Featured photo: Gil Hanse, designer of the Olympic course, addresses the course’s golf maintenance staff. Photo: David Doguet
Everybody knows that Gil Hanse is a golf fan, but the golf course architect who lives in Malvern, Pennsylvania, is also a hockey fan — and roots for the Philadelphia Flyers.
In a way, considering the grind that it turned out to be, getting the Olympic course built was a huge victory for Hanse and others involved with the project. Consider it their Stanley Cup victory. In fact, Hanse related a story about the Flyers — a narrative he compares with the camaraderie involved in getting the Olympic course built — when the team won its first Stanley Cup in 1974 behind Fred Shero, who coached the team for six seasons and led them to two titles.
“When the Flyers gathered in the locker room before winning the final game and the cup, Shero told them, ‘If we win tonight, we will walk together forever. We will always have this experience together,’” Hanse says.
He paused before adding, “[The people] who built the Olympic course will also will always have this experience together.”
The construction and grassing of the Olympic course, which began more than three years ago, did not go smoothly. The course was built on a nature reserve, an undeveloped parcel of sandy land at Reserva de Marapendi in Barra da Tijuca, a suburb west of Rio. The project got off to a rough start because of a lack of funding.
“Apparently, there was still a lot of negotiating that needed to occur when we arrived there in February of 2013 expecting to get going,” Hanse says, noting the project was basically stalled for nine months.
Then there were legal challenges and land disputes. When construction finally got going, there were environmental protesters and other assorted bureaucracy.
“There were instances during the construction process that were immensely frustrating for all of us,” Hanse says.
Having been through what he went through, Hanse was asked if he would do it all over again knowing what he would have to put up with.
“If I knew the result was going to turn out the way it did, sure,” Hanse said. “The saving grace was that we were never asked [by the developer] to compromise the design, like making the greens average 6,000 square feet in size instead of 7,000 square feet to save money.
“If we had to apologize for the course, no way [would I want to go through this again]. But I don’t think we have to apologize for it.”
Hanse’s design and the course’s condition received rave reviews from players, the media and others.
For Hanse and the others involved with the project — including Olympic course Superintendent Neil Cleverly — there will forever be a special bond that connects them with the project, much like the bond that linked the 1974 Philadelphia Flyers championship team.
“We went through the fire together … we will always have a mutual respect for each other,” Hanse says.