Gil Hanse was unexpected choice to design Olympic golf course - but right one

Gil Hanse was unexpected choice to design Olympic golf course – but right one

Gil Hanse
Gil Hanse's winning design for the Rio Olympic golf course.

MIAMI – When all is said and done, it will have taken 112 years to get golf back into the Olympic Games.

It took almost that long to decide who would construct a suitable course in Brazil to hold the event in 2016, or so it seemed.

The Course Designer Derby finally ended Wednesday, however, when Gil Hanse was named the official architect of the Olympic golf course.

(More: See Hanse's winning design.)

The process had dragged on inexorably, especially after the panel of experts making the decision tossed out all of the original design bids. But now golf, last held as an Olympic event in 1904, takes a bold step toward the 2016 Games. They're only four years away-so it would be a good idea to break ground for this new course pretty darned soon.

The victory by Hanse, who will partner with Hall of Famer Amy Alcott on the project, was a bit of an upset given the glitzier and more traditional bidders such as Annika Sorenstam and Jack Nicklaus; Greg Norman and Lorena Ochoa; Gary Player; and Robert Trent Jones Jr., among others.

Hanse is an unexpected good call. He was Golf Magazine's Architect of the Year in 2009 and he's as highly thought of as anyone in the golf-design business. If you have played either of his finest creations, Boston Golf Club in Massachusetts or Castle Stuart in Scotland, you would vote for him, too. Boston GC is a modern gem, a design where Pinehurst meets Pine Valley. Castle Stuart is as Scottish as haggis and a new must-play stop for international golf tourists.

In other words, you're not going to hear much second-guessing of the 48-year-old Hanse.

"It's very humbling and an incredible honor," Hanse told reporters at the Doral Resort for the Cadillac Championship. "To make the final eight … we were always just kind of happy to be along for the ride. We are excited that the jury was paying attention and we were able to impress upon them that we'd be the right fit for this job."

His Castle Stuart design might have helped land him the job, as Peter Dawson, head of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, is reportedly enamored with the course and was a key member on the selection panel. Dawson, probably the most powerful figure in world golf, was joined on the selection panel by Carlos Arthur Nuzman, Rio 2016 president; Augusta Ivan of the Municipal Olympic Company; and Arminio Fraga of the Rio 2016 Golf Advisory Committee.

Since the clock is ticking, Hanse said he plans to break ground on the new course in October, and that the course could be up and running by late 2014.

According to Hanse, the course may look like something from Australia's famed Sand Belt area and he doesn't intend to plant a lot of trees. There are some mangrove trees on the site already, which run along the edge of a lagoon.

"I don't want to sound pretentious in any way, shape or form," Hanse said. "All we are doing is providing a stage for these players to display their talent. We don't fixate on a score. If the golf course identities a top-notch player as champion, that's all you can ask for. I'm hopeful that the course is part of the story. Will it be the entire story? No. When the medals are handed out, hopefully we're talking about who won as opposed to the course."

Hanse showed his commitment to the Rio course when he said that he will move with his wife and daughter to Brazil for the duration of the project.

"I think that was something that resonated with the committee-I'm not a fan of poker terms, but we were all in," Hanse said. "I think that showed the commitment and resolve that we have."

Hanse, who has already drawn up plans to redo Doral's Blue Monster in the wake of Donald Trump's recent purchase of Doral Golf Resort and Spa last week, envisions an exciting finish with a short par 4, a short par 3 and a reachable par 5.

"This is the first time somebody is going to have a gold medal around their neck since 1904," he said. "There's a lot at stake so if we can have somebody do something special down the stretch, that would be great."