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Gil Hanse & Amy Alcott Selected to Design Olympic Course


In a surprise decision, the Rio 2016 Olympic committee selected Hanse Golf Design to craft the new golf course for the Summer Games four years from now in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Golf hasn't been played in the Olympics since the 1904 Games in St. Louis, Mo., so many pundits view this appointment as important. In a surprise decision the committee picked a little-known American golf course designer from an international group of golf luminaries that included Jack Nicklaus, Sweden's Annika Sorenstam, South Africa's Gary Player, Mexico's Lorena Ochoa and Australians Peter Thomson and Greg Norman.

Also in the mix were famed golf American architects Tom Doak and Robert Trent Jones II and Martin Hawtree of England.

In a statement, Gary Player congratulated Hanse. "Congratulations to Gil and his team. He is a gentleman and I know that he will design a golf course worthy of hosting the 2016 Olympic Games," said Gary Player.

"This is an important project that is not just about designing a great golf course. It is much bigger than that. Golf is returning to the Olympic Games for the first time in more than 100 years and all of us in golf have the responsibility to help make its return a huge success. I, and our entire company, will do whatever we can to help make golf in the 2016 and 2020 Games meaningful, successful and a permanent part of Olympic competition."

The committee's decision was not only a shocker to the golf world but to the fellow who runs the Malvern, Pa.-based design firm. "I'm still a little bit stunned by the whole thing," principal architect Gil Hanse told the Associated Press.

The course, which will remain open after the Olympics to the citizens of a large and populated but relatively golf-starved country, will be built in the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood that will hold most of the Olympic venues.

"Hanse Golf Course Design tackled the challenge of designing a course for use by both elite and amateur athletes, one of the main legacy objectives," the Rio 2016 Olympic committee noted in a statement. "It addressed the environmental sustainability directives for the games and efficiently conformed to the building restrictions on the land."

The committee made its final selection after two prior delays.

Hanse will partner in the course with Amy Alcott, a native of Missouri who amassed 29 LPGA Tour wins and is a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame. For more background about Hanse Design, visit http://www.hansegolfdesign.com/.

Below is the full transcript of the Olympic course-designer announcement and Hanse's session with reporters afterward. Ty Votaw emceed the proceedings. (Votaw is the former commissioner of the LPGA Tour and was part of the group - the International Golf Federation - that helped spearhead golf's return to the Olympics after a century-long hiatus.) Here's what Hanse, Votaw and the attending scribes discussed.

TY VOTAW: Good afternoon, everybody. I'm Ty Votaw with both the PGA Tour and the International Golf Federation, and we appreciate very much the Cadillac Championship affording us the opportunity to make this announcement and to provide you access to the gentleman on my right. Earlier today, Rio 2016 announced that Hanse Golf Course Design has been selected to design the golf venue for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, and we are fortunate enough to have the principal of Hanse Golf Course Design, Gil Hanse, with us today, who is here on some other business. And with that, I'd like to turn it over to Gil to say a few words, and then we'd be happy to answer your questions.

GIL HANSE: Thank you, Ty. As I'm sure all of you can understand, it's very humbling and we are incredibly honored to be recognized to design the golf course for the Rio 2016 Olympics. To make the final eight, and to be included along with arguably the greatest player in the game and a cast of other great players, Jack and Annika and Greg and Lorena and Peter Thomson and Gary Player; it's just an amazing cast. And then the golf course architects, Trent Jones, Jr., two of my mentors, Martin Hawtree and Tom Doak, we were always just kind of happy to be along for the ride.

Jim Wagner, my design partner and I, we always just try to keep our heads down and do good work and figure at some point in time somebody will pay attention. We are excited that the jury was paying attention, and we were able to impress upon them that we would be the right fit for the project.

Some of you who know me, there are so many people who come into this, and I don't want to turn this into an Oscar acceptance speech, but we had great partners on this project, Owen Larkin and the Larkin Group; Frank Rossi and Jeff Carlson from an environmental perspective. Amy Alcott, obviously a great, great golf, and it says more about her than anything that she was unselfish enough to be part of the team and contribute whatever she could to the team without demanding or needing to be in the limelight. She's just those of you who know her, he's really fun to be around and we like to have fun when we design courses, and we look so forward to working with her.

