A Master By Design: Tom Fazio
From Shadow Creek to Pinehurst, Tom Fazio Has Sculpted Some of America's Most Imaginative Golf Courses
From the Print Edition:
Susan Lucci, Sep/Oct 99
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Once 2.8 million cubic yards of dirt were moved, natural-looking ridges and other elevation changes created, and 21,000 mature trees planted, Wynn opened his dramatic, much-heralded Shadow Creek showpiece in 1990. Golf Digest soon added the private paradise with rocks, imported animals and waterfalls to its Top Ten list. (To play the course, you must rent a suite at the Mirage or Bellagio hotels and pay the $1,000 greens fee.) Bradley Klein, extolling the course's "stunning vertical transitions--213 feet in all," compared Shadow Creek to a "desert mirage, a theatrical set piece," while Michael Jordan paid Fazio the ultimate compliment: "You do so much great work, I'm going broke joining all the clubs with your signature." Now that his name was gold-plated at the heady pinnacle of the profession alongside Nicklaus and Pete Dye (designers he greatly admires), Fazio had ample reason to celebrate Wynn's offer to style another course in Biloxi, Mississippi. But did he light a victory cigar?
"That's just not me," insists Fazio. "While Shadow Creek never fails to amaze me, as it looks like it's been there forever, it was still just another job. Besides, even if cigars should be treated as a reward, I like to enjoy them in the privacy of a few close friends or by myself to savor the moment.
"Maybe I'm again the conservative for thinking this way. Cigars just shouldn't be an everyday thing. They're peaceful, symbolic of inner joy. Yet I also feel guys should have the freedom to smoke in restaurants or bars as long as it doesn't bother anybody else. Cigars are one of life's true pleasures, and there's no need for any smoke or health police."
Though Fazio rarely smokes around his three sons and three daughters, who range in age from 14 to 22, he enjoys unwinding with cigars and whiskey among his closest pals at biannual dinners in Philadelphia. "We've established a Port Society, 30 of us, which has given us the excuse to play golf, get the best Cuban Montecristos, or Cohibas if we can, have this fancy black-tie dinner, and drink until the late hours," Fazio says with a grin. "While I do everything possible to get home every night from job sites [owning a Grumman Commander helps him in this regard], this is one event I never miss. It's a time for sharing stories over great cigars, and bonding, being with special friends."
After reminiscing about these occasions, Fazio switches on another Christmas tape and walks through his sprawling, 20-room house set on 110 acres outside Hendersonville. "All of this happened because golf's been very good to me," he says. "There's nothing I want or aspire to having. Yet I would like to be transported back in time to sit down with Donald Ross to talk about architecture. He was such a genius when it came to detailed shaping and sculpturing."
Golf design is not Fazio's only passion. He has established the Hendersonville Boys and Girls Club (a home for about 400 disadvantaged youngsters), and often does renovation projects in return for a donation to the charity. Stories also circulate in the golf world about his doing work for certain clients and never sending them a bill.
"While I love golf design, I have to do something to help all the kids out there who need guidance and opportunities," says Fazio. "That's my dream, to get all of my rich friends involved in doing something for these children. This won't be a piece of cake like designing courses. But I'm still confident we can enrich their lives, help some of them lead the same American Dream life I've enjoyed."
Meanwhile, Fazio continues to design some of America's top golf courses. In recent years, he has completed such projects as Maroon Creek in Aspen, Colorado (1994), Estancia in Scottsdale (1996), a TPC course in Myrtle Beach, which opened this February, and The Stock Farm for financier Charles Schwab in Hamilton, Montana, which was set to open in August. The Myrtle Beach layout was a joint venture between the PGA Tour and Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, an organization that offers golf packages to the resort area. The project is likely to win international recognition, predicts developer Tom Baugh. "Tom is a Picasso who'll be remembered in 50 years as one of the great architects," says Baugh, "for he has this rare gift of making bunkering, subtle green contouring, landforms; all the colors blend together. Just give him a blank canvas and he'll work spellbinding magic."
Fazio laughs at the suggestion that his work will stand the test of time, insisting that "design is not a fixed art. Though courses are done, conditions change. Environments evolve. Golf design isn't the Mona Lisa or the David," Fazio says, "and if my courses have to be tweaked, so be it. My ego isn't out there."
He still hopes to weave other bewitching masterpieces at the Forest Course on the Monterey Peninsula near Pebble Beach, an environmentally sensitive project that has already occupied him for eight years ("it might be another six before we deal with all the regulatory issues"), and at Golf Digest's 18-hole, 2,300-acre site in northern Palm Beach County.
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