Gil Hanse's first and lasting impression of golf came from his grandfather, Gilbert C. Hanse, the longtime mayor of the Village of Babylon. There was no mistaking the passion that the late patriarch had for the game whenever he brought his grandson to play at Southward Ho Country Club in Bay Shore.
Once they were there, the younger Hanse found his own niche. "Just being outside in that environment, I was taken by the scale and the size of the landscape," Hanse, now 48, said from his office outside Philadelphia.
That sense of wonder never left him after he moved upstate from Babylon at 13, or when he attended Cornell, received a grant to study golf architecture in Great Britain, went to work for renowned designer Tom Doak and opened his own firm in 1993.
It sure has not left him now that he has earned an honor that no other living golf course architect can claim (and they all wish they could). Hanse was named the designer for the 2016 Olympic golf course in Rio de Janeiro, the first Summer Games golf venue in 112 years.
Hanse prevailed in a formidable field that included Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Greg Norman. "As we were putting together our proposal, I said to Jim Wagner, my design partner, the only way this will work is if we do what we've always done," Hanse said.
That meant doing the kind of creative yet straightforward work that recently got Hanse's firm hired by Donald Trump to renovate the Blue Monster at the Doral Resort in Miami, site of the WGC Cadillac Championship.
It meant bringing the quality that was successful close to home. Tallgrass Golf Course in Shoreham, a Hanse design, this month was named on Golfweek's list of "Best Courses You Can Play" in New York for the fourth straight year. "That's a tribute to the DeLalio family. When you're designing a public golf course on a fairly small piece of property, what you're trying to do is present something that people are going to really enjoy playing."
The Olympic announcement is seen as a good reflection on Tallgrass, and not a surprising one. "He has the Midas touch," said Phil Tita, general manager and director of golf. "I've worked at a lot of facilities in my life, and layout-wise this is the best. I think it's magical. It's a real shotmaker's course."
He added that new superintendent Jon Semmig, formerly the assistant at Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton, has enhanced Hanse's flair for Scottish links golf, emphasizing opportunities for bump-and-run approaches.
Hanse and his wife and youngest daughter are approaching a cultural leap, moving to Brazil during construction. He heads there with acres of goodwill. Phil Mickelson said, "I give the Olympic committee a lot of credit. It would have been easier to go with a big name. Instead, they went with the best."
Hearing that was gratifying, Hanse said. But the best honor of all was thinking about how proud his grandfather would be.