April 4, 2012

Alumnus Designs Golf Course for 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro

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Gilbert Hanse M.L.A. ’89, will design the golf course that will reintroduce the sport of golf to the Olympics at the 2016 summer games in Rio de Janeiro. The course will be the first built for the Olympics since 1904 — the last time golf was an Olympic event.The selection committee chose Hanse from a pool of distinguished golf course architects, according to a University press release.  My design team was “thrilled, a little bit stunned [and] humbled to have been selected,” Hanse said.Hanse started his company, Hanse Golf Course Design, in 1993 and has since designed several award-winning courses around the world, including the Castle Stuart course in Scotland. He was named Golf Architect of the Year by Golf Magazine in 2009.Hanse attributed his successful career as a golf course architect to his experience at Cornell. “I never thought it was a real career path until I got to Cornell,” Hanse said. “The institution’s founding quote — any person, any study — it’s really true. I had professors in the landscape architecture department who were so encouraging of me to go into this little niche, focus on golf and take classes in turf grass.”While at Cornell, Hanse was a recipient of the Frederick Dreer Award for Landscape Architecture and Monumental Horticulture, which gave him the opportunity to study in the U.K. and visit various British golf courses. “Cornell uniquely prepared me to go out in the world as a golf course architect,” Hanse said.In designing the Olympic course, Hanse said that he focused his design on the selection committee’s three main objectives: environmental sustainability, compelling design and post-Olympics legacy to ensure that the course “fit in Rio.”He explained that he wanted to “make the course look as if it was part of the natural landscape,” by “reducing the amount of irrigated turf to match the sandy native grass.”Hanse’s team of expert researchers and advisers for the golf course design included Ladies Professional Gold Association Hall of Famer Amy Alcott and Prof. Frank Rossi, horticulture.“Big Red was well represented,” Hanse said. “Rossi … did research for us for the selection of proper turf grass. We wanted to use as few chemicals [as possible] to keep them healthy and alive.”Rossi was tasked with developing the grassing plan and researching the native vegetation of Rio de Janeiro. Rossi said the region’s climate posed a challenge to the golf course design. “You have an abandoned sugar cane plantation with an Olympic village right next to it in a climate where there is not a lot of data on growing grass,” he said.Rossi said that Hanse wanted to make sure that the course would look impressive enough as the first Olympic golf course in more than a century and that it would be appropriately scaled for television. “Our goal is to create a stage for the Olympics to be on. Ultimately, the players create the drama,” Hanse said.However, Rossi added that Hanse and the team do not want to impose a burden on the Brazilians by leaving them with a course that is too difficult to maintain after the Olympics end.“You don’t have to spend millions of dollars to maintain a course, and it shouldn’t take a Ph.D. to manage,” Rossi said.In order to ensure low maintenance costs, Hanse said he will maximize course irrigation by capturing storm water from the surrounding area.“We tried to be responsive to what [the Brazilians] can afford from both an environmental and budget standpoint,” Hanse added.Hanse’s commitment to environmentally-friendly architecture has inspired some Cornell students who hope to pursue careers in sustainable landscape architecture and engineering, including Joe Nelson ’14.“It is exciting for me to see that people recognize the need to design in parallel with nature’s intentions,” Nelson said. “I hope his work inspires more people to think about how to efficiently serve [society’s] needs while simultaneously being mindful of our actions and how they affect the world around us.”Rossi attributed the Olympic selection committee’s decision to choose Hanse’s design to the team’s efforts to responsibly integrate the course into the Rio landscape.“We were up against some pretty big names in golf. Jack Nicklaus was a finalist,” Rossi said. “But [Nicklaus] has a hard time building a course that you can manage for less than a few million.”In addition to sustainability and cost, other challenges included creating a course that will appeal to all levels of golfers and encourage the growth of the sport in Brazil.“This is one of the biggest golf course projects in the past fifty years — and probably the next fifty years. I think that the [selection] committee felt a sense of responsibility that countries that don’t pay a lot of golf may start to invest in it with it in the Olympics,” Rossi said. “This course may shape the business.”Current plans set course construction to begin in October, according to Hanse.

Original Author: Carolyn Krupski

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