- Top 100
- Tom Fazio
Tom Fazio was born in Norristown in the northwestern suburbs of Philadelphia and was educated at nearby Lansdale Catholic High School. He “entered the business of golf course architecture as a teenager in 1962,” wrote Geoff Cornish and Ron Whitten in The Golf Course, “assisting his uncle George in course construction. His on-the-job training and experience gave him intimate knowledge in engineering, landscape design, soils, accounting and business. By the early Seventies he became a full partner with George and the partnership became one of the nation’s leading course design firms.”
Tom commented as follows in the foreword of his book, Golf Course Designs: “I was fortunate in getting an early start in the golf course design business with my uncle, George Fazio, and learning about golf from George and the great masters who were his contemporaries, men like Byron Nelson, Jimmy Demaret, and Sam Snead. As the business and golf grew, I was lucky in my choice of competitors, too, people like Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, and Arnold Palmer, and many others who became friends, as well as competitors. I’ve learned from all of them...”
“When I started in golf design, I remember listening to recognized golf architects and well-known professional golfers talking about “classic” designs, whatever they are, and of building holes styled after the original Redan Hole at North Berwick, the Postage Stamp at Troon, the Road Hole at St Andrews, and other famous places. And I always had the same reaction to such statements: Why would you want to do something that’s already been done? Those are certainly wonderful holes, and stand as historic monuments of the game, but I have no interest in trying to copy them.”
Tom Fazio’s early designs were mainly collaborations with his uncle George, and their first high-end course (Jack Rabbit) was built in 1964 at Champions Golf Club in Houston, followed in 1967 by Edgewood Tahoe in Nevada. But it was their 1970 ensemble at Jupiter Hills in Tequesta, Florida, that blazed the trail for the uncle and nephew team. Top-class designs followed at Butler National (1972) and The National Golf Club of Canada (1974).
In 1972, Tom established his own design firm in Jupiter. According to lore, his uncle George often credited his nephew with vitalizing his own career in golf course architecture. The pair continued to collaborate through the first half of the 1970s prior to Tom setting out on his own.
Accolades are important to Tom Fazio. He’s proud to have been named the top American golf course architect in a poll conducted by Golf Digest in 1991, and he also won a separate award recognizing excellence in golf course design in 1993 and 1995 from the same magazine. He even maintains a dedicated awards section on his website, whereby he states he has fifteen courses in Golf Digest’s 2017-2018 US Top 100, “more than any other designer”.
There are currently no Tom Fazio designs in our World Top 100, but there are four Fazio courses in our 2020 US Top 100: Gozzer Ranch, Wade Hampton, Shadow Creek and Victoria National, so there’s no doubt that his creations are still relevant more than fifty years after he started out in the business of golf course design.
Tom’s son, T. Logan Fazio, has been working alongside his father since the mid-1990s – Logan is now President of Fazio Design. Tom’s nephew, Tom Fazio II, also has his own design company, so the Fazio architectural dynasty is future-proofed.
From Golf Course Designs by Tom Fazio: “In the past, the site was the most important thing we looked for in evaluating a project because the land was the key to creating great golf. In the golden age of golf during the 1920s, this was undoubtedly true. But no more. I’ve heard it said that Tom Fazio only selects good sites and good clients, that he only takes the cream of the crop. Maybe, but only in the sense that the most important thing in choosing a new project is not the site, but the client. It’s important because the golf course that emerges will be determined as much or more by the client’s commitment as it will be by mine, or even by the quality of the raw land. We look for clients who have a commitment to quality golf.
The competition among owners and designers to gain instant recognition is probably the principal reason for the current trend toward grander and more dramatic golf courses. So much is written about golf courses and golf design that stories and press accounts now have become part of this competition. In the past, clients were satisfied with, and golfers were content to play, a course that had three or four memorable holes. Now every new course has to have eighteen ‘finishing holes,’ each of which can be the subject of a spectacular photograph for a magazine advertisement or the front cover of a tournament program. Is that a good thing? I won’t judge either way, it’s just the way things are.
Good friends and casual acquaintances alike have asked me to describe the (design) philosophy I follow and, frankly, all the theories and philosophies seem to me nothing more than pleasant, but idle conversation. The truth is, I don’t really have a philosophy. Granted, we need to follow certain principles and know what our priorities are when designing a golf course, but I don’t believe we can allow them to dictate what fits on the site most naturally. I’ve always believed that that the best approach to designing golf courses is to take the conditions and the priorities and fit them to the site. To do otherwise would be fighting the land.
The classic tension in golf course design is not between risk and reward, but between playability and difficulty. Each day, every hour, we make decisions that affect how hard a golf hole will play. In my opinion, golf should not be easy, nor should it be overly difficult. We try to hit a middle ground between hard and easy so that, depending on how the course is set up, it can be made to play either fairly hard or fairly easy. I believe golf courses should be designed along that middle ground because it is the one most likely to bring the greatest enjoyment to the greatest number of people. That’s an old idea in golf, and one of the best.
Twenty years ago, I was asked by a client to draw up a list of the most important criteria to look for when choosing a site for a golf course. The list I provided included seven elements. They were: sandy loam soil, rolling terrain, reasonable tree cover, a lake or stream, good access, water recharge availability, and good drainage. Today, that list of essential elements would be a lot smaller. In fact, we’ve come to the conclusion that only one item on the list is indispensable for golf: access to a sufficient water supply to irrigate the turf. Even if the land were without features, we could create them by moving enough earth. If the property were without tree cover, we could plant trees, even bigger ones. We can create just about anything today, but without water, you can’t have golf.
When a golf designer finds a spectacular site, it’s natural to say wonderful things about what might be created there. But talk is cheap; the only thing that counts are results. What comes out at the end is not an accident, and it’s not luck. What matters most are all the old clichés, like hard work, commitment, dedication, and finally just getting the job done. We can get lucky once, maybe twice, or even three times. But when we do five or six golf courses a year, as we do every year, the luck wears off quickly.
Part of the enjoyment of golf lies in the visual experience of wandering through a fine landscape and feasting our eyes on the natural scenery. For this reason, we pay attention to the placement of greens and especially tees that offer attractive, long-range views. As much as we can, we want to draw the beauty of the surrounding areas into the golf course by revealing it to golfers particularly in those spots where they pause while driving or putting. Often we will find an attractive natural feature like a lake or stream that is not even part of the property, but with a little effort we can make it a visual focal point for the golf course.
Keith Cutten in The Evolution of Golf Course Design has this to say about the architect: “In a career spanning more than forty years, Tom Fazio has designed, or reworked, more than 200 golf courses worldwide. Interestingly, though, Tom does not live for design. He performs his role, satisfies his clients, and is not known to get bogged down on matters. More than most architects, Fazio thrives on non-design pursuits. In 1993, wanting more out of life and keen to make a difference, he and Sue Fazio, his wife, set up the Boys and Girls Club, Henderson County. This is but one of numerous charities supported by the Fazio family.
It is no secret that the Fazio name moves real estate in a big way; even more so than other ‘signature’ designers. Tom Fazio’s design style is ideal for this arrangement, as his emphasis on aesthetic value suits the marketing needs of most developers. Similarly, his style has displayed well on the covers of the industry’s top magazines. This free publicity has improved his stocks, and those of the courses he has created, frequently leading to higher rankings.”
Golf Course Designs published in 2000.
Shadow Creek: From Barren Desert to Desert Oasis published in 1995.