Though Rio 2016 and the International Golf Federation were expected today to possibly announce the finalists for the name of the architect selected to design the golf course for the 2016 Olympics, sources say that all 29 bids were preliminarily rejected and no announcement is forthcoming. Some of the biggest names in either golf or golf design, including Robert Trent Jones, Jr., Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, and others submitted bids. While the date for the announcement was originally set for December 23, finalists were expected to be announced early until today’s surprising result.
All sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, indicate simply that all 29 bids were rejected. Some impliedly blamed the cumbersome size and internal politics of the process. Others blamed financial considerations, such as the supposed requirement that the maximum amount to be paid as a design fee would be $300,000.
“The RFP was really strange,” said one source. “You had to open an office down in Brazil or be affiliated in Brazil with a firm down there. The fee was set at $300,000. We saw where the site was to build the course and the timetable. There were the standard requirements of expertise, but it was unusual that they put an RFP in the first place. You’d think certain names that were in the running would have been plenty.”
Speculation has percolated that Jack Nicklaus has the inside track on the design simply because he is the most recognizable name in golf and the game’s greatest champion. However, in golf architecture circles, Nicklaus’s original golf designs frequently underwhelm.
Nicklaus is the greatest golfer, but frequently that does not translate into being a great golf designer stated several golf architecture experts. In fact, quite the opposite is usually true, as pro golfers design too often for pro tournaments. Nicklaus, for example, too often designs courses to fit his own game – and no one else can keep up, they continued.
In truth, the greatest brand value enjoyed by any golf architect is that of Robert Trent Jones, Jr. Property values world-wide are highest at his courses. Jones also enjoys the cache of having built Chambers Bay – perhaps his greatest original design – selected as the host site for the 2015 U.S. Open. Other great choices would include, for example, Tom Doak, Kyle Phillips, or Gil Hanse.
“An experienced golf architect should be building this course, not a retired player,” fumed one source. “This is no time for pros to be dabbling – brand name recognition or no. They should select someone who has spent their life in the profession and has been trained and been doing it for years. Not someone seeking a second, post-golf career.”
Other sources agree, saying the best courses are built by the experts in the trade, noting the significant drop-off in quality of course between true designers and pros-turned-designers.
“The obvious exception is the firm of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. They are by far and away the best design firm of any former touring professional,” the source stated.
One ludicrous suggestion was put forth by former pro Nick Faldo, who suggested having 18 different major champions design one hole each. Not only was he silent when pressed for an answer as to why only major champions should be the litmus test, others scoffed at the suggestion.
“Yeah, right. Good luck trying getting 18 of those egos to fit on the same piece of property,” quipped one irreverent wag.
The course is expected to be built in the Barra da Tijuca region at a site along the coast. Several excellent cliffside holes could be built by the winning bidder, and the site could result in an excellent course if the right architect is selected and if he is allowed to use the coastline for golf. Frequently, developers make the mistake of using the best coastline for hotels, the clubhouse, staging, beaches or other superfluous aspects, while the course is left to wind along the inward land, usually much less interesting.
“When I built Whistling Straits I told Herb Kohler that I wanted as many holes on the lake as I could get,” said Pete Dye in an interview with AWITP from 2010. “I didn’t want to put parking, the clubhouse, the caddies, the buses, and all the rest of that mess on the lake.”
The sentiment holds true for the 2016 Olympics course as well.
“Oceanside, clifftop holes will look fantastic on TV with the world watching. Think about how good Pebble Beach looks,” said one source.
Of course all this is moot if the PGA and LPGA tours do not get their steroid/PED testing standards up to the same level as the Olympics.
“They are nowhere near Olympic standard yet, and they will not compete unless they get there,” said a source. “Right now, there are significant holes in the PGA testing regimen.”
Rio 2016 and IGF officials were unable to be reached for comment.