By Tony Dear
Who has been the star of the FedEx Cup playoffs? Keegan Bradley is the most recent winner, of course, but it has to be Bryson DeChambeau, right? The Mad Scientist won both the Northern Trust and Dell Technologies Championship moving to seventh in the world rankings and to the top of the FedEx Cup standings.
For course architecture geeks though, the undoubted MVP the last three weeks has been Gil Hanse as the Malvern, Pa.-based architect completed major renovations and restorations of the first three Playoff courses—Tillinghast’s Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J., Arnold Palmer’s TPC Boston, and Donald Ross’s Aronimink Golf CLub in Newtown Square, Pa.
While he insists his greatest satisfaction comes from hearing club members and public golfers say they enjoyed his work, Hanse admits he does like watching the pros play courses he’s been involved with. “It’s great for the club’s members, and my associates William Kittleman and Kevin Murphy and independent shapers who have worked with us like Jaeger Kovich,” he says. “It’s always interesting to see how the best players deal with a course’s challenges, and it’s just nice to be part of the conversation.”
Hanse has been part of the conversation for quite a while now, of course, building a handful of highly-acclaimed originals and renovating/restoring several courses belonging to the country’s most prestigious clubs—the three already mentioned plus Los Angeles Country Club (LACC), Merion, Southern Hills, The Creek, Doral’s Blue Monster, Colonial Country Club, The Country Club, Myopia Hunt, Kittansett, Essex County, Plainfield, Fishers Island, Quaker Ridge, Sleepy Hollow, Winged Foot, and so on.
“I loved restoring them all but particularly enjoyed working at George Thomas’s LACC with Geoff Shackelford,” says Hanse. “I learned a ton on that job—the ‘course within a course’ concept where he had various hole locations on greens paired with tee locations. It was probably the most impactful restoration we’ve done.”
Currently dividing his time between a number of locations in the U.S. and indeed around the world, Hanse finished up work at the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina earlier this year. There he built the hugely enjoyable nine-holer The Cradle that opened last October and concluded a major overhaul of the No. 4 course which reopens next week. “We restored the native sandscape, wire grass, and lots of Ross touches that should make it a fun course to play and a great companion to No. 2,” he says, adding that he actually considers it an entirely new course. “Ross’s original is long gone,” he says. “Some of it was sold off to real estate and the rest changed by designers—Trent Jones, Rees Jones, and Tom Fazio.”
Hanse could frequently be seen on board a bulldozer during his time in Pinehurst. Two years ago, he told LINKS he would have “lost the battle” if he ever became so busy he could no longer spend time digging bunkers and shaping features. A quick glance at the “Projects” tab on his company’s web site might suggest he and longtime design partner Jim Wagner had succumbed and must surely be swimming in a sea of paperwork and design documents while “creating” courses with a CAD (Computer Aided Design) program.
Hanse, though, maintains that hasn’t happened. “We’re nowhere near that point,” he says. “I’m often on the bulldozer, and we always exceed the number of days stated in our contract at each project—it’s just the right thing to do. People look at our schedule or hear about the work we’ve done and wonder how on earth we fit it all in, but when you’re prepared and have a strong plan restorations don’t take forever.”
Becoming too big does concern him though. “We say no to prospective clients far more than we say yes,” he says. “Ben Crenshaw told me 20 years ago it can actually be tough to stay small. Demand for him and Bill (Coore) was beginning to increase at the time, and they were finding it hard to say no to people and keep the momentum going at the same time. It’s a juggling act.”
It seems Hanse and Wagner are juggling their schedule just fine. While maintaining a hard-earned reputation for top-quality work, Hanse says his company is booked solid for the next three years.
He will soon start work on restoring Donald Ross’s South Course at Oakland Hills in Detroit, Mich.; begin bringing Tillinghast’s design of the Lower Course (“and hopefully the Upper too”) at Baltusrol back to life; wrap up work at Tokyo Golf Club in Japan; and continue to consult at Royal Sydney in Australia and Narin and Portnoo in Ireland.
Next summer his original design at the Ohoopee Match Club in Cobbtown, Ga. opens, and he is now contracted to build new courses at Les Bordes in France where his layout will accompany Robert von Hagge’s acclaimed original that opened in 1986, and Thailand’s Ban Rakat Club where the course will be called ‘Ballyshear’—the name of C.B. Macdonald’s house overlooking National Golf Links of America.
Rumors of his building a major-worthy course for the PGA of America at its proposed new headquarters in Frisco, Texas still abound. And he’s also a favorite to land the job of adding a third course, plus a short course, at Forest Dunes in Roscommon, Mich.
Just about the only thing Hanse hasn’t done is design a course for Mike Keiser despite submitting routings for both Bandon Links and the Sheep Ranch. “I’d obviously love the opportunity one day,” he says. “But it just hasn’t worked out yet. It’s been frustrating.”
Everything else though is going swimmingly for Hanse Golf Course Design. And given the standard he consistently attains, long may it continue.
Which Gil Hanse courses have you played? Which ones do you want to play? Tell us both in the comments below!