Questions for... Amy Alcott

Saturday March 17th, 2012
Amy Alcott (with Phil Mickelson at the 2009 Northern Trust Open) is part of Gil Hanse's Olympic design team.
John M. Heller/Getty Images

LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame member Amy Alcott is perhaps best known for inaugurating the traditional champion's dive into the greenside lake at the 18th hole at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the LPGA season. In 1991, Alcott plunged into the lake after winning her third Kraft, and since then every winner has gotten wet. Alcott's victory was the 29th and final one of her playing career. Alcott played a few more seasons on the LPGA, and then in the late 1990s she began involving herself in golf away from the competitive cauldron.

A resident of Santa Monica, Calif., Alcott, 56, has served on the Southern California PGA Foundation Advisory board, written a book (The Leaderboard, 2009), formed a design business that has worked on two courses, and helped to organize golf events. Last week, Alcott was part of the design team, led by Gil Hanse, that was selected to design the new course that will host the 2016 Olympic golf competition in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

When did you get interested in becoming part of the Olympic course design project?
Back in 2009, I saw that golf was passed to become an Olympic sport and I said to myself, "This is a perfect opportunity for a male-female designed course." I felt like the Olympics would open the door for male and female equality. So that planted the seed for me to get involved, but then nothing happened for a while.

How did you connect with Gil Hanse?
A mutual friend, Geoff Shackelford, arranged a meeting with Gil in the summer of 2010. We met at Los Angeles Country Club, which Gil was renovating. He knew about my record in golf, but he didn't know about my intense interest in course design. I love the artistic nature of design work. We had a nice talk. I told him if there was ever an opportunity to work with him, either on the Olympics or anything else, I'd be thrilled. Gil said he wanted to make the Olympic bid under his own name, but that he'd have a team working with him. Then we didn't talk for a long time.

Do you share similar design styles?
I've played 1,000 courses around the world. I like traditional designs, classics, like Gil does.

When did you become part of his Olympic design team?
After discussions, Gil officially added me to the team in January. Because he was bidding under his name, he told me I'd have to check my ego at the door. I had no problem. I just wanted to involved.

What was your main contribution to the proposal?
When we presented in Rio, I spoke a lot about the legacy of the 2016 Olympics. I told the committee about my grass-roots childhood introduction to golf, how I would push balls into sprinkler heads in my front lawn as a 9-year-old and how I developed a passion for the game by watching it on television. I said that if such simple things could spark my passion for the game, I could only imagine what the Olympics and a world-class facility like we'd build could do for kids all over Brazil and the world. If Olympic golf succeeds and the course facility is utilized, it could spark ancillary things like a great caddie program, course-maintenance jobs, a First Tee-style development program. Golf can and should be used to make kids into better citizens.

How'd you find out that your team won the Olympic course bid?
I was running near the beach in Santa Monica, and I was talking to somebody on the phone. Suddenly, my phone started ringing off the hook. They were quick hang-up calls. One call came from Owen Larkin, a golf environmental expert who is another member of our team. Then Gil called. I told the person I was speaking to that I had to say goodbye. I reached Gil. He said, "I'm here at Doral about to go into a press conference, and we won!" It was totally thrilling to hear him.

How did that call compare to your other accomplishments in golf?
I'm a very positive person. I thought we had a good shot. Sure, we were up against the establishment, the big machine. It was a David and Goliath story. But I didn't ever let my mind go there. I knew we were the best team. When Gil called, I thought it was like a Western movie, because the good guys won. That was my first thought. Then I thought how the feeling was just like when I won the Lady Keystone Open in 1984. It was at Hershey Country Club. Teeing off in the final round, I was six shots behind. I birdied the last hole to shoot 65, but I still didn't think I had a chance so I packed and left for the airport. When we reached the terminal, we got a call. "Mrs. Alcott, don't get on the plane." We drove back to the club. Juli Inkster was coming up the 18th hole and we were now tied. I watched from atop a hill near the green. Juli missed a four-foot putt, so I won the tournament standing on top of a hill wearing blue jeans and standing next to my suitcases. It was surreal, but exhilarating.

