DORAL, Fla. – They were told to be prepared for the phone call at 6:30 a.m., so Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner did just that Wednesday morning. They were ready. Then they remained ready, only to wait . . . and wait . . . and wait . . . and wait.
And when finally after several hours the phone rang?
“I had all I could do to hold back the tears,” Hanse said.
Always an unheralded name in an industry that is populated by high-profile and highly visible personalities, Hanse heard news from the other end of the phone that he had hoped for, but perhaps had been considered a long shot for – he had won the bid to design the course that will be used when golf returns to the Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
In winning the bid, Hanse Golf Course Design was chosen over proposals put in by Hall of Famers Jack Nicklaus and Annika Sorenstam, Greg Norman and Lorena Ochoa, Gary Player, Peter Thomson, as well as acclaimed architects Robert Trent Jones II, Tom Doak and Martin Hawtree.
If there was surprise when the decision was announced by the Rio 2016 selection committee, it wasn’t so much a reflection on Hanse and his assistant, Wagner, as it was that so many presumptions were wrong. Politics apparently weren’t the overwhelming force in this process.
Said Bill Coore, who has worked with Ben Crenshaw to design some of the world’s best golf courses: “This is fantastic news. I don’t like to show prejudice, because they were all qualified (finalists), but if the goal is to showcase really interesting, quality golf architecture . . . then I must say, they made a very wise decision.”
Longtime PGA Tour member Brad Faxon, who has worked with Hanse on the re-design of TPC Boston, which hosts the Deutsche Bank Championship, called the news “phenomenal.”
“I’m so proud that the Olympics (group) did not go with a PR statement and instead chose Gil, because he’s the right choice.”
Added Phil Mickelson: “I’m a big fan of Gil Hanse. I give (Rio 2016) a lot of credit, because it would have been easier to go with a big name. Instead, they went with the best.”
Based in Malvern, Pa., Hanse Golf Course Design had teamed with Amy Alcott, the former LPGA star and World Golf Hall of Fame member, to put forth a proposal that impressed the Olympic folks. “(They were) the candidate that most aptly met the selection critera,” said a statement from the Rio 2016 committee.
“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 statement continued. “It addressed the environmental sustainability directives for the games and efficiently conformed to the building restrictions on the land.”
Accompanied by wife Tracy, and the oldest of his three children, Chelsea, a first-year student at Villanova Law School, Hanse is at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa for a reason totally unrelated to the Olympic decision. Thursday morning, Hanse will sit with Donald Trump to discuss their future plans for this famed resort. Trump has bought the resort and four of its courses for $150 million, and Hanse and Wagner already have been hired to refurbish, improve and renovate the resort’s showcase layout, TPC Blue Monster, which is playing host to this week’s Cadillac Championship. But since he was here, Hanse was giving instructions as to how this Wednesday morning would go. Asked to sit in the lobby of Lodge 7-8 so that cameras from Golf Channel could film him as he fielded the call, Hanse patiently waited, as did Wagner, Tracy and Chelsea.
At one point, Ty Votaw of the PGA Tour and International Golf Federation, stopped by to talk with Hanse and Wagner and give them an update on the phone call. Things were running a bit late, but everyone seemed resigned to the wait, and with the tournament here for the week, there seemed to always be a notable face walking by – be it a player such as David Toms, Matt Kuchar or Bo Van Pelt – or agents such as Mark Steinberg, who was introduced to Hanse.
Told that Hanse was waiting for the Olympic decision, Steinberg seemed interested.
“How did your presentation go?” Steinberg asked.
“I think it went well,” Hanse said. “But now we’ll wait and see.”
Word had circulated in recent weeks that Hanse’s bid had received a substantial boost from David Fay, former executive director of the U.S. Golf Association, and Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A and reportedly a huge fan of Hanse’s Castle Stuart Golf in Inverness, Scotland. If that were true, Hanse had to feel proud, but he clearly wasn’t getting carried away. For more than three hours he had been waiting for the phone call, and there was no way to tell which way the decision would go, not when the wait was so legnthy.
“So 7:30 came and 8:30 came and 9:30 came and 10:30 came and went,” Hanse said. “By that time, we were all at the point where we were getting sick of each other.”
When finally word came that his design company had won, Hanse was overwhelmed. “It’s very humbling, and we are incredibly honored to be recognized,” he said, and he referenced all the years he and Wagner worked in virtual anonymity.
“Jim and I, we always just tried to keep our heads down and do good work, and we figured at some point in time, somebody would pay attention,” Hanse said.
After joining forces with Wagner in 1995, Hanse embarked on a resume that has won him great acclaim with new courses such as Boston Golf Club, Craighead Link in Scotland and Castle Stuart. Renovations and restoration work at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course,Fishers Island Club off the coast of New York, and Kittansett Golf Club in southeastern Massachusetts have been done in a manner that emphasizes Hanse’s philosophy that courses be traditional, yet simple and elegant.
Most recently, Hanse’s group was chosen to design a municipal course for the town of Bandon, Ore., south of the Bandon Dunes resort. Hanse also has taken on projects in Japan and South Korea, as well as a possible PGA Tour course in Beijing that will be done with Adam Scott.
But it is the chance to design a course that will help stage golf’s return to the Olympics for the first time in 112 years that will put Hanse in the spotlight. He said he does not take the honor lightly. “This is the first time somebody is going to have a gold medal around their neck (for golf) since 1904.”
Hanse said he and Tracy will move to Brazil with their youngest daughter, Caley, a ninth-grader, early in 2013. (Their middle child, son Tyler, lives in Italy and is working to be a chef.)
Hanse confirmed that plans call for ground to be broken in October for a course that will be on treeless property that is mostly sand in Reserva de Marapendi in Barra da Tijuca, where wind will be a huge factor.
So long as they meet plans to break ground in October “the timeline that’s been articulated is comfortable,” Hanse said. “It’s not great, but I think given the climate and warm-season grasses, we should be able to get the golf course up and running by the middle or end of 2014.”
As for the style or design of the course, Hanse didn’t go into great detail, except to say it’s “a very open site,” but if you wanted to visualize it, he suggested something along the lines of the courses in Australia’s famed Sandbelt region.
In whatever direction he takes this project, Hanse will offer a brilliant design – at least in the opinion of Coore. He and Crenshaw were not involved in the process, so Coore said he wasn’t privy to what was involved.
“But to say politics were involved is a huge understatement,” he said. “I can only imagine what was involved, (but) from the bits and pieces I picked up, to say it was convoluted is an understatement. But I am so happy. The end result was a really, really good choice.
“Whoever was in charge of this decision made a very wise one.”