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Big Red on the greens at the Rio Olympics

By Tom Fleischman
periodiCALS, Vol. 6, Issue 2, 2016

Hanse driving tractor on course.
Hanse working on the seventh green. Photo courtesy Hanse Golf Course Design

When some of the world’s best golfers teed off in the 72-hole Olympic competition, they were navigating fairways and greens imagined and designed by a pair of Cornellians.

Gil Hanse, MLA ’89, bested a field of 29 of the world’s top golf architects four years ago and won the job of turning an abandoned sand mine in the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro into a golf course that could challenge the best players in the game, then be used as a municipal course for a city and nation just being introduced to the sport. Hanse—an award-winning course architect who founded Hanse Golf Course Design in Malvern, Pa., in 1993—enlisted the help of fellow Cornellian and associate professor of horticulture Frank Rossi, Ph.D. ’91, to come up with a grassing plan in keeping with his philosophy of tailoring the golf course to the site, and not the other way around. 

Earlier this year, Golf Digest bestowed upon the Olympic course its annual Green Star Award for outstanding environmental practices. The course lies within the 1,640-acre Marapendi Natural Reserve, a protected expanse along the coast. That’s affirmation that Hanse was successful in following the stated goals of the Olympic golf organizers. The invitation to course designers included broad parameters: “a state-of-the-art championship golf course … a public facility catering to the emerging Rio golf market, with specific focus on youth play … respecting the environmental and sustainable goals of Rio 2016 … designed to minimize construction costs and to be efficient in its maintenance and golf operations.”

“Hopefully the public perception is positive, and then we’re pretty confident that, long term, that we’ve created something that will have a lasting positive effect,” Hanse said.