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Man With A Plan Tom Fazio, the architect entrusted with the makeover of Augusta National, has a unique eye for design

April 08, 2002
April 08, 2002

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April 8, 2002

Golf Plus

Man With A Plan Tom Fazio, the architect entrusted with the makeover of Augusta National, has a unique eye for design

"I'm blamed for golf costing so much," Tom Fazio, the renowned
golf architect, said recently. He wasn't accepting the blame,
you understand, but simply answering a question put to him by a
nervous passenger in the SUV that Fazio was driving. The vehicle
teetered on a bank of loose sugar sand by a Florida pond, and
Fazio was spinning the steering wheel this way and that while
looking over one shoulder and then the other. "I'm paranoid
about getting stuck," he explained. That was because his
construction crews wouldn't let him hear the end of it if they
had to rescue him from another bog or briar patch. "The other
thing you don't want to do is knock down a tree or hit a
sprinkler."

This is an article from the April 8, 2002 issue Original Layout

To hear him talk, you'd have thought Fazio demolished golf
courses for a living. But this is the 57-year-old designer of 10
courses on the Golf Magazine Top 100 Courses in the U.S. list.
This is the man who poured nearly $40 million of a
casino-owner's money onto a barren plot of Nevada desert and
produced a verdant paradise called Shadow Creek. This is the man
who takes mined-out coalfields (Victoria National Golf Club,
Newburgh, Ind.) and abandoned quarries (Black Diamond Ranch,
Lecanto, Fla.) and turns them into meadows that would make an
Elizabethan poet swoon. More important, this is the man who was
entrusted with the recent remodeling of Augusta National Golf
Club. When Masters chairman Hootie Johnson handed Fazio the keys
to the bulldozers last spring, he probably didn't say, "Oh, and
Tom, try not to bury the azaleas."

But even golf's most acclaimed designer must occasionally duck a
brickbat or two, and that's what prompted the passenger's
question--What, if anything, do you get criticized for?--and
Fazio's answer, "I'm blamed for golf costing so much." It's
true, he said as he got the SUV rolling again on firm ground,
that he specializes in big-bucks courses for deep-pocketed
clients, but it wasn't always so. "When I started with my uncle
[George Fazio] back in the '60s, it cost $10,000 to build a
hole," he said. "I have friends now who say, 'Give me one of
those courses at $10,000 a hole.'" He laughed. "I would love to
be able to do that, but how? When are we going to see a $2,500
Chevy again? In our society, we don't go backward."

Or do we? A few hours earlier Fazio had sat behind the desk in
the Florida office that he first opened in the early 1980s,
staring through sliding-glass doors at the Intracoastal Waterway
and across to Jupiter Island, where he and his wife, Susan, had
purchased a condo this winter. On the wall behind him were large
portraits of his six children, ages 12 to three--or at least
that's how old they were in 1988, when he and his family moved
from North Palm Beach to Hendersonville, N.C. "To see those
pictures and look out this door, it's deja vu," he said. Then he
looked at a framed photograph of a smiling man with dark bushy
hair and thick glasses. "That's me, a hundred courses ago. Where
did the time go?"

The truth is, Fazio always knew he would return to the state
where he got his start. He and George, a successful Tour pro,
started making the trek from Philadelphia to Florida in the late
1960s, and in 1973 they moved the operation south. Tom's office
is right across the highway from the Jupiter Hills Club, the
project that put George and his nephew on the map when it opened
in 1970. "Tom ran the company from the beginning," says Andy
Banfield, one of nine senior designers working for Tom Fazio out
of offices in three states. "George visualized and Lou Cappelli
did the shaping, but Tom did the routing plans. He was running
projects when he was barely able to drive."

The Tom Fazio style, his competitors note with consternation, is
no style at all. Pete Dye has his railroad-tie bunkers and Ted
Robinson his desert waterfalls, but Fazio builds the course he
sees in the irises of a client's eyes. "He has boundless energy,
and I would guess he has a photographic memory," says senior
designer Tom Griswald. "He remembers dates, names, things that
happened to people's kids back in 1955." A Fazio site visit is a
misnomer, because he gives the prospective client more scrutiny
than the land. "It's nice to have a good piece of land," Fazio
said, "because it costs less to build a great course, but the key
ingredient is the client's commitment to quality golf." How many
rich guys call Fazio headquarters saying they want to build one
of the world's best golf courses? One a day, on average. It's
easier to marry Liza Minnelli than it is to hire Tom Fazio.