There are a handful of people, whenever you put a presentation together, I'm just absolutely horrible with computer stuff, so we had . . . guys who you have never heard of but they made us look good in front the panel and they really were terrific.

And I mentioned Jim earlier; the people who design golf courses, and we are happy to do that - and we also build golf courses. For people who have the opportunity to work with us in the past, they get it, that Jim is really the talented part of the team. And you know, with Jim being so involved in everything we do, you know, I get to stand up here because my name is on the firm, but he is a partner in every sense of the word. So we are really excited to get started, and I think that takes care of all those thoughts and I'm happy to answer any questions.

TY VOTAW: Thank you, Gil.

Q. Can you talk about the timeline of when you think you'll break ground and that type of thing?

GIL HANSE: Sure. The time line that's been developed is to break ground in October of this year. As part of the overall process, each of the eight firms was required to submit pretty extensive designs. So we are a little ways down the road in that respect, so it's not like we are hitting the ground right now with day No. 1. So I think this summer will involve a lot of refining the design and going through whatever permits are required, getting the necessary approvals to break ground.

And I think as long as we hit the ground in October, the time line that's been articulated is comfortable. It's not great, but I think given that climate, warm season grasses, we should be able to get the golf course up and running by the middle end of 2014, and I believe the schedule that was put out was to have test events in 2015 prior to the 2016 games.

Q. I think some of us have seen an aerial shot from pretty far afield. Can you describe the terrain and whether there's any water there or any naturally occurring features, or is it just going to be you and a bulldozer?

GIL HANSE: There will be some of that. And the good thing is that it's all sand. So my back is going to be very happy when I'm on a bulldozer. I think that's really the key natural characteristic of the site is that when you have sand, it affords you so many other opportunities to be creative. Obviously it facilitates drainage, and it gives us the opportunity, not necessarily to have to put catch basins everywhere, we are able to move water on surfaces, on grade. There are also some nice, natural features on site that when we have to creates the artificial features, we really sort of point to those and say that's what we are going to try to replicate, as well as the vegetation.

Q. Is it going to be like a parkland look, or are there plenty of trees, palm trees, oak trees; what are we looking at?

GIL HANSE: A very open site with some native species on some of the dune formations, but I think the primary trees are mangroves, which are all down along the edge of the lagoon, and so those will be sort of more of a buffer. Our plan does not anticipate a lot of trees being planted on the property. I think more lower growth vegetation. So I think if you were to try to visualize something, and it's difficult to compare landscapes, but I think sort of the sand belt of Australia would be a good one to look at as far as that type of vegetation and certainly that style of architecture.

Q. Just be curious, how much do you think it was an influence or help that David Fay was so supportive, given his long time support of the Olympics and secondly, do you think it helped with the nice reviews that Castle Stuart got with Peter Dawson being up there?

GIL HANSE: Yeah, I think any time you're able to bring somebody in like David Fay with the connections and the dedication he's had to the game and have him sort of touting your design abilities, but also you as a person, I'm sure that's very helpful and I'm sure that resonated with the committee. As far as Castle Stuart, the work we did there as Mark Parson. I think Peter is a fan of that; he's mentioned that he is. You've probably spoken more with Mark about that.

With the exception of the weather, the way that that worked out last year give them at least most of our design work, with respect to the Tour and professional golfers, has been of a renovation, restoration aspect and I think the fact that Castle Stuart was so well received, basically, I wouldn't say proved, but gave them a certain level of proof that we could build a golf course from scratch that would be well accepted by the players and also able to handle a championship.

Q. Can you take us through how you found out about getting the job and also your reaction and stuff?

GIL HANSE: Yes. There was a bit of skullduggery going on this morning. There was a camera crew from the Golf Channel that followed us and made us get out of bed very early saying, the call is going to come and we are going to follow each of the eight contestants and see how they react. So 7:30 came, and 8:30 came, and 9:30 came and went, and 10:30 came and went; and by that time, we were all to the point where we were getting sick of each other and then the phone rang and everybody jumped and the camera people got back up in place. You know, it was all I could do to hold back tears.

