Why Gil Hanse – the hottest architect in golf – is not satisfied | Courses

by | Dec 5, 2021 | Golf Clubs

The kings of golf is a concept tracing back to the Kaiser Jones used by newspapers for Bobby Jones in the 1920s. Similar to the modern GOAT, it meant who was recognized as the reigning world champion. It often went beyond their victorious championships because it mixed popular applause with great successes. Arnold Palmer was king even after he stopped winning, then it was Jack Nicklaus, followed chronologically by Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and of course Tiger Woods. Popular as he was, Phil Mickelson was a prince at best; Rory McIlroy peaked at the top for a moment, but today there doesn’t seem to be a player wearing the undisputed crown. Tiger still rules. For women, Mickey Wright was queen, then Nancy Lopez, then Annika Sorenstam, who is likely to remain in retirement.

In the 1970s, Bill Davis, founder of Golf Digest and inventor of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses, once told me that the next superstars were going to be golf course architects. The prediction came true when Robert Trent Jones’ design sovereignty passed over Pete Dye to Jack Nicklaus. At the time it was said, “Trent made golf course architecture a business, Pete made it an art, and Jack made it expensive.”

The next king of architecture was Tom Fazio, who will probably remain undefeated. Fazio has more original designs for the 100 Greatest (13) than any other architect. Donald Ross (10), AW Tillinghast (nine), Pete Dye (eight), Alister MacKenzie (five) and Seth Raynor (five) hike with Tom Doak (five), Jack Nicklaus (four) and Bill’s team. among the dead Coore and Ben Crenshaw (four) among the living. Who is king of kings MacKenzie, who designed two of the top three (Augusta National and Cypress Point) could be argued, but how could one argue with amateur architect George Crump, who was one on one (Pine Valley)?

The missing name of all of these kings is Gil Hanse who is by far the hottest and hottest architect in the world right now. He has crossed the line from fertile to ubiquitous. His specialty are restorations. In recent years Hanse has restored Merion East, Winged Foot West and East, Fishers Island, The Country Club, LACC North, Oakland Hills South, Southern Hills, Baltusrol Lower, Sleepy Hollow, Plainfield, Quaker Ridge, Kittansett, Myopia Hunt, Aronimink and burning tree. The next two US Open will be played on his Restorations – has he replaced Rees Jones as the Open Doctor? Heard Hanse is now the consulting architect at Pete Dyes The Honors Course. He’s redesigning Oakmont and Yale. Every old course in America either makes it new or wishes they had it. As one panelist told us, “Gil gets it right no matter what original designer it is.”

With an old classic, he’s undoubtedly the one I want to restore. A real estate developer once said of Pete Dye, “If I had a bastard, he could turn it into a silk bag.” If you started with a silk bag, you can be sure that Gil Hanse would turn it into a Birkin handbag. Hanse and his design partner Jim Wagner use old photos and plans true to the original to bring the original architect’s intentions back to life in a modern context of distance.

But no great virtuoso wants to be known only as an art restorer. It is an artist’s original work that creates his reputation. The great are writers or composers, not editors or conductors. In 1999, Italian artisan Pinin Brambilla did a great job of restoring the faded fresco that adorns a monastery wall in Milan, but make no mistake – it will forever be known as Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper.

Coore and Crenshaw have their Sand Hills (10th of the 100 Greatest), Nicklaus has Muirfield Village (15th), Doak has Pacific Dunes (18th), Fazio has Wade Hampton (26th), but Hanse’s top ranked place opened in 2004 and sits quietly at No. 84, Boston Golf Club. His Ohoopee Match Club in Georgia is too new to get enough votes for the 100 Greatest, and CapRock Ranch in Nebraska won Golf Digest’s 2021 Best New Course Award, but Hanses Pièce de résistance has yet to be identified.

“If this were the 1990s, when everyone was doing 15 new golf design projects each year, Gil probably wouldn’t consider himself a success unless he got the first dibs on the best of these projects,” said Ron Whitten, Golf Digests Architecture editor emeritus who himself has a co-designer for the 100 Greatest (Erin Hills at no. 46). “But that’s 30 years later, and far fewer original courses are being built. Coore and Crenshaw now often get the best jobs because [Bandon Dunes owner] Mike Keizer is the driving force behind many innovations and they are its architects.

“Still, Gil is at the top of the pile, if not critical, and I suspect he gets his share of the right of first refusal. God knows, any architect would sacrifice a family gem to advance Gil’s career. However, I suspect that he is still not satisfied. For one thing, he didn’t do this original design that will get people into Golf Digest’s top 10. Like it or not, America’s 100 largest is the Hall of Fame for golf architects, and the top 10 is Mount Rushmore. ”

One of the Hanse’s greatest strengths is that he’s a really nice guy and a golfer through and through – his index of 11.5 plays in clubs like Fishers Island and Pine Valley. He came off very well as a Fox Sports commentator until he got too busy to be on television. Perhaps the only gripe is that he doesn’t have a distinctive style that says you’re on a Gil Hanse course. You could say he’s a bit of a derivative of Tom Doak, in whose footsteps he followed with a Masters in Landscape Architecture from Cornell and even completed the same one-year course in British golf under the prestigious William Frederick Dreer Award. Hanses style is what is popular in modern design today – large greens and bumpy fairways and gnarled bunkers with acres of free sand for rough.

Hanse is only 58 years old so he has a long reign to go if Pete Dye, who died at 94, and Tom Fazio, who is still going strong at 76, are any clues. Perhaps the real test will be what he does with 300 acres of flat desert in Palm Springs, California owned by music impresario Irving Azoff and Apple executive Eddy Cue in what is possibly the most coveted new contract in the country. The working title is Coachella Golf Club – even the top-class name increases the stakes.

When evaluating courses and architects, I like to think of the words of Peter Fleming, the less famous brother of Ian (007) Fleming. During his stay at the Piping Rock Club, Peter fell in love in Long Island, NY, and described it in a letter to a friend in 1929: It just shows you, he wrote, “what God would have done with nature if He had done it” . the money.”

With the money from Azoff and Cue, Gil Hanse will play god when he builds the next course in Palm Springs. That is the question that is in the air: Will Hanse go from being an art restorer to being the king of all appraisals?