Competitive bidding for plum course-design assignments is nothing new for golf architects.
But it’s fair to say that the industry never has seen a bigger project pursued by so many distinguished teams as is the case now with golf’s return to the Olympics for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
What began as an open call for qualified designers that drew more than two dozen applications has been narrowed to an elite eight: Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, Martin Hawtree, Robert Trent Jones II, Gary Player and the design teams of Jack Nicklaus and Annika Sorenstam; Greg Norman and Lorena Ochoa; and Peter Thomson and Ross Perrett.
The applicants signed confidentially agreements. As a condition of the project, the three-man team representing 2016 Rio Olympics has set a fee of $300,000 – a fraction of the normal design rate most of these architects receive. The big prize here will be the prestige of having designed a showpiece for the global game.
The site itself is an undistinguished, virtually flat, land-locked parcel on the far southwest side of Rio de Janeiro near the planned Olympic Village. Technical specifications, as well as budgets, environmental issues and timeline, will be shared at a December workshop involving all eight finalists. The dynamics in that room would make for a good movie scene.
The Rio 2016 Committee has come up with a fascinating international cross section of the design industry. The group includes four full-time professional designers (Doak, Hanse, Hawtree and Jones) and four distinguished golf professionals who converted their multiple-majors success into worldwide design firms (Nicklaus, Norman, Player and Thomson). The list also is globally well spread.
A final decision on the architect is likely in January. On the face of it, Rio 2016 deserves credit for including a wide range of design styles, including the low-key naturalism of Doak and Hanse. They’ve also included some of the game’s most recognized globetrotting golfers. One residual issue might be that of perceived bias toward one country’s team if organizers opt for a golfing great. If you were building a soccer (football) stadium for the World Cup, you probably would not hire Pele.