It was just - you know, we have worked really hard at this for a long period of time, and that means - and don't get me wrong. I love what we do and we are very fortunate and very blessed, but sometimes when you're choking back dust and you've been on a bulldozer for 12 hours and it's 90 degrees and all you want is a beer, you know, sometimes you think, oh, man, this is a little bit hard. I think Jim and I can reflect back on a lot of those times. You know, this is a nice reward for that dedication and effort I think that we put into what we do.

Q. Who actually called you?

GIL HANSE: Gustavo Nascimento, who is with Rio 2016. He's their spokesman and he's been involved in all the presentations. He called just prior to the start of the press conference in Rio, and so we knew just as they were starting to go out, because they wanted to keep it quiet. They wanted to allow the Mayor of Rio to make the announcement.

Q. Phone call in English?

GIL HANSE: It was. They are very accommodating. Their English is much better than my Portuguese.

Q. After the Olympics are finished, what will the access be at the golf course, what type of an arrangement will there be? Who will own the golf course, and things like that?

GIL HANSE: I'm not familiar with the machinations of who owns it, develops it. But I know it's part of the mandate that it will be a public facility and it will be certainly accessible. It will be a facility that's somewhat similar to First Tee being set up down there so we can help to grow the game in Brazil. I think from our perspective, obviously the 2016 Olympics are a critical couple of weeks for this golf course and I think it's a critical couple of weeks for golf and how it's presented to the world. But I think equally as important is the legacy of what we are leaving behind. Antony Scanlon, what he was talking to us as the group of eight in Rio, he was talking about the importance of the game and how this is an opportunity to put a good face on golf in developing countries and really will serve as a model. He said, "I don't want to scare you, but, there's an added bit of responsibility here."

So I think ultimately, we want this to be received well those two weeks, but we really want it also to be something the Brazilians are proud of. And if it can lead to in 2024 or whatever, you know, there's a Brazilian in contention for the Olympics for the gold medal, then we have done an even better job.

Q. At the end of the Olympics, at the end of the competition, if there's more talk about the golf course than the actual competition; that a good thing or a bad thing?

GIL HANSE: It depends on how people are talking about it (laughing). But ultimately, what we do - and I don't want to sound pretentious in any way, shape or form. All we are doing is providing a stage for those guys to display their talent on, and girls. If somehow that stage allows there to be a dramatic finish or allows there to be excitement, then that's a good thing.

But I'd much rather people talk about how the competition was carried out. People asked me last summer about Castle Stuart, do you feel offended if these guys go out and shoot 20 something under. No, we really don't fixate on a score. We love to find a great champion. I think if the golf course identifies a really top notch player as your champion, that's really all you can ask for out of your golf course. Yeah, I'm hopeful that the golf course is part of the story. Will it be the entire story? No. I think it will be a lot of the story leading up to the tournament, but hopefully when the medals are handed out, we are talking about who won, as opposed to the golf course.

Q. Also in terms of different sets of tees, which I'm sure you build all the time, is there any different challenge when you are talking about the highest level of golf?

GIL HANSE: No, I think it's going to be more of a maintenance aspect. We are going to have to try to figure out how we spread the play over two weeks; that we don't have a concentration of divots, ball marks, etc.; that we are able to create enough variety and flexibility in the design of the course that we have two compelling competitions. At the end of the day, if it felt like they were on two different golf courses, that would be really cool. I think that would be something that you would see - it's no secret my favorite golf course in the world is the Old Course. And if you contested the ladies Open Championship and the men's Open Championship in back to back weeks over the Old Course, you would have two very different stories and two very different outcomes. And if we can somehow come even close to scratching the surface of the Old Course in what we do, then I think that will be successful.

Q. There's an NDA, but could you in terms of current venues give us an idea of what this golf course is going to be like?

GIL HANSE: Yeah, I'm still not clear on what we can disclose or not, but I think that - I watched Royal Melbourne and I thought that was spectacular in the Presidents Cup. Just the way - one of the things we talked about in general terms is the recovery aspect of golf. I think that's an underutilized aspect of golf architecture when dealing with players of this caliber is presenting them with interesting problems to solve in the recovery. I think Royal Melbourne showed that; Augusta shows that; that when these guys get around the greens and they miss a shot, that aspect of utilizing slopes and speeds, etc., to recover instead of just Point A to Point B, that I think is fascinating.

