Delay keeps Rio designer off course for another month
Who knew that a golf-course design competition could be such compelling theater?
When golf was accepted into the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero, the host committee had to build a golf course worthy of the event. So when the local organizers, Rio 2016, culled their search to eight finalists and brought them to Brazil for interviews last week, the assumption by everyone, including the selectors, was that the winner would be announced right away.
Instead, the committee of four - three Brazilian officials and the R&A's Peter Dawson, representing the International Golf Federation - slipped in word that they had to reach a consensus, not just a majority decision, and opted to delay the outcome for a month. Apparently, that's to schedule the decision during a visit to Rio by the International Olympic Committee, even though Olympics policy decrees that all decisions about sports venues be made by the host committee.
A strict non-disclosure agreement has prevented any public comment by the principals. But you can bet that their phones and emails have been humming with back-door chatter. The design team of Jack Nicklaus and Annika Sorenstam went in as the presumptive favorite, though in fact such a position was pure speculation. The committee and its staff are doing their technical homework, and there's every reason to believe that Rio 2016 is more interested in having a course that it can properly manage and use to develop golf rather than one that will serve for the two weeks when the men, followed by the women, will play at stroke play for the first golf medals in more than 100 years.
Perhaps Rio 2016 will be impressed by the globe-trotting record of Gary Player, who has designed courses worldwide and won, along with nine major championships, the 1974 Brazilian Open in Rio with a final-round 59. Greg Norman, who is teamed with Lorena Ochoa, could make an impact, as would the Australian team of Peter Thomson, Ross Perrett and Karrie Webb. The committee also might be impressed by England's Martin Hawtree, whose credentials include close work with Dawson on British Open renovations. Robert Trent Jones II has a strong international design record and, via his alliance with Brazilian golf legend Mario Gonzalez, strong ties to golf in the host nation. The committee also might be tempted by the innovative, links-inspired design work of Tom Doak or of Gil Hanse, who has teamed with Amy Alcott.
For now, the so-called Big Eight have been hung out to dry after having exhausted themselves in a rush over the holidays getting their PowerPoints, construction documents and budget estimates readied. The teams spent anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000 in unreimbursed travel and design expenses prepping for the 45-minute pitches. The capped design fee of $300,000 is well below their customary rates. While that removes salary from the bid process, the committee will be evaluating other costs - including proposed construction budgets (thought to range from $10 million to $15 million), and construction-supervision fees (the industry norm is 8 percent to 12 percent).
Anticipated construction costs should be straightforward on the roughly 210-acre site. Some design teams are used to working efficiently. For those accustomed to moving lots of dirt, cost overruns might be standard. If Brazilian officials have done their homework, they will know this and factor it in.
The fact is, no one knows, and all is a matter of speculation. We'll know a little more in a few years when Golf Channel, which has filmed the presentations, releases its documentary in the run-up to the 2016 Olympics. The only thing certain for now is that all golf courses and all Olympic venues suffer from delays. This latest postponement does not bode well for opening the course in time for a competitive test run in 2015, as planned. Of course, it would help if Rio 2016 finished its acquisition of a site that technically it does not yet own.