Olympic course designer decision close


A winning design for the 2016 Olympic golf course could be announced this week in Brazil.

With the arrival of the International Olympic Committee for a project review meeting, the Rio2016 Organizing Committee may reveal the winning plan and architect.

The finalists for the $300,000 design contract are Gary Player Design, Greg Norman and Lorena Ochoa, Gil Hanse, Martin Hawtree, Jack Nicklaus and Annika Sorenstam, Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf, Robert Trent Jones II (with Brazilian golf legend Mario Gonzalez) and Thomson-Perret Golf Course Architects (teaming with LPGA Hall of Famer Karrie Webb).

Last month, Rio2016 delayed the announcement by a month after its four-member jury panel was unable to select a winner.

The delay was another in a string of setbacks which pinch the window for the course to be ready for the sport’s return to the Olympics after a 112-year absence. Originally, the winner was to be announced in December 2011.

In February, the eight finalists presented their visions for the Olympic course, which will be built on the Reserva de Marapendi site close to the Olympic village.

As for the favorite, it seems the eight plans have been reduced to two or three favorites.

“I think it’s up in the air,” finalist Gil Hanse said last week in a telephone interview.

Jack Nicklaus and Annika Sorenstam, both named ambassadors in 2008 for the pitch to get golf back in the Olympics, were thought to be front-runners. Before the city was awarded the Olympics, Martin Hawtree had been contracted to develop a routing for a course on the site, which conceivably gives him a leg up on the competition. It is believed, however, that the minimalist plans of other designers were also appealing to the panel because of their environmental concerns about the site.

Not only is there no designer to contract with yet, but the land for the site still has to be formally purchased.

Though the site poses minimal construction problems, wildlife on the site is an environmental concern. Some 500 alligators live on the property, as well as a variety of birds.

The time frame to complete the project could become a problem. The winner will already be lagging by three months against the original timeline. Beginning in the fall, dirt will be moved for what is projected to be a 12-month project. Give the course a year to grow in and mature – which, as the USGA’s experience last summer at the renovated Congressional proves, is aggressive – before a 2015 test event must be held to test the track.

“You basically only have 2 ½ years to build a golf course and grow it in. It's a big effort,” Greg Norman said last year.

Last week, Jack Nicklaus said at the Honda Classic, “I think they have got plenty of time. They are all right.  I know Tim’s (Finchem) upset about it, and I know that he's worried about whether the Olympics will be able to put the right foot forward or not.  But as far as construction of the golf course, I don't think it's a big issue.”

The consensus, however, seems somewhere in between.

“A one-month delay won’t kill anything,” said Hanse. “If it’s a precursor of things to come, then, yes, that’s a problem.”

Aside from time, the nature of the Olympics poses a design quandary. The course must be able to accommodate the men for the first week, followed by the women in the second.

No such competitive precedent exists, but two years from now  the USGA will conduct the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open in consecutive weeks at Pinehurst No. 2.

Don Padgett II, president of Pinehurst, said last April that the women would play essentially the same course as the men – but with more accessible pins and less firm conditions.

Beyond the Olympic tournament, the course has to be accessible to and able to inspire Brazilian and South American golfers. It is the stated purpose of the course after the Games and critical to golf’s future beyond 2020 as an Olympic sport.

“The IGF (International Golf Federation) views the course as an extremely important concept in promoting golf, especially in developing countries,” Hanse said.

If the ’16 Games are a flop, golf may make a quick exit. For golf to truly gain from the exposure, it will need more than four weeks of exposure over the next eight years – making every stoe of this process critical.

Scott Ferrell, president of Gary Player Design, said in December, 'I think for it to really have a meaningful impact long-term, (golf's) going to need more than just two Olympics.”