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A Master By Design: Tom Fazio

From Shadow Creek to Pinehurst, Tom Fazio Has Sculpted Some of America's Most Imaginative Golf Courses
Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
Susan Lucci, Sep/Oct 99

(continued from page 1)

"A lot's been written about my designing holes on scraps of paper, drawing layouts on napkins, 'revolutionizing' course architecture; but forget it, that stuff is just media smoke," says Fazio, who's known for styling dramatically aesthetic courses that are still forgiving enough even for average players.  

"What I really do is to first analyze whether a piece of land is good or bad. I don't immediately see golf holes with bunkers, greens, etc.. Instead, I see a piece of paper that has natural contour lines on it, that has restrictions, property lines on it; then I start to think, 'Where do the holes go? If they have elevation, valleys, how should [they] be sculptured, and where [should] the green settings or tees be?' Determining where holes fit the best is easy, like breathing to me. I just do it, for it's life, living, surviving.  

"There are times, though, when a piece of land is extremely flat, as with Shadow Creek, when I have to dramatically change nature, create a whole new exciting environment. Land preservationists might not like my imposing my will on nature, but if I can create grand golf, courses with true variety and beauty, I'll work to change the land. I'm still the traditionalist who doesn't believe in gimmicks like railroad ties, moving a lot of earth if avoidable, any trick or deception that's just too penal in nature. I believe in a redemptive view of mankind, a tolerance which punishes golfers, but is forgiving enough that when they make mistakes they're not sent into Dante's inferno of oblivion."  

These commandments roughly serve as Fazio's golfing catechism, for there is no overriding theme at such diverse works as PGA National in West Palm Beach, Florida, and The Vintage Club in Indian Wells and The Quarry at La Quinta, both in California.  

"I've long admired Tom's artistic work," says fellow course-designer legend Pete Dye. "He runs the greatest organization in the business, and does courses that are just terrific." Golf Digest, which has honored nine of his courses in its "America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses 1999-2000," writes that "the regal settings of Fazio's designs, relying on ornate blends of woods and waterscapes, provide instant charm."  

Yet even though sages are quick to bless him as a natural, Fazio originally came to golf under duress. As a thin, frail child growing up in a blue-collar family in Norristown, Pennsylvania, he wanted no part of golf's proverbial torments, the drudgery of carrying his Italian father's clubs every Sunday, and worst of all, the pungent smells of Dad's DeNobili cigars that filled the 1949 Ford on the way to the course.  

"Boy, were those black things smelly," Fazio recalls with a grin. "As a kid, getting green and dizzy from that smoke, I wasn't too excited by cigars. Or with what awaited me at the course, my pulling those heavy clubs around after having to sit through another Sunday mass."  

His ardor for golf wasn't exactly heightened at family gatherings when relatives railed against Uncle George Fazio, who played the tour in the late 1940s and early '50s with modest success. Known for hanging out with showbiz types and "playboys" like golfer Jimmy Demaret at Los Angeles's fabled Hillcrest Club, George was branded the family's black sheep. Yet by the time Tom was in high school, he was spending his summers working for him, pulling weeds and raking bunkers at Philadelphia-area courses that his uncle was building.  

Having "no clue" as to what he wanted to do for a career, Tom was immediately molded into shape by his taskmaster uncle. "George would always tell me, 'Forget girls, they'll get you into big trouble.' Yet who had time for fooling around?" wonders Fazio. "While a good person, he constantly pushed me to excel. He was ambitious, the lovable dreamer always fantasizing about great projects, and while I bought into those hopes, the guy was tough. He'd remind me every day, 'Don't forget, make sure you work until dark tonight.' "  

Whether it was pouring asphalt, moving earth with a bulldozer, or eventually handling all of the company's finances, Fazio learned his lessons well at such Pennsylvania projects as the Waynesborough Country Club, Chester Valley and Moselem Springs Golf Course (in Reading) during the mid-1960s. Given "a great deal of responsibility early on," as his uncle "wasn't much of a details person," Fazio, barely out of his teens, steered the fledgling company towards success.  


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