"He didn't go to college, but not a day goes by that I don't
learn from him," says Beau Welling, the investment banker Fazio
hired five years ago to serve as his business manager. "He has
developed a brand by emphasizing the value of intangible assets,
like name and reputation. If you put it on paper and took it up
to the Harvard Business School, they'd say he's crazy."

Crazy in a try-to-please-everyone way, as Fazio proved on a foray
into book publishing. A decade ago he agreed to collaborate with
old friend and journalist Cal Brown on a richly illustrated
coffee-table book. Fazio's conditions: He would pay the book's
estimated production costs of $350,000, and all revenue had to go
to the Tom Fazio Children's Charity Fund. Then Fazio got the
owners of 50 of his courses to donate $7,500 each to the charity,
as a trade-off for being featured in the book.

Next came the hard part--deciding which of the 50 courses to put
on the book's cover. "I didn't want to make one club happy and
hurt the feelings of 49 others," Fazio said. So he paid for 50
four-color dust jackets and arranged for each course to have an
additional eight-page customized insert with text and color
photos included in the copies of the edition that bore that
course's cover. Fazio then took the 50 supplements, bound them
into yet another book and printed a limited run of 500 to give to
charity auctions. Golf Course Designs wound up costing him
$750,000, but those who know Fazio well say slighting even one
client would have cost him sleep.

"You do the best you can," Fazio said. "Why? My wife is really
into these questions. She's a Ph.D." You don't need an advanced
degree to know why Fazio felt sentimental. With the last of his
children out of the house, he no longer needs to fly back to
Hendersonville on most nights in his six-passenger Turbo
Commander, as he did faithfully from 1988 until last year.
Florida is now his winter headquarters and the world his oyster
as he darts around the country designing courses and playing a
few of the ones he has already built. (He's an eight-handicapper.)

At his office Fazio crossed the room to a closet and slid open
the doors, looking for a copy of Golf Course Designs. Something
else caught his eye, making him laugh. "I still have dry cleaning
here from 18 years ago!" he said, pulling out a pair of bright
red slacks on a hanger covered in clear plastic and staring at
them in awe. "Would anybody wear these today?"

The question was rhetorical in regard to the slacks, but
obsolescence is very much in the minds of certain men in green
jackets. Fazio's summer overhaul of half the holes at Augusta
National was deemed necessary because many young pros--not only
Tiger Woods--were bombing their tee shots over bunkers and
hitting short irons into the greens.

"So what do you do to make sure the Masters remains a great test
of golf?" Fazio asked. "In the end we did what has always been
done--move back the tees. Only this time we didn't move them back
five or 10 yards. This time we really moved them back." The par-4
18th, for instance, has been lengthened 60 yards; it now plays
465 yards with an enlarged fairway bunker on the left side of the
landing area. "The course doesn't look any different, but my
guess is that it will play a stroke and a half harder per round,
although we never really had a target number. We wanted to
restore the shot values."

Asked the bigger question--whether, as Hootie Johnson has
suggested, a limit should be put on the distance a ball can
travel under the Rules of Golf--Fazio danced like Nijinsky. "I'm
not smart enough to know the answer to that one," he said. "I see
myself as one little person who designs courses for a living.
Does anyone really care what I think about a golf ball?"

Actually, yes--particularly his colleagues in the American Society
of Golf Course Architects, who issued a white paper last year
warning that equipment advances threaten to make older courses
obsolete. Fazio probably shares this view, but he's too much the
conciliator to say so. "I'm sure I'll be criticized for not
taking a stance," he said, "and I accept that."

So that's two areas in which the otherwise popular Fazio takes
some heat--the cost of golf and the ball contretemps. Is there a
third? "I've heard people say, 'Fazio moves too much earth,'" he
said. Same afternoon, same Florida sunshine. Fazio looked
straight ahead, steering the SUV across a grassless fairway at
MacArthur Golf Club, the course he is building in Hobe Sound
along with Tour pro Nick Price. Fazio shrugged and said, "I don't
think I move too much earth, but everybody's entitled to their
opinion."

