Mexico Open at Vidanta

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Q&A with Tom Fazio

By Matt Ginella Photos by Dom Furore
April 27, 2009

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

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?


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.

One course, not one of yours, for the rest of your life?

That's an easy one -- Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey.

An all expenses paid trip to Pebble, Bandon or Pinehurst, which would you choose?

Pinehurst is so easy for me to get to because I live in North Carolina. I would say Pebble Beach. I have so many friends who live there. I did a course there called the Preserve. I have a lot of friends who are members at Cypress Point. For me, I like to go where there are people I know. Bandon Dunes, obviously, is a great place, and I know Mike Keiser and he's a great guy. And I'll go to Pinehurst regularly. I've done about five courses there.

I love what you did to Pinehurst No. 4.

Have you been to Forest Creek? It's fabulous.

I also love the Seaside Course at Sea Island.

If you would've put Sea Island in the equation, that's where I would go. Of all the places you can go in the world, you can not go to a finer place than Sea Island in Georgia.

Dinner with golf personalities, alive or dead?

Jimmy Demaret. Number one of all time.

Why is that?

He was personable, funny, smart, articulate, a character, entertainer -- he had it all.

Two other invites?

I would certainly want Tiger Woods there. He would have to be in the equation. There are so many others. It's hard to pick. I'd have to put Jackie Burke in there because I love Jackie. I talked to Jack Nicklaus last night, and even though we didn't have dinner, he was sitting in the table next to me, so I get to see him a lot. I don't get to see Jackie Burke much and he's a character. I call Jackie Burke occasionally just to have a chat because you'll have one of the most fun and interesting conversations you will have.

What is your weakness as a designer? What are you working on given the state of the game and technology?

The whole world, where we are right now, the most important issue is the economics of any project and any golf course. Economics are a factor. What can you get built for a reasonable cost. The cost is a major factor on what can be done and how it can be done. The days of being able to do whatever you want to do are not logical and practical anymore.

Have you lowered your fees?

I haven't had to do that, but I think that could be in the cards depending on the location and other things. That has happened in every aspect of the game, whether it be a resort or private golf. I think we'll see the price of memberships, in lodging rates, in dues and many other things. That's very realistic of what's going to happen in the future.

You say you know Mike Keiser, do you ever ask him why you didn't get a crack at one of the courses at Bandon Dunes?

No. I'd have to go back and ask Mike if he asked me to be involved. I can't even remember. I wasn't working out west when Bandon Dunes was started. I had a reputation that I wouldn't go west of the Mississippi. It wasn't true, but people pick up on that and someone wrote it. My sons are young and the Internet is their life, and they'll see something and they'll call me and say, "Dad, can you believe what someone just wrote about you? That's awful. You can't let them get away with that." And I say, well, it's America and everyone is entitled to say what they want to say. That's just the way it is. I have a lot of people tell me, "Gosh, I wish I would've known you work west of the Mississippi." I didn't work west of the Mississippi on multiple projects but I did one at a time. I think that's interesting.

OK, last question. Obviously you get along with Jack, but if it's you and Tom Doak, and Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye in a room, do you guys all get along and what would be the topic of conversation?

I don't know. I don't know Tom Doak. I've never spent any time with Tom Doak. I know Pete Dye really well. In fact, when I have my big charity event, I have 50 clubs together every two years and have a two-day golf tournament called the Fazio Cup, and raise money for children's charities. And one year I had it I wanted to have a speaker. And I thought, 'Who would be the perfect guy?' And so I called Pete Dye and he did, and people were blown away. And the first thing Pete Dye says, he stands up, and says, "You SOBs out there, if you would've hired me instead of Tom, I wouldn't have charged you as much as he did." He's a character. And Jack is a good friend. I think we would talk about our kids. That's what I think we would talk about. And I would talk to Pete about that because I know his son. For me, I don't talk golf course architecture. That's not my whole life. I do that for a living and a job. I was sitting in the locker room at Seminole with several great players, a couple of great tour players, and we were talking about the economy.

Well hopefully the next time you guys are all together you can come up with a solution.