It was announced over the weekend by the organizing committee for the 2016 Olympic games that eight finalists had been selected for its golf course design contest. As readers will no doubt be aware, golf is returning to the Olympics in Brazil in five years after an absence of more than a century, and the job of designing a custom made Olympic course has been highly sought after for months now.
The creative commercial pairings of Greg Norman with Lorena Ochoa and Jack Nicklaus with Annika Sorrenstam have paid off, for now anyway, with both teams shortlisted. Also on the shortlist is the Australian signature design company Thomson Perrett, who have announced that 7 times LPGA major winner Karrie Webb will be part of their design team should the company win the Olympic contract. Despite no evidence at all that a design company teaming with an LPGA superstar can/will produce a quality golf course, it has clearly become fashionable to champion gender equality by tacking a famous female onto your design bid.
As the following excerpt from the Thomson Perrett media release suggests, it’s unlikely that Karrie will be dominating design proceedings. ‘Thomson Perrett’s team for the Olympic course will be led by Managing Director Ross Perrett and his partner Peter Thomson who is a five time British Open winner. They will be supported by their multi disciplinary in house team including Senior Golf Course Architects Justin Trott and Warren Duncan, Architects Bernie Hogan and Lindsay Calvert, Irrigation designer Paul Jones, CAD specialist Gary Prendegast and Agronomist Doug Robinson. Also joining Thomson Perrett’s team is 7 time ladies Major winner Karrie Webb.’ There were no other references to Webb, or comments from her on the project, referenced in the media release.
Others in contention for the Olympic job are fellow signature design companies, Gary Player Design and Robert Trent Jones II as well as golf course architects Martin Hawtree, Tom Doak and Gil Hanse.
At first glance, it appears most of the shortlisted candidates were selected based on brand recognition or established ties to prominent golfing bodies. The quality of their work, or the suitability of their skills for the land in question, would seem to have been a secondary consideration.
Interestingly, the five signature firms named – Nicklaus, Norman, Player, Thomson Perrett and Robert Trent Jones II – have created around 1,245 golf courses worldwide between them. According to GOLF Magazine just three of these 1,245 courses are among the Top 100 in the world. The other three men have built just on 100 courses between them, with five appearing in the same Top 100 list, all designed by Tom Doak, albeit built on brilliant sites and for clients more concerned about design quality than course difficulty.
Doak’s selection among the final eight was not unexpected, but he would seem an unlikely choice unless organizers are serious about building a world-class course to serve not only as Olympic host venue but also as a beacon for design in the region longer term. If that’s the case then Gil Hanse would be an excellent choice as well.
While few serious architectural observers believe this selection process is really about securing the best design team for the job, it will nonetheless be interesting to see who wins the contest and what sort of a job they do on the available site.
The winning company will be announced sometime in early 2012.