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Cornell to make green mark on 2016 Olympics

Craig Cramer
Frank Rossi

Gold, bronze ... and green?

When golf makes its return to the Olympics in 2016, Cornell alumnus Gil Hanse and horticulture professor Frank Rossi will have their green thumbprints all over the specially designed Rio de Janeiro course.

Hanse, MLA '89, was selected over seven other finalists, including legendary course designers Jack Nicklaus and Robert Trent Jones II, as architect for the Brazilian course. He will team with Hall of Fame player Amy Alcott to build the first Olympic golf course since the sport was dropped after the 1904 St. Louis Games.

In announcing the decision March 7, the Rio 2016 committee said Hanse was chosen partly because of his environmentally sustainable designs.

Hanse, in turn, credited Cornell horticulture professor and turf grass specialist Frank Rossi, and thanked him "for creating an environmentally sustainable golf course template that will set the standards for this emerging golf market."

He said his team's "respect for the land" helped set them apart in the selection process. "We like to build golf courses that are very environmentally sensitive," Hanse said.

Hanse not only applied lessons he had learned while at Cornell, he also consulted Rossi while putting together the winning proposal.

Two ways to make golf courses more sustainable are to reduce the amount of managed turf and use native plants in the rest of the landscape, says Rossi. He helped Hanse develop the grassing plan for the playable areas and research native vegetation of the Cerrado ecoregion for the roughs.

"We've discussed what goes into a sustainable golf course, and Gil incorporated some of that into his planning," Rossi said. "We wanted to set principles of ecological design -- not bending the environment to fit the golf course, but the golf course to fit the environment. We looked beyond the Olympics and asked, what are we leaving behind for the people of Brazil?"

Hanse formed Hanse Golf Course Design, based in Malvern, Pa., in 1993. He has designed award-winning golf courses around the world, including the Castle Stuart course in Scotland. Golf Magazine named him Architect of the Year in 2009.

Rossi said he is excited that it will present an opportunity to shine a spotlight on an eco-friendly course.

"We wanted to try something bold. We had an opportunity to influence golf in a way it had never been, and on an international stage," he said. "During the Olympics, the whole world will see that it's possible to design a course that's challenging for professionals, playable by amateurs and with less environmental impact."

Stacey Shackford is a staff writer at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.


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