CRAIL, Scotland (Reuters) - The Rio de Janeiro golf course for next year’s Olympic Games will be ready for the start of competition in just under 18 months’ time, according to designer Gil Hanse.
Golf is returning to the Olympics for the first time since 1904 and the International Golf Federation (IGF) has proposed a 72-hole stroke play tournament for the men’s and women’s events.
Hanse won the role to design the Rio course ahead of the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Nick Faldo and the combined bid of Greg Norman and Annika Sorenstam.
Now, some 2-1/2 years after being handed the Rio design, Hanse, who won acclaim for his design of the Castle Stuart course in Scotland, has signed off on the troublesome project.
“Everyone who has been following the story knows the project went on a bit longer than we anticipated so to now have the design complete and turned over for growing is a huge hurdle we’ve negotiated,” Hanse told Reuters in an interview.
”It’s also very timely because any later and the golf course would not be mature enough for the Olympics.
“I now feel good about the time frame as it relates to preparations for competition and we feel about what we designed and how it’s all come together so it’s all positive.”
Hanse moved his young family to Rio to ensure he could oversee all work on the design of the course.
He did the same thing in the late ‘90s after being handed the job of designing a second golf course at the Crail Golfing Society in Scotland, the sport’s seventh oldest club.
“Crail was my first design project outside of the U.S., but then I was only over there for six to seven months compared to the time I needed to spend in Brazil,” he said.
“I never thought we would be down in Brazil for two-and-a-half years as we thought we could get everything we needed to accomplish in 12 to 13 months.”
Hanse said the Olympic course was yet to be named and he was not sure if there would be an official ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“Any Olympic Games venue, whether it be a golf course or whatever, has to be approved by the IOC (International Olympic Committee),” he said.
“What they are going to ask for is to have the word ‘Olympic’ in part of the name and that is a negotiation I am not a part of.”
“But the good thing about this Olympic Games course is that it will be the first truly public golf course in Brazil as all the other courses are private.
Eligibility for the Olympics will be determined by IGF rankings and the top 15 players will qualify along with the next 45 from countries that do not already have two representatives.
Hanse said the course will be a par-71 because a lot of people in Rio ”will not have seen golf before“ and developing countries ”may want to emulate the Olympic course.
“If it’s going to be 7,500 yards playing to a par-72 they are all going to think that must be the standard,” Hanse said. So we built a par 71 with four par 5s, four par 3s and the remainder par 4s.
“Long hitters like Rory (McIlroy) will like it but it will also suit the shorter hitters as it will be a very different second-shot golf course with some interesting contours once on the greens.”
“Overall it’s going to suit the player comfortable playing the ball on the ground and should the wind get up, as it will around the time of the Olympics, then it will have links like characteristics.
“And given also its ‘Sandbelt’ like feel I would think the Aussies in Adam Scott and Jason Day should be right at home and comfortable playing the course.”
Hanse expressed surprise at the format of the competition next September and believes the IGF and IOC are missing a golden opportunity by not opting for a team competition.
“I have already stated publicly that I understand why they selected four rounds of medal play but the thing that still mystifies me is why is there no team competition and the Olympics is all about team competition,” he said.
“I understand this is the first time the IGF wanted to gain the support of the players and not have to play match-play and be knocked out after one round.”
“Also they did not want to be too experimental.”
Editing by Michael Hann