ORLANDO, Fla. -- With the completion of the 2016 Olympic Course in Brazil, architect Gil Hanse is free to turn his attention to another big project, the recently announced third course at Streamsong Resort in central Florida.
Opened in 2013 and nicknamed by some as the "Bandon Dunes of the East," Streamsong already has two courses in Golf Digest's "America's 100 Greatest Public Courses." Built on sand spoils from an old phosphate mining site owned by The Mosaic Company, with dunes reaching as high as 75 feet, the Bill Coore/ Ben Crenshaw-designed Red Course made its debut this year at no. 18, while the companion Blue Course , designed by Tom Doak , wasn't far behind at no. 24.
Located between Orlando and Tampa in the middle of nowhere in southeastern Polk County, the resort has grown into all-inclusive destination, complete with more than 200 rooms at the contemporary designed clubhouse and hotel, a spa, conference center, four restaurants, hiking trails, target shooting and bass fishing. Resort officials believe that adding more courses -- and a fourth seems likely -- will attract even more avid golfers.
The new Black Course, which will be a walking course like the other two, is slated to open in the fall of 2017 with construction beginning later this year. Hanse -- who designed Castle Stuart Links in Scotland as well as the Olympic Course in Rio de Janeiro, and did the renovation of the Blue Monster at Trump National Doral Miami -- once worked for Doak and lists the other three architects as the ones he looks up to the most.
GolfAdvisor recently had the opportunity to get Hanse's thoughts on the Black Course at Streamsong and on the recently completed Olympic Course.
GolfAdvisor:: When did you come on board at Streamsong?
Gil Hanse: We were first contacted by Rich Mack (executive vice president of The Mosaic Company) in late March of 2014. Our first site visit was mid-to-late April. We made a subsequent visit in December and have been out there recently for a couple more visits.
GolfAdvisor: You've been pretty busy lately. How's the timing on this project?
Hanse: Thankfully, the Olympic Course is finished from a construction standpoint, so all of our visits are just to monitor grow-in. So from that standpoint, it's cleared off of our docket.
We always put a great emphasis on the construction aspect. We can have any number of projects in the planning stages, but what it ultimately comes down to is the time on site. We commit to being there when the course is being built so, from our perspective, it's more the timing of construction vs. time planning.
GolfAdvisor: Tell me about the style of the new Black Course at Streamsong.
Hanse: We have an abundance of sand, which is great and what you want to see on every project if you can get it. We've got a big landscape, a big ballpark, we've been saying. There's a lot of acreage of which we were able to pick as the most conducive to good golf. We don't have some of the abrupt sort of undulations and character that the landforms have on Red and Blue, so ours will be a bit more rolling.
With the characteristic of the natural landscape we've been given, the difference is enough to separate Black from Red and Blue. And also, as you know, we have our own canvas, not intermingled (like Red and Blue), which I think is actually a positive. I think it's a cool feature that Bill and Tom were able to do, but ours is a stand-alone, so that will also differentiate it.
As far as the style and look, we're still developing, but obviously we'd like it to be somewhat different.
GolfAdvisor: Will there be links-style elements like on the other two courses?
Hanse: Our goal is to build something firm and fast. Rusty Mercer, the golf course superintendent, is fantastic. So he's already figured out the recipe on the other two golf courses. We'll be the beneficiaries of that knowledge, not only in maintenance, but also construction. So it will definitely have linksy characteristics and hopefully be a lot of fun to play.
GolfAdvisor: How do you make this distinctive and different from the other two courses?
Hanse: I think the three groups of architects are compatible, just because of the way we approach golf course design and construction. The thing we have to be careful of is not to try too hard to differentiate. I think if you overdo things and don't follow the things that have provided you with success, use some restraint in areas, I think that can lead to results that none of us are really looking for.
We're going to try to create distinctive elements, but right off the bat, I don't know what they are at this time. But as we go through the process, we'll figure that out. You'll know Black is different that Red and Blue.
GolfAdvisor: Have you had an opportunity to bounce ideas off of Tom and Bill?
Hanse: I haven't spoken to Tom yet, but I'll see Bill in about an hour and half. I'm sure he'll have lots of ideas for me.