Did you change for the trophy presentation?
Right there on the hill, I put on golf clothes, shorts and a shirt, and then I walked down to the green for the ceremony. It was an amazing feeling. It tasted good too. They have a 100-pound Hershey's bar.

What will your role be as the course is developed over the next couple of years?
I'll go to Rio on several occasions to work with Gil. He is moving to Rio, and he's the ringleader. He's a master who likes to get onto the bulldozer. I'll be his consultant, and I'll share all of my views and ideas.

What's the property like?
It's very sandy, flat and treeless. From a designer's standpoint, that makes it a totally open palate. We're going to create a great challenge for the Olympians, but we'll then leave behind a great public course for the public to enjoy when the Olympics are gone. We know the course has to be challenging for players of all abilities. Hopefully, our design will help to popularize the sport in Brazil and open up that area as more of a golf resort destination.

What will be the future of golf in Brazil after the Olympics?
Brazil is a passionate sports country. They have a lot of kids. If we can get kids to our course and other venues, and if we can make golf not be viewed as an elitist sport, good things can grow out of the Olympics. The Games will give golf a good footing. It's easy to view Brazil and golf like Japan was with the game in the late 1960s and early '70s, when golf in Japan took off. I made 40 trips to Japan and won tournaments over there, so I saw how golf crazy they were. The same potential exists in Brazil.

Who will be responsible for overseeing the game's growth in Brazil after the Olympics?
The Brazilian Golf Federation, I guess. I don't really have an answer. It will be up to people other than us to take the ball and run with it.

Why did the selection committee go with Gil Hanse and your team, when there were so many other design teams with huge celebrity names like Nicklaus, Norman, Ochoa and Sorenstam?
I'm not sure of all the ins and outs of the voting committee. But we made the best all-around presentation. Our team is what the Olympics are all about: great design, the legacy, incorporating state-of-the-art environmental features. We proved that we're committed to a facility and program that opens doors for the future of the game. We had a very good feeling after our presentation. At the end of my presentation, I shared a quotation from Steve Jobs that I believe was impactful. He once said that design isn't how something looks or feels, it's how it works. I told the committee that we can do the best job because we will do something that works.

Will golf succeed in the Olympics?
Nobody knows. It's been over 100 years since golf was in the Olympics. Golf has so many team events with a myriad of formats, but nothing is more special than the pure effort of doing something for nothing more than representing your country and playing for the [Olympic] rings.

Will professional golfers want to play in the Olympics?
There's nothing like playing for your country. I never played in the Solheim Cup or captained it, so that's why this job is so sweet for me. I can be part of the game on its biggest stage.

What's your perspective on the state of Tiger Woods?
Health is everything in golf. Tiger's game looked brilliant a couple of weeks ago. But now this injury, so I don't know. He has amazing talent. Golfers have multiple opportunities to reinvent themselves during a career. Tiger's done that before, and now he can do it again. But you need courage and desire to come back. Tiger's made a great effort. I'd never count him out.

How is the LPGA doing?
The tour has a lot of momentum, in a way, because it's regenerating itself. They're trying to get more events back in the U.S., and the key to that will be finding some dominant American players. There is no shortage of American talent, with kids like Lexi Thompson, Paula Creamer, this [Jessica] Korda girl, but now they have to step up to the plate and become consistent winners. They have to step it up a notch. The girls from Korea work so hard. My wish is that the U.S. girls will step up to the challenge.

Do you still play?
I still love to play. Playing golf is the song in my heart. I love the art form. When I was competing, I viewed the game like an artist. I still get out and play some events on the legends tour. And I've been toying around with maybe playing in Kraft in a couple of weeks. Heck, I won it three times. There's a part of me that can't give it up. Some players can just close the door, while others, like I, are weaners. We slowly wean ourselves away from the limelight of the tour but we never really go away. I'm entered in the Kraft, but I'm not convinced that I'll play.

Are you ready to compete against Yani Tseng?
Not really. I know what it takes to eat, breathe and sleep golf, hitting balls all day. I can't say that I've been doing that.

 

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