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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 2)

"It was shoot from the hip in those crazy days," says Fazio, "since with the lack of environmental and insurance limitations, there was a lot more room to improvise and to leave your mark."  

Though paying the phone and credit card bills was still a juggling act, the Fazios soon became known for fashioning attractive courses that were profitable for their developers. As one of their early patrons says, "The Fazios came up with a budget, and no matter what, they stuck to it."  

But the Fazios weren't only solving drainage problems and routing holes in the 1960s. Once the company started to show a profit, Tom, though still feeling he was "a country bumpkin," was dispatched around the United States to meet with well-known prospective clients. On one jaunt to Los Angeles, he joined his uncle at Hillcrest, and somehow managed to resist all sorts of "fancy cigars" in the company of George Burns, Milton Berle and the Marx Brothers. It wasn't until 1967, while in Las Vegas, that his cigar education finally took a more hands-on turn.  

"Not knowing a thing about gambling, I ventured into a casino and stumbled across this tall Texan who was piling up the chips," Fazio delightedly recalls. "The guy kept winning, so I started to put my chips wherever he put his. I won, too, and feeling drunk on success, I immediately bought this big cigar in a glass tube. Up until then, I'd only been smoking those wooden-tip things, Hav-A-Tampas, so I wasn't too experienced in the finer things of life. I puffed and puffed, and nothing came out. This Texas guy, who undoubtedly thought I was crazy, then bumps me on the shoulder and says, 'Sonny, you're really making me nervous. Why don't you try biting off the end of that sucker?' "  

Overcoming his embarrassment, Fazio went on to buy "real cigars" in drugstores (mostly glass-tubed maduro panetelas) and to turn down DeNobilis or other "small, Italian ropes" that were constantly offered to him by Philadelphia contractors. "A good cigar, whatever the brand, came to signify true relaxation to me, a wonderful, transcendental feeling which was always uplifting."  

Though quickly dismissing any great knowledge about cigars, Fazio smoked at job sites, in his car on the way to meetings "to help me gather my thoughts," and invariably with friends over cocktails. His new, pricier cigar habit also reflected the Fazios's improving finances, as they parlayed their reputation for sticking to budgets into a thriving business.  

"The course which really gave us a big lift and launched us into the 1970s was Jupiter Hills [north of Palm Beach]," says Fazio, who opened an office near the project in the late '60s that is still maintained today. "Along with the glamour of Palm Beach, which always captures widespread attention, my uncle did the course in collaboration with his friends Bob Hope and William Clay Ford, two great guys who gave us the freedom to sculpt, twist the land, to do real art."  

Fazio has since styled masterpieces throughout Florida, including courses at Black Diamond Ranch, Pelican's Nest, Osprey Ridge, Pablo Creek, Jonathan's Landing and the Long Point Golf Club. But it was at Jupiter Hills, a 366-acre expanse with loblolly and sand pines, and sweeping elevation changes, where his bold imagination first flourished and dazzled a growing group of media golf course critics.  

As Bradley Klein raved in Links magazine in 1996, "What remains most memorable about Jupiter Hills is how easily the bunkers fit. The Fazios built a number of shapes into their traps--butterflies, flashed ovals, and cloverleafs. By cutting the bunkers into the native slopes, the Fazios were able to soften the feel of uphill climbs while avoiding blind shots altogether. The design team also utilized native dunes vegetation to offset the dense tee areas, fairways and greens. Here was dramatic evidence of what has come to be called 'the Pine Valley look'," in tribute to the short course at Pine Valley in New Jersey that Tom Fazio designed in 1990.  

The Fazios continued to score triumphs at Butler National near Chicago (1972), Bay Tree Golf Plantation in Myrtle Beach (1973) and the National Golf Course outside Toronto (1974). But since golf architecture lacked the mystique it holds today, George grew increasingly interested in real estate development, and left the design business to Tom.  

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