In a longer, videotaped interview with golf architect Gil Hanse, CNN reporter Shane O’Donoghue led the designer to share his inspirations and his thought process for the creation the 2016 Olympic Games’ golf course in Rio de Janeiro. [The course will be largely grassed with Zeon Zoysia, one of The Turfgrass Group’s top sellers here in the United States.]
To watch the video posted on the website of the Back 9 Network (the Golf Lifestyle Network), posted in January 2014, click here and scroll down to the second interview. Below is a transcript of that video report.
O’Donoghue’s second interview with Gil Hanse, Architect for the Rio 2016 Olympic Golf Course
Gil, has it been a trying time? How would you describe your time here in Brazil so far.
“Well, it’s been a little bit different than what we thought it would be,” says Hanse. “We’re obviously still very honored and excited to be involved in the project. The way it’s gone, I really don’t think is the way it was depicted to any of the eight of us who were initially vying for the position. None of us were led to understand how actively involved the land owners would be in the process and how sometimes the decision-making processes have not gone the way we would have liked to have seen them go. So, yeah, from that standpoint, it’s been a little more difficult than we had thought.”
So, we’re here at the beginning of 2014. Where is the project right now?
“We have twelve holes completely shaped,” says Hanse, “with bits and pieces of another four holes well shaped. We actually have sixteen greens complexes completed, shaped, at this point in time. The last two holes are being cleared of existing vegetation, and we’re hopeful that by February, we should be able to shape those holes out. We’re kinda of a critical juncture in the construction; we’re awaiting the irrigation materials to arrive from the United States; hopefully, the installation of those materials starts soon thereafter, early January. If all goes well, we’ll have water flying sometime in March, and we’ll start putting grass on the ground then.
“Now, you’ve allocated for a men’s tournament to a women’s tournament, but beyond that, it’s got to be playable. It’s going to be open, a public course,” O’Donoghue comments. “There are a lot of challenges there.”
“Yeah,” Hanse agrees. “From a golf architect’s standpoint, that’s always the most difficult challenge. How do you make the golf course playable for the average golfer and yet still make it challenging enough for the best players to score on. You know, I think Augusta National is the perfect example of how you set up a golf course for both of those goals. You have a wide golf course off of the tee that’s very playable for everybody. Big greens, not a lot of water except down in eight/nine corner. It’s a fun, playable course. You can get the ball around.
He continues, “But to score at Augusta, you have to stand on the tee and really look at half of the fairway. Because, to get the proper angle into the green, you need to come from either the left or the right, depending on the hole location.”
“Since Brazil really has no model for what a golf course should look like — I mean, most of the golf courses we’ve seen have a very sort of tropical, Florida-type of feel,” Hanse says. “But the model… that’s being a very sandy, windswept site. We don’t want to make a links golf course, because that’s not really indigenous to this part of the world. But we thought the sand-belt courses around Royal Melbourne… their vegetation is very similar, Southern hemisphere… we thought that that was really a great to look at. So, that was our concept, what we presented to the Olympic Committee and what we’re trying to accomplish out in the field. So, from that perspective, yeah, it will be fresh because we’ve never attempted to build a golf course that looks like this. But I think within our overall general philosophy of trying to be as conscientious as we can with the native landscape and anything that we have to build or construct, we want to make it look as natural as possible. So, I think that will be a consistent theme that you’ll find on any of our golf courses.”
Can we briefly go through the layout of the course? You know, the first six, the middle six and the final six, and the kind of challenges that you’re presenting to the golfer, the risk/reward, etc.?
“When we first looked at the routing, Jim Wagner and I started at looking at dividing the golf course into three sections. There was the upper section, where we had a lot of character to it. There was natural movement in the ground. The middle section of the property was very wet, very low lying, so we knew that’s where the irrigation lakes would go and that we’d have to raise those areas. And then the lower section of the property plays through the vegetation and through the forest, which is another beautiful section. So, our thought was, let’s try to get these three sections and get the holes to move through them in a different way. We don’t want all the front nine to be on the upper and the middle, and then all the back nine to be in the lower and the middle section of it.”
Hanse continues, “And then what we wanted to do at the finish was to set up something really exciting, with the potential for a lot of things to happen. Whether it be [hole] fifteen sort of a medium-length par-four starting in the lower section and then playing up onto the dunes, and seeing sixteen a drivable par-four, seventeen a very short par-three, and eighteen a short par-five. In our minds, if somebody could finish eagle/birdie/eagle, that would be the greatest thing in the world. We’ve said this before, but all we’re doing is setting the stage. At the end of the day, the story should be all about the performers, the athletes who play out there. And if we can create a stage where those guys and gals at the end of the day can put up some great numbers and get some excitement and think that the leader board can change dramatically towards the end, I think that’s great theater for golf.”
Realistically, when do you think the first 18-hole round will be played on this course?
“Well, we’ve played dirt golf out there already, so if you don’t count that, we’re probably looking at sometime early winter of 2015. So, starting June/July,” comments Hanse. “I know that there’s a test event that’s tentatively scheduled for August 2015, so that’s ultimately the goal that we’re shooting for. I feel good right now that we’re going to hit that, but if you talk to me in two months from now and if we haven’t started with the irrigation and if we don’t have some of the other issues settled on site, then my tone might be a little bit more pessimistic, but right as of right now, I feel good about hitting that target.”
He continues, “You’d like for a golf course to be as mature as possible when it’s hosting a significant event, like the Olympics or a major championship. The more time that we have to grow this in, the more body that’s going to be there and the further that the golf course superintendent can push the product [i.e., the grass] to make it firmer and a little bit more on the edge. As soon as hole is ready to grass it, we will grass it. We’re not going to wait to grass all eighteen [holes]. As soon as we get irrigation in the ground, we finish the shaping and all the detailing, the grass is going down.”
One of my final questions: With regard to the adverse publicity that there has been… I mean, there’s been a lot of coverage of the fact that there was nothing going on here for quite some time. How have you had to put up with that and deal with that?
“Well, thankfully nobody blames us for it, which is a good thing,” says Hanse. “The major problem was that the time that we had committed with Tracy [Gil’s wife] and Caley [one of Gil’s daughters] to be down here for that six or seven months, two of those months we weren’t doing anything, so that made it even more difficult. You know, we had set our sights on the schedule that we were given by Rio 2016, and when that didn’t materialize or turn out to be the right schedule, it’s hard to readjust your entire life based around that. So, I think from that standpoint, the world knows that we’re behind the original schedule, but given that we’ve now all regrouped internally either with the organizing committee or with the golf development people, we all feel that we’re right on the schedule that was much more realistic.”
Well, the very best of luck.
“Thank you. It’s been my pleasure. I’ve enjoyed it.”