
It is clear then that Hanse is a highly respected designer but it is not just property tycoons and ancient golfing societies that admire his work. Phil ‘The Thrill’ Mickelson is also a fan. This is what ‘Lefty’ had to say about the decision to award the Olympic Course to Hanse:
“He is one of the best architects in the business. He understands how to make a golf course playable for the average player but challenging for the good player. I give the Olympic Committee real credit, a lot of credit because it would have been easier to go with a big name and instead they went with the best.”
Glowing praise indeed from one of the game’s best! Let’s hope his Olympic Course lives up to expectations following his recent projects. Not only will the Olympics become a lot more watchable for us golfers but if we ever in Brazil for any reason we know we will have a world class golf course that isn’t just playable for the best in the world!
The course itself is to be built on the Reserva de Marapendi in Barra da Tijuca which is some 5 miles from the Olympic Village. According to Hanse, the course may look like something from Australia’s famed Sand Belt area, home to some of the finest courses in the world including Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath and New South Wales. With a number of holes perched on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, the course will be exposed to the elements, especially considering Hanse doesn’t intend to plant a lot of trees on to supplement the existing mangrove trees which run along the edge of the Marapendi Lagoon.
So we now know as much as possible about a course that has not yet been built but what of the Olympic golf event itself? Will it be matchplay? Strokeplay? Well we at Your Golf Travel have our fingers crossed for some international Texas Scramble action but something tells us that won’t be the case!
Well…following the IOC’s decision to include golf in the 2016 games the International Golf Federation, which lobbied the IOC to add golf to the Olympics, has recommended to the IOC a competition format, and a way of selecting the golfers who get to participate.
The format proposed by the IGF is a 72 strokeplay tournament, with a three hole playoff in the event of a tie, for both men and women which will be designed to mirror the most important professional golf tournaments of them all, the four major championships.
The recommended selection criteria, from the IGF themselves is as follows:
“A field of 60 players for each of the men’s and women’s competitions, utilizing the Official World Golf Rankings as a method of determining eligibility. The top 15 world-ranked players would be eligible, regardless of the number of players from a given country. Beyond the top 15, players would be eligible based on world ranking, with a maximum of two eligible players from each country that does not already have two or more players among the top 15.”
The key points are that each tournament (men’s and women’s) would have a field of 60 golfers; and that players in the Top 15 of the men’s and women’s world rankings would gain automatic entry.
Outside of the Top 15, players are selected based on world ranking – but only if no more than two golfers from a single country are already in the field. This stipulation is meant to diversify the field, ensuring that as many different countries are represented as possible.
Whatever the format of the event and whichever players are in attendance, judging by Hanse’s reputation, we can be sure of one thing: the Olympic golf course might well be one of the stars of the show.
Roll on 2016!
The resident golf geek at Your Golf Travel. Have been lucky enough to have travelled far and wide playing golf and if I’m not writing about it at work, you will probably find me hacking it around my local course. Owner of 2 holes in one and some of the most crooked drives you have ever seen!