Landing the plum assignment of the 2016 Olympics golf course in Rio de Janeiro is a stunning career achievement for soft-spoken, 48-year-old Gil Hanse.
Though much of the sports world doesn’t know him, he’s respected within the deeper recesses of the golf-course design community, thanks to a number of highly regarded original designs and renovations. In a world where many of his colleagues are publicly impressed with themselves and eager to impose their signature on their golf courses, Hanse stands out for his modest ego and sustained intelligence.
He’s a traditionalist, a student of classic design values and equally at home with the classic books in golf-course architecture or sitting atop a bulldozer shaping out his own features. His respect for ground-game values is evident in his leading original designs. At Boston Golf Club in Hingham, Mass., he relied upon semi-blind shots, massive rollouts in greens, and fescue-laden roughs and untamed bunkers to build a golf course that looked like it had been there for decades. It was a strategy he also has deployed in converting the nearby TPC at Boston into a golf course that, in his words, “would actually look like it’s in New England.”
Professional golfers know his work from Castle Stuart in Inverness, Scotland. Despite torrential rains during last year’s Scottish Open there, the layout that he designed and built in close collaboration with owner Mark Parsinen has won high praise for its sophisticated shot-making demands in a links environment where ground-game bounces and rolls are part of the equation.
Hanse also has done some high-profile restoration work, most famously at Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course, where he brought back George Thomas’ original scratchy-edged bunkers, opened up landing areas and reclaimed shot-making options that had been lost to decades of tree overgrowth.
Hanse, a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, is no newcomer to the world’s golf stage. After earning his master’s in landscape architecture at Cornell, he won that school’s prestigious Dreer Fellowship that allowed him to spend a year touring the golf courses of Great Britain and Ireland. Upon his return, he spent three years working with Tom Doak before heading off on his own in 1992. One of his earliest solo design/build credits is Craighead Course, the second layout at Crail Golfing Society, Fife, Scotland.
Hanse has been retained by Bandon Dunes Resort owner Mike Keiser to design a municipal course for the town of Bandon, Ore. Just last week, he was named by Donald Trump to mastermind the restoration of Doral Golf Resort’s TPC Blue Monster course.
Now Hanse will be flying down to Rio de Janeiro. The decision to hire Hanse, who has enlisted LPGA Hall of Famer Amy Alcott on the project, represents a powerful endorsement of a post-modern, links-inspired orientation to golf at the highest level of international competition. Beyond what this means for Hanse’s own career, it is a powerful step in the emergence of a more naturalistic, more traditionalist and ecologically sensitive approach to golf and golf-course design.