GolfAdvisor: Of course, Tom Doak is known as a "minimalist," and you have been given that label as well. What do you think of that characterization?
Hanse: I'm proud to be part of that group, but it's difficult to understand exactly what that means. I think it means that we as architects will do everything we can to extract and exploit all the natural advantages of a site before we turn to moving earth. But we shouldn't be afraid to move earth if we have to. If we move earth, we try to make it look natural. And I think as a group, we study landforms so much and we really focus on that and scale, that maybe we do a little better job when we have to move earth of making it look natural.
GolfAdvisor: When you have a very sandy site like Streamsong, it gives you a lot of freedom, right?
Hanse: It does. Not only in the shaping and being able to create, but from a construction standpoint. I mean you don't have to build USGA greens, your bunker sand is already there, and it ultimately allows you to have better tie-ins, smoother landforms.
GolfAdvisor: Speaking of sand, will Black have a lot of bunkers?
Hanse: We're really not sure yet. We're still trying to figure out routing. Let's put it this way, though, we haven't been told we can't build a lot of bunkers, so it's definitely on the table.
GolfAdvisor: What about the style of bunkers?
Hanse: We've just hit the tip of the iceberg on that. We've been talking a Sandbelt/Royal Melbourne type looking thing that would be a little bit of a different style and feel. But we haven't locked in that yet.
GolfAdvisor: While I've got you here, I have to ask you about doing the Olympic Course. What was that experience like?
Hanse: Interesting is probably the best way to put it. Everybody knows there were a lot of bumps in the road. We did a good job of surmounting those challenges. It just took a little while longer than we thought it should have. But at the end of the day, we're really proud of the design and the way it's turned out. We've got to get through grow-in so we have a real solid golf course. Obviously, the best players in the world are going to be there. The level of conditioning they're going to expect is going to be a lot higher than most courses that are just opening. Neil Cleverly, the golf course superintendent is doing a great job. We're excited.
GolfAdvisor: Everybody in the world is going to be judging your work. How do you feel about that?
Hanse: I'll be nervous. We always are. I was nervous at Doral and The TPC Boston . When you get that type of player playing your course -- and we know they're opinionated... Thankfully so far, they've been respectful of our work. So I have enough confidence of what we've done down there that I think it will be pretty well received by the players.
It's ultimately going to be about the competition. If it's a boring tournament, people aren't going to remember it. If one of the top names wins -- and the setup we've given them sets up for birdies and eagles at the end -- then we've done our job. And that's really where the focus should be -- not the golf course.
GolfAdvisor: How do you hope this course will be viewed?
Hanse: From a playability standpoint, we think after the Olympics the legacy will be that it's imminently playable -- very wide corridors, large greens, a lot of room out there. But to score, players are going to have to be a lot more precise with the positioning of their balls to get the right angles. We've created hole locations that are tough to access if you're not coming in on the right line. So we think we've created enough of a challenge for the best players in the world.
GolfAdvisor: What about the flow of the course?
Hanse: We purposely set a stretch -- holes 11 through 14 -- that are very tough, and 15 through 18 where there are tons of birdie and eagle opportunities, and hopefully that'll get the momentum moving in the right direction.
I think at the end of the day, people who have never watched golf in their lives will be looking at this. I never watch figure skating, but every four years, I do watch figure skating. I think if we just see a tough slog with no excitement at the end, people are just going to say, "Okay, that's golf," and turn off the TV. But if we get some real exciting back-and-forth competition, I think that's what we're really trying to set the stage for.
GolfAdvisor: Do you have any favorite holes?
Hanse: Not really. But the two I really want to play are nine and 16, both really short par 4s. I think they're going to be really cool to watch.
GolfAdvisor: How does it feel to be a part of Olympic history?
Hanse: I can honestly say it won't be the best golf course we ever designed. I mean places like Streamsong and Bandon (where he has designed the not-yet-built Bandon Muni) have given us opportunities with better pieces of ground. But I can't imagine we'll ever build a course that will be viewed by more people in our lifetime. So I think that ultimately for (design partner) Jim Wagner and I, this will be a course that will be a lasting part of our legacy.