- Top 100
- Gil Hanse
Gil Hanse attended secondary school at Hunter Tannersville High school in Tannersville, New York before gaining his undergraduate degree from the University of Denver. Hanse then earned a Masters degree in Landscape Architecture from Cornell University in 1989.
During his studies at Cornell, Hanse was the recipient of the William Frederick Dreer Award – the same horticultural award that Tom Doak received five years earlier – which allowed him to spend a year overseas with Martin Hawtree's practice, studying the history of golf course architecture.
He spent a short time working with Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design (Hanse was Doak's first employee) before founding Hanse Golf Course Design in 1993. His long term design partner Jim Wagner joined the firm two years later. Along with Tom Doak, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, Gil Hanse is regarded as one of the most influential “minimalist” golf course architects of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
According to his personal portrait on the ASGCA website, Hanse’s company is “based on the principles of creating a small firm that takes a personal interest in the design and construction of each project. The company's courses are simple and elegant in appearance, yet sophisticated in strategy and interest.”
Hanse quickly established himself as a top restoration specialist, with a portfolio of work during the 1990s that included reworking William Flynn’s Kittansett in Massachusetts, A. W. Tillinghast’s Ridgewood in New Jersey, Seth Raynor’s Fishers Island in New York and Donald Ross’s Sakonnet in Rhode Island.
A big break for Hanse came at the end of the 1990s, when he was appointed to design a new 18-hole layout for Crail Golfing Society in Fife, Scotland. There’s no doubt that this commission raised his stature significantly as the Home of Golf hasn’t had too many American architects design courses on its hallowed links turf down the years.
Restoration work for Hanse continued into the new millennium at golf clubs in several other American states, such as Egan’s Waverly in Oregon, Ross’s Oakland Hills in Michigan, Perry Maxwell’s Southern Hills in Oklahoma and Ross’s Aronimink in Pennsylvania.
The architect also conducted a well-regarded renovation of the course at TPC Boston in 2005 which was liked by playing professionals and armchair golfers watching what was then called the Deutsche Bank Championship on television.
More recent high profile renovation work has come the way of Hanse. In Florida, he upgraded the three courses – Blue Monster, Golden Palm and Red Tiger – for Donald Trump at Doral and at Pinehurst in North Carolina he reworked the No. 4 course (co-host along with No.2 for the 2019 US Amateur Championship) to remove more than twenty five pot bunkers and replace them with sprawling, sandy native areas that tie-in seamlessly with their surroundings.
Of course, Hanse is no stranger to working on projects in the public glare, having been chosen to fashion the golf course for the 2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil. He’s also added a third course, the Black, to the highly regarded Streamsong Resort in Florida and he’s now lined up to design the next 18-hole layout that will grace Mike Keiser’s Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon.
Outside America, Hanse has been involved in a number of interesting golf developments. He began an ongoing restoration plan for Tokyo Golf Club in 2008 before teaming up with Mark Parsinen in Scotland the following year to create the Castle Stuart course near Inverness and he’s since laid out the new course at Trump International Golf Club Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in 2017.
He’s recently finished his first Asian course at Ballyshear in Bangkok and completed his first course in Continental Europe at Les Bordes in France. There’s also ongoing renovation work at Royal Sydney in Australia and Narin & Portnoo in Ireland amongst many other commissions that will keep Jim Wagner and the Caveman Construction company gainfully employed for the foreseeable future. There’s also ongoing renovation work at Royal Sydney in Australia and Narin & Portnoo in Ireland so there are plenty of commissions in the pipeline to keep Jim Wagner and his Caveman Construction company gainfully employed for the foreseeable future.
This edited excerpt is from a short Gil Hanse article entitled “Designing in the Field” which was published in the book Masters of the Links by Geoff Shackelford:
“There appears to be no small movement afoot to embrace the ideals, principles and characteristics of the golf course architects from the Golden Age of design. We read so much about them and their approaches, and so many architects have adroitly rehearsed all of the catch phrases that can be associated with these magnificent men.
However, as we celebrate their accomplishments, we drift farther and farther from the true heart and soul of their work. We profess to hold the ideals of these architects in our hearts; however, when it comes to practicing these ideals there are only a handful of architects who truly do so.
It is my belief that to do justice to the ideals of men like Macdonald, Tillinghast, Flynn, and MacKenzie, the architect must concentrate on designing in the field. It is only then that the true nature of the golf course site will make itself evident to the designer.
Through their utilization of natural features and their presence on site, the masters created golf holes that were exciting, challenging, and certainly innovative. By being on site for an extended period of time, the architect can mould the land to accomplish whatever effect he desires.
Of course, there are practicalities which need to be addressed like budgets and plans for the golf course. I am not suggesting that designers simply be allowed to wing it in the field. However, I do believe firmly that through constant observation, any architect would be more creative with his design, adding subtle touches that would greatly enhance the interest of the golf course.
By designing in the field the architect is in control of the outcome. The results are not an interpretation of his work, but rather a literal representation of his ideas and creativity. By getting their hands back onto projects, I believe we could again see a renaissance in the beauty, character, and natural splendour of golf courses.
We would also see a dramatic increase in the subtleties and nuances that have made the brilliant designs of the Golden Age so charming, strategic, and above all, interesting to play.”
From the Hanse Golf Design website:
“During the Rio interview, as Amy Alcott, environmentalist Owen Larkin and I were making our case for why we deserved the project, I noticed rather glumly that the name card on the table stated my name as “Gil Hansen.” I’m quite sure no one on the panel noticed the mistake. When the interview was over, I tucked the card into my briefcase and took it home, where it resides in my office. My wife and kids had it framed and point to it when they feel I’m in jeopardy of my head getting too big.”