The most sought after golf course design commission for the longest time was the one to choose who would build the new Olympic golf course in Rio de Janeiro.
All the biggest names in the business, with the exception of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, put their hands up for a job paying a relative pittance compared to the seven figure sums the best usually expect for an eighteen hole course.
After a long and laborious process Gil Hanse, a rank outsider to many but to those who know of his talents anything but, was chosen.
Not long after he called saying, ‘I’ve just won this Olympic commission by selling my concept of the golf course on Kingston Heath, I suppose I’d better come down and see it.!’
Kingston Heath is one of the best courses in the world built on a quite unpromising piece of property. Sand is its great advantage but it’s small, the only really interesting undulation is the dune on top of which sits the great 15th green and around which play the 14th and 16th holes.
The rest, whilst not dead flat, is close to it and the class of the course is measured by the strategy, the quality of shots one is asked to hit, the beauty of the masterfully crafted bunkers and its reliance on short grass as a hazard around the greens. Not only does the tightly mown turf sweep the ball far away from the greens but it allows for a wide variety of recovery shots.
Marcus Fraser came to the par 5 18th hole needing a four for a 63 and two more than serviceable shots saw him just short and right of the green but far below the level of the putting surface. He could have played any one of five or six clubs including his putter but he opted for a hybrid and ran the ball perfectly up the slope to kick-in range. On the rough infested courses of the American Tour it’s a rarely used shot but here in Rio it’s as familiar as it is in Melbourne. For Fraser it’s bread and butter.
He is a relatively short hitter but this course, like Kingston Heath, is relatively short. The wind off the nearby sea seems to be ever-present and the course is loaded with holes right on the border of par. Two or the par 4s and drivable, the par fives are all reachable in the right conditions and even the tiny par 3 17th could be considered a half par hole for those talented with the wedge.
Fraser played a beautiful round with his only bogey being an important one at the 2nd hole. After driving into sand he hit a terrible chip for his third and eventually made a five footer for a bogey. Sometimes though a bogey at the right time can be as important as a birdie.
The toughest part of the course comes from the 11th to the 15th and he played each perfectly and managed a birdie at the hardest of them, the long, into the wind, par 4 13th hole after a hybrid approach and a long putt.
The finish is made for scoring if you make the right choices and hit the right shots and Fraser did exactly that by placing tee shots perfectly at the 16th and 18th holes and using his short game.
Obviously there is a long way to go but with the Americans, Watson, Reed and Fowler all struggling Fraser has dealt himself right into the tournament with surely one of the best rounds he has ever played.