Crail golf course set Gil Hanse on way to 2016 Brazil victory

THE man who beat Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Gary Player in the race to design the course in Rio de Janiero to be used for the 2016 Olympics carved out his reputation in Scotland.

American Gil Hanse will team up with Amy Alcott, a former LPGA Tour player, on the course in Brazil to stage golf’s return to the Games after a gap of 112 years.

The decision by the Rio 2016 committee to hand the contract to Hanse Golf Design has been greeted warmly in Crail, where Hanse laid out the Craighead course at the start of his career.Since then, he also worked in tandem with another American, Mark Parsinen, to create Castle Stuart near Inverness, the current home of the Scottish Open.

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“Everyone here is cock-a-hoop for Gil as our association with him is really good,” David Roy, the club manager at Crail Golfing Society, told The Scotsman. “He still visits us, once a year typically, and is very generous with his time. He gives us his opinion about how to tweak both our courses. If we’d had to pay for that, we’d be talking a lot of money.”

The Craighead course, which sits alongside the Balcomie Links designed by Old Tom Morris, was Hanse’s first full design anywhere in the world. He won that contract a decade or so after turning up out of the blue at Crail one day and striking up a friendship with Graeme Lennie, the club’s PGA professional.

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“Gil was a student of golf and he tells the story about how he turned up wearing a pair of red sneakers and a bomber jacket and also had long hair,” added Roy. “Some clubs would probably have chased him away and told him not to darken their door again but, after asking if he could walk around the Balcomie course, Graeme and Gil bonded straight away and became good friends.

“When the club decided to look for an architect to build the Craighead course, the usual suspects were all in the running but Gil’s presentation was the one that was chosen and, having looked at all of them since I came here seven years ago, I also believe his routing was the best by far.”

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During the construction of the course, which was chosen by the R&A to host the Junior Open in 2000 – just two years after it opened – Hanse stayed in the Fife village. “That paid dividends in the long run for us as it meant Gil’s attention to detail was such that, if any materials were not up to spec, he sent it back,” said Roy. “Thanks to that, the greens are performing better now than they probably did at first.”

Peter Dawson, president of the International Golf Federation as well as chief executive of the R&A, said the Hanse course for the 2016 Olympics “promises to provide an outstanding venue for the Games and a tremendous legacy for our sport in Brazil”.