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Q&A with Tom Fazio

Q&A with Tom Fazio

Tom Fazio says he doesn't keep track of how many courses he's designed. "It makes me feel old," he said.

April 2009

Tom Fazio has designed roughly 200 courses, raised six kids and still maintains a single-digit Index. In a recent conversation, the acclaimed course architect talks about the possibility of lowering his fees, why when it comes to traveling, he's a perpetual skeptic; and clears up a rumor about working west of the Mississippi.

What year was your first course design?
Actually, I don't know. I started working for my uncle in 1963. That's what I call starting.

Did he give you a tip or thought on design that you still think about today?
He always felt that most players miss the ball right. And that's where you have to be watching from a design standpoint. What are you doing with the right side of the golf hole? Now, he was a left-to-right player, like Hogan, so maybe he had a little bit of that in the back of his mind. He was always favoring the right side.

How many courses have you designed?
I never keep count because it makes me feel old. It's in the 200 category.

How many countries have you worked in?
Not many countries. Mostly the northern hemisphere. Do you count Hawaii as the Northern Hemisphere? I don't know what they call Hawaii. The only other place I've worked is Central and South America. I did a major renovation at Waterville, Ireland and that's my first venture in Europe. I always wanted to wait until my six kids got out of the house. Now that my kids are out of the house, and my son Logan is the president of the company, and he's kind of the ram-rod, he's the one pushing me, saying "Dad, we've got to go do all these things, I can travel, I can handle it, and I'm young." He's 30 years old, so now I'll probably do some of those kinds of things.

What kind of golfer are you? What's your current Index?
Well, today I wasn't so good. I was at Seminole and the wind was blowing pretty good. I've played more golf since November than I have in the last three years combined. So I'm on the golf trail. I'm back to playing as much as I did when I was a kid. Right now my Index is a 9.2. I'm improving, like everyone else. And I'll work at it. I'll beat balls. When I'm not playing I'll hit balls six days a week.

Do you go on an annual buddies trip?
I take my sons on an annual buddies trip. I go to Waterville, Ireland every year for an international father/son tournament. I have three sons who are pretty good players. I go to Caves Valley for the father/son tournament there. I go to Pine Valley for a father/son there.

Each son gets a different trip?
The one in Ireland, I take all three of them. But at Pine Valley it's only one. I kind of wait to see who's playing the best. I let them have a playoff.

What's your favorite city in the U.S.?
That's a good question. I happen to live in western North Carolina and in Jupiter, Florida. I would say those are my two favorite places to go because that's where I live. If I had to pick a city, I love Manhattan. I'm a Manhattan guy. I'm not sure I could live there but I love it. I love the excitement, the restaurants, the people. I'm also a Christmas fanatic. Christmas has ruled my house year around. There's no better place in the world from Thanksgiving to Christmas than Manhattan.

Do you have a favorite restaurant when you're in town?
A friend of mine was involved in Del Frisco's. I took my kids there. It was one of the most memorable meals I've ever had. We had a three-hour lunch and it snowed, Christmas season looking directly at Radio City Music Hall, with all the lights. It was magical. That's my ideal situation. Family, Christmas, Del Frisco's and snow.

How many days a year are you on the road?
It depends on where I'm working. Right now we're working in Cabo San Lucas, the Bahamas and St. Kits in the Virgin Islands. When we had projects in the Carolinas and Florida, I would travel maybe ten out of twenty days, because I didn't do weekends. I would tell my clients before they hired me, "If you expect to have me come on weekends, hire somebody else. I can't do it. My family comes first." I would schedule all my trips between my kid's sports of the seasons. Or if my girls were dancing or had piano recitals. I used to travel two or three days a week. Now I probably travel two or three days every two weeks.

How much did it cost to hire you to design a course 15-20 years ago, as opposed to today?
My fee in 1989 was $500,000. And with the golf boom that occurred, fees went to $2 million.

Is it negotiable?
In my case, the number isn't negotiable. What is negotiable are the terms.

Have you ever talked design with Tiger?
No.

Do you foresee that happening?
I would think it would. I don't know. Tiger's going to be moving at some point. He's building a house in Jupiter. I saw Jack Nicklaus last night at dinner. He sat at the table next to me. We live right here in North Palm Beach. I don't get to see Tiger because he lives in Orlando but I would look forward to talking to him. It would be interesting. Everybody has their opinions and everybody sees golf a different way. Seeing it through Tiger's eye would be very different.

Tiger and Phil in the final pairing of the Masters, which one would you be pulling for?
I don't think I would be pulling for one for a particular person. I'd be so anxious to see each tee shot, where it hits, where it rolls. What's the club they're hitting on the next shot and where does that go? For me it wouldn't be a pick. I don't want either one of them to lose. I think they're great for golf. I want Tiger to win every tournament he tees it up in. I don't look at it like a football game. I live in North Carolina and I'm one of the few people who root for Duke and North Carolina.

Some travel questions. One movie for a long flight?
I just watched "Casablanca". I think I saw it before, but I don't remember. It was fabulous. I would probably watch that over again. I'm going to Normandy this year, and I'm saving "The Longest Day," which I haven't seen. I'm waiting to get on a long flight to watch it. Although two of my favorite movies of all time are "Singing In The Rain" and my favorite movie, because it was my first date I had with my wife, is "The Sound of Music." Now, I'm a Clint Eastwood fan as well. He's a friend of mine, so any Clint Eastwood movie. The first "Dirty Harry" movie, of course, was fabulous.

What's you airline of choice?
Because of all the travel I've done, I'm an American Airlines flier and a Delta Airlines flier. Because of where I live, that's how I would go. When I lived in Philadelphia, in the 60's, I would fly back down to Palm Beach when we were building Jupiter Hills. You either flew Eastern or Delta. Of course, Eastern is no longer around, so I've been a long-time flier on Delta.

What's your top travel tip?
The tip I've given my wife and my kids and I think it's the most important thing: Don't believe anything. If someone tells you you're going out of gate five, double check it. Even if you see it on one monitor, look at another monitor. And if it's written on your ticket, go check it. When you're getting in and out of the airplane and they tell you your next gate is A46, make sure you check it a couple times along the way. When you fly a lot, those things do happen.

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