So I think there will be aspects of that in the design where we are trying to create all of these different angles, which is difficult in this day and age, as long as these guys hit it. But I think that will be a goal of what we try to do. I don't want to rat you out, but I know you played at Los Angeles Country Club, and that -

Q. Keep ratting me out.

GIL HANSE: That golf course, we were able to be involved in the restoration there with Jim and I and Geoff Shackelford, and I learned more about architecture and the restoration of that golf course than I may have learned 15 or 20 years prior to that. George Thomas is a genius discussing courses within a course and different strategies and options, etc. I think that we are going to try to implement some of that thought process and see if it's relevant in this day and age with technology and lengths and distances that these guys hit it. I think it is and we are hopeful that this golf course will prove that it is.

Q. One other thing, it's obviously Rio and the challenges are immense, South America; you have challenges in China, challenges everywhere else. What are the biggest challenges for you in doing this golf course in Rio?

GIL HANSE: Well, I don't know if any of you saw the press release. Actually Tracy and Caley, and my youngest daughter, and I are going to move down to Rio for the construction of the golf course. So finding a school, finding a house, things of that nature will be extremely important to us obviously. But I think that was something that resonating with the committee is that - I'm not a big fan of poker terms, but we were all in. This really was important to us. I think that showed the commitment and the resolve that we have.

I'm excited to find out and explore more. Thankfully golf courses have been built in Brazil so there's a wealth of knowledge there. And I think in the discussions going forward with the designs, I mean, I'd be thrilled if the other finalists are willing, to sit and talk; what did they see. I don't know that we had all the answers.

We had answers that were good enough for the committee to be committed to understand that we were a good fit for them, but I respect Tom Doak, and I would love a chance to be able to sit down with him and talk about the opportunities that might exist out there. Because I think ultimately, as Antony said, this is more about the game of golf. Yeah, don't get me wrong, this will probably be a good thing for us business wise and professionally, but hopefully at the end of the day, we are doing the right thing for the game.

Q. Did you tell Trump you're moving to Brazil? That's not my question. To the degree it's locked in stone and that you can talk about it, let's say, you know, four years from now, this thing comes down to the last hole, what's the last hole look like? Uphill, downhill? Par 5? Reachable? What do you have there for risk/reward to make it interesting?

GIL HANSE: Can I consult my lawyer? (Turning to Ty). I'll speak in vague terms. I think the setup and the finish that we have proposed envisions a lot of half par holes. So short par 4s, short par 3, reachable par 5.

Q. At the end?

GIL HANSE: Yeah, and I think that that sort of - half par holes are where things can happen. You get really good swings. Some people are afraid to finish golf courses that way because they don't want guys walking off going birdie, birdie, eagle, and I think it would be awesome if they did that. I think we want to try to promote aggressive play at the end of the tournament. This is the first time somebody is going to have a Gold Medal around their neck since 1904. There's a lot at stake, and if we can have somebody really do something special down the stretch that would be great.

Q. The Olympic move is always interesting, with big ideas and philosophies behind things and so on. Aside from obviously all of the detailed information you have to give them, how interested were they in your ideas about what a golf course should be like and how much did that play a role in winning it?

GIL HANSE: You know, I felt like in the presentation that we made, it was important for us to not only talk about the specifics of what we were proposing, but to talk about what we believed about golf course architecture. Because there could be a situation where you look at something on paper and you go, wow, that looks great. And then you listen to the guy talk about what he really believes, and it's like, hmmm, that's not really what I'm thinking. So we thought it was important to just sort of put it out there and say, hey, this is what we think golf architecture should be, and I mentioned the recovery shot and aspects of the game, and I'm hopeful that that added to the consideration for us. I don't know, because I wasn't part of the deliberations, but I think we put a lot of big ideas out there, and I think some of them must have stuck.

TY VOTAW: Gil, again, congratulations and thank you all for participating today. Thank you.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.