Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player are just two of eight finalists in line for the coveted job designing 2016 Olympic Games' golf course in Brazil.
The stakes are high, even though the money, $300,000 to the winning bid, isn't all that much, considering these guys are probably used to seven-figure fees.
But eight golf course architecture firms are seeking to design the first one purpose-built for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The committee will announce the winning firm early next year. So who has the edge?
Gentlemen, start your Power Points...
Why: Jack Nicklaus' design strategy has certainly evolved over the years, from early courses like Muirfield Village to 21st century designs like Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain. Nicklaus wisely sought out Annika Sorenstam as a design consultant and co-marketer, which prompted Norman to respond by calling up Lorena Ochoa for a similar role.
Why not: The Bear's designs can often be penal. That's great for a tournament site, but considering this course will attempt to grow the game in Brazil to novice golfers, it might be a red flag.
Greg Norman Golf Course Design
Why: The Shark-Ochoa team is going to be a juggernaut in the board room. Norman, in my inteview with him back in March, was wise to say that the winner of this project will not only design the course but be a strong proponent for golf in Brazil and in future Olympic Games. Norman has a solid presence in Central America and a planned course, Praia do Paiva, on the east coast of Brazil.
Why not: In Golf Magazine's Top 100 in the World course rankings, Norman is shut out. Fellow finalists Nicklaus, Tom Doak and Robert Trent Jones II all have entries. However, Top 100 courses are usually a result of a superior piece of property - not a designer who makes the most of an average or challenging site.
Gary Player Golf Course Design
Why: The acclaimed "Most traveled athlete in the game" is as much of a global ambassador as golf has. His energetic opinions on young people, fitness, growing the game and ensuring the stewardship of golf have deep roots. At age 76, who would even think to suggest he's slowing down?
Why not: Player's firm has credit of over 350 courses with a strong presence in Africa. But if you had to pick out a couple of his signature courses, they don't pop out on the screen like some other architects. Player seems to deliver "consistently good" over "elite."
Robert Trent Jones II Golf Course Architects
Why: Jones II has tournament designs all over the world (whether its The Mines in Malaysia, Dar es Salam in Morocco or CordeValle and Chamber's Bay out west) and that includes Brazil. Yet, his style tends to be more playable for higher handicaps, which plays to the fact Brazil's many new golfers will need a course that won't beat them up. He's also been global as long as he's been in the business (compared to other names who shifted their efforts abroad closer to when the North American market dried up).
Why not: Jones' portfolio in both length, global presence and highly-rated courses is tough to beat. But will Jones give the same kind of marketing effort Norman, Nicklaus or Player would?
Renaissance Golf, Tom Doak
Why: Doak has five designs on Golf Magazine's Top 100 World ranking, more than anyone by far. Using throwback philosophies, he's made the most of remarkable sites like Pacific Dunes, Cape Kidnappers and Barnbougle Dunes. His courses usually have wide fairways and are thoughtful over long, which can cater to beginners.
Why not: Doak's developers generally aren't concerned with building a pro tour host, so his portfolio demonstrating that kind of course may be limited. Also, by all accounts, the host site for this course isn't exactly Bandon. Doak will have to point to his courses in Lubbock or Myrtle Beach to show he can make something out of nothing.
Hawtree Limited, Martin Hawtree
Why: Hawtree claims a long-standing family design tradition dating back to 1912 and they admire his work especially in the British Isles and Ireland. He surely knows about high-profile golf design projects having taken over the gig with Donald Trump in Scotland.
Why not: If Norman's prediction that the the committee will want a face of golf in the Olympics as much as an architect, will the board be impressed with the more humble Hawtree?
Gil Hanse Golf Design
Why: Like Hawtree, Hanse has a small-but-strong portfolio, including Castle Stuart Golf Links in the Highlands, which he knocked out of the park.
Why not: Hanse is well-known in Europe but not so much in North and South America. The Rio Golf Club, founded in 2002, is his only Brazil project and it has yet to open.
Thomson-Perrett Golf Course Architects
Why: Another firm that would seem to be heavy underdogs, Peter Thomson and Ross Perrett have a portfolio of over 250 courses. They recently tried to beef up their marketability by adding Karrie Webb to the team if they win the contract. Take that, Jack!
Why not: Their firm's work is almost exclusively in the Far East (I did enjoy a recent visit to Hamilton Island Golf Club, which made the most of a very severe, Whitsunday Island site). While Aussies and the older generation surely remembers Thomson's five Open Championship titles between 1954 and 1965, the younger folks might exclaim, "Who?"
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