Delay signals tough call to build a legacy

Jack Nicklaus, shown here in 2009, is one of the favorites to design the golf course to be used for the 2016 Olympics.

Jack Nicklaus, shown here in 2009, is one of the favorites to design the golf course to be used for the 2016 Olympics.

Talk about a letdown. Friday’s big surprise announcement by the Rio 2016 committee selecting a golf course architect for the Olympic Games is that it has put off a decision for a month.

You can bet this won’t be the last delay. Missed deadlines are just part of the process -- with any golf course and with any Olympics. That doesn’t bode well for getting the course up and running for a planned 2015 tournament test run before the Olympic Games begin the next summer.

After two days of listening to a total of eight 45-minute presentations, the four-man selection committee apparently has its hand full and can’t come to an agreement. Let’s hope that’s a testament to the PowerPoint skills of the finalists and not a function of backdoor politicking and influence peddling. Not that such issues ever have been a factor in previous Olympiads.

Going into today’s stall, the favorite surely was Jack Nicklaus, who enhanced his considerable global presence by teaming with Annika Sorenstam. That move seemed to make sense on a site destined to hold competitions for the men and women on consecutive weeks in 2016. Other finalists also found design mates: Greg Norman chose Lorena Ochoa, while up-and-coming star Gil Hanse teamed with Amy Alcott. The Australian team of Peter Thomson and Ross Perrett added Karrie Webb. It’s a reasonable question, however, whether such couplings add anything to a design portfolio other than a superficial façade of gender-political correctness.

Design veteran Robert Trent Jones II opted for a more overtly strategic tact by adding to his team an experienced Brazilian golf legend, Mario Gonzalez. The other finalists – Tom Doak, Martin Hawtree and Gary Player - all felt comfortable relying upon their own well-established design credentials.

With a design fee set at $300,000 for the project, each of the finalists would be bidding for a job that paid well below their going rate. And to do so, they’d have to produce a full set of design plans, at considerable costs. Not that all would be lost on the project. The winning design bid not only would benefit from much international prestige but also likely land an additional fee of 10-15 percent of construction costs through a construction management contract.

The four-man selection committee includes members from Rio 2016 and R&A secretary Peter Dawson, who represents the International Golf Federation. Dawson has worked closely with Hawtree on a number of British Open course preparations. That might seem to give the Englishman an inside track. He already is enjoying a banner year, having brought the design of Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland, to the point where it’s due to open this summer.

But the winner here will have to do more than bank on reputation and alliances. He (or they) also will have to provide some ingenious solutions to some very basic problems. It’s no easy matter building a golf course for world-class competition that also must be suitable for everyday public play. And then there’s the matter of a golf course that will have to stand up to the barrage of two consecutive weeks of play, first by the men, then by the women – in their footsteps and in their divots. Whoever can solve that issue by smart deployment of teeing grounds and landing areas surely will get the attention of the committee.

Officially, the committee now will wait until next month’s visit by the International Olympic Committee to Rio de Janiero before awarding the design contract. Oh, well; yet another delay. Maybe by then, Rio 2016 can complete the transaction and buy the site – which organizers do not yet own. And then they can start the arduous, drawn-out process of ecological reviews, construction bidding, site work and grow in. All of which will make this one of those Olympic venues that likely will open up late, over budget and just barely ready before the torch is lit.

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