A lot of people in the industry were surprised today when it was announced that American Gil Hanse would create the Olympic Course for the 2016 Olympics. Most felt one of the big names — Jack Nicklaus and Annika Sorenstam or Greg Norman and Lorena Ochoa — would get the work. Instead they turned to a talented designer who will often jump on a bulldozer and shape a bunker. I’ll guarantee you that’s something none of the PGA Tour types could do.
I’ve had the good fortune to encounter Hanse on several occasions, most recently during a trip to New York where he was working on Quaker Ridge, an exceptional golf course in the area. He was reworking bunkers and taking out trees. It was an extensive job, but Hanse still found time to come and chat, later meeting for dinner. He’s affable and smart — outspoken without pushing it too far. He also has great taste in golf — and now works at many of the best courses in the U.S., usurping Rees Jones and Tom Fazio along the way.
I first met Hanse in Scotland where he was working on Castle Stuart, a collaboration with owner Mark Parsinen. Hanse walked all 18 holes with us amidst the blowing sand. It was fascinating to see his bunker concepts — taken from a 19th century Scottish golf book — and get the sense of both his aesthetic and strategic vision for the course. He might well be the hottest name in the business these days, having picked up the renovation of the Blue Monster Course, in additional to the Olympics job. Interestingly, he’s linked to a course in British Columbia that has never been built — Union Bay — but looks like it could be a gem if he gets the chance.
Interestingly, at the press conference to announce the Olympic course today, Hanse gave a nod to Canadian designer Ian Andrew. Ian has been a friend of mine for a long time and is currently working with Mike Weir to rework a course in Laval, Que. Andrew collaborated with Hanse on a successful restoration of Scarboro G&CC, a Tillinghast course that needed some TLC. The work is highly regarded and cemented the friendship between Andrew and Hanse.
I caught up with Andrew and asked about his involvement with the Olympic bid:
G4G: What was your involvement with the Olympic bid?
Andrew: The package had to be digital. So I took Gil’s information and made digital versions of everything for him for submission. I then used the digital format to help Jim Wagner pull together a cost estimate. It’s much easier for me to get quick quantities and Jim had so much to do. So I worked on everything from earthmoving through to re-vegetation and helped where I could. Gil offered to pay me, but I declined. He’s a close friend who has recommended me for work in the past. I had the time, he needed the help, that’s what friends do for each other. While he was kind to name me I actually would have preferred if he didn’t.
G4GL How do you know Gil? Where did you meet him?
Andrew: I called him a long time ago to tell him some work I had gone to see was very good. I had a question on one of the holes which led to a pleasant discussion. I like to let people know when I like their work. We met a year later at an ASGCA meeting in Pinehurst and had a lot of fun together. We shared the same sense of humour and liked similar architecture, so we hit it off. We tend to hang out when we get the chance including a day at Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project in Seattle. As I said we share similar interests.
G4G: You worked with him at Scarboro — how did that come about? What did you make of working with him?
We were asked if we would consider working together. They wanted someone who was local but they also wanted someone with previous Tillinghast experience. They asked if we would collaborate and we agreed.
I initially suggested I take a secondary role for simplicity’s sake, but Gil insisted we work together. That’s Gil. The relationship was fantastic, when we walked the course and talked ideas, we easily agreed on we both thought worked the best. It was nice since neither cared about who came up with the idea which included using an idea from the superintendent that we both liked. Gil’s biggest help at Scarboro was the fairway bunkers. The course was built without any due to financial constraints. It was a case of using his vast experience with Tillinghast to find the appropriate answer. I would love to collaborate again.
G4G: You’ve benefited from your connection to him through work referrals. That’s a unique connection to someone who others might view as a competitor — thoughts?
He’s the busiest and most popular architect in golf right now. He can’t take on all the work so he does occasionally suggest myself (or others) for projects. I appreciate the fact that he recommends me. A while back he pushed me into pursuing a really cool Ross course in Cape Cod, I ended up with the work, which I didn’t expect. He felt my lack of experience and dedication to research was better than all the stereotypical Ross work being done. Incidentally we did go head to head on Taconic when I first went out on my own, he was mad after finding out, but I think he was the right guy for the job. I don’t mind losing work to people who are good at what they do.
G4G: Thoughts on the design that Gil submitted — you seem to think there’s an interesting environmental angle.
Andrew: I had written a while back that if golf really wanted to do something special with the Olympics they would build a more sustainable environmental model for the future of the game. Turns out that was Gil’s pitch to the committee. He too recognized that this was a perfect opportunity to look ahead to the future of the game and make an example of how a better model could still host the best in the game. It think that it was the right approach and the committee recognized the strength that this statement could make.