Anyway, it's all about trends. In the 1980s, when top-drawer
designers like Fazio, Dye and Jack Nicklaus were routinely asked
to build championship courses on less-than-championship sites,
they moved mountains to please the clients. "In the '80s," Fazio
said, "more was better." Inevitably, there was a backlash. The
1990s saw a move toward minimalism, a school of design that
rejects major earthworks and embraces a natural laying of holes.
The minimalist approach requires that a piece of property look
somewhat like a course before the designer arrives, which is why
the masterpieces of modern minimalism are to be found along the
rugged Oregon coast and on the dramatic sandhills of Nebraska.
"I respect the purist's approach," Fazio said, "but if I have to
move earth to make a great course, I move earth. What counts is
the final result."

Hardly anybody can find fault with Fazio's results. This year
he'll complete courses in five states, including a tournament
track for the Country Club of Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens,
Fla., which will host the Tour's Honda Classic starting in 2003.
His designers are also doctoring several of the country's most
revered layouts, including Pine Valley, Winged Foot, Oak Hill,
Bel Air and Riviera. His biggest challenge, he said, is meeting
expectations. "When people play a new course today," he said,
"they compare it with the best course they've ever played, and
that's on Day One, out of the box."

That kind of quality had to be expensive, Fazio's passenger
speculated--just before the SUV's wheels sank into another
pocket of soft, white sand. The architect nodded, pressing the
accelerator gently with his foot while pressing his lips
together hard. "Yeah," he finally said. "It costs from $200,000
to $400,000 a hole."

Responding to the pregnant pause that followed, Fazio smiled and
shrugged again.

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKESNINE COLOR ILLUSTRATIONS: ILLUSTRATIONS BY GIACOMO MARCHESICOLOR PHOTO: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN MOVER AND SHAKER Foremost in Fazio's mind when deciding whether to take on a project is the client's commitment to quality golf.

Augusta Alterations

Tom Fazio's work with Augusta National dates to the early '70s,
when he and his uncle George redid the 10th tee. For the last
few years Fazio and his staff have charted shots at the Masters.
"Our decision to make these changes was not a shot from the
hip," he says. "The ball's going farther. Something had to be
done." Here is Fazio's take on the holes he renovated.

HOLE 1 -- PAR-4 -- 435 YARDS +25

"Along with moving the tee back, we enlarged the fairway bunker
to bring it into play. But we also leveled the landing area so
shorter hitters won't land on the upslope--a major disadvantage.
There's an elevation change of three or four feet."

HOLE 7 -- PAR-4 -- 410 YARDS +45

"Another hole where we had to move the tee back, but at roughly
400 yards the hole will still play as a tight little par-4. Long
hitters were driving it past the trees and onto an upslope,
leaving them a 40- to 50-yard approach they could hit with no
spin to stick it close to the hole."

HOLE 8 -- PAR-5 -- 570 YARDS +20

"The changes actually help the medium and short hitters. The tee
is slightly to the right of its old position, and we moved the
fairway bunker closer to the green. The big sentinel pine now
comes into play, so you can't start the ball way right and rope
it back into the fairway. Look for more left-to-right tee shots."

HOLE 9 -- PAR-4 -- 460 YARDS +30

"This hole is not only longer but also has added trees on the
right. If you try to bail out with your tee shot, you can get in
real trouble. I expect players will be more concerned about
accuracy than length off the tee, causing some sweaty palms."

HOLE 10 - PAR-4 - 495 YARDS +10

"In addition to moving the tee back and a little to the left, we
regraded the area in front of the tee to make the fairway more
visible from the tee. I wouldn't call this a restoration,
though, because the hole actually rewards an even bigger
right-to-left tee shot than it did before."

HOLE 11 -- PAR-4 -- 490 YARDS +35

"We moved this tee back four years ago, but we had to do it
again because the hole was playing so short that few people were
laying up to the right of the green anymore. Why play safe when
you're hitting nine-iron or sand wedge for your second shot?
We've made it a mid-iron approach again."

HOLE 13 -- PAR-5 -- 510 YARDS +25

"When Ray Floyd won the Masters [in 1976], he got home with a
driver and a five-wood. Last year the players were hitting their
second shots with four-, five- and even six-irons, so we've
simply recreated the old shot values. With the tee moved back
and a hair to the left, players must hit a good drive to find
the proper landing area."

HOLE 14 -- PAR-4 -- 440 YARDS +35

"The only thing we did was lengthen the hole. Players were going
with three-woods instead of drivers off the tee."

HOLE 18 -- PAR-4 -- 465 YARDS +60

"Lengthening 18 was a slam-dunk decision. At 405 yards, all the
young players were driving it over the bunker, leaving only 75
to 100 yards to the green. There's nothing wrong with that, but
is that a finishing hole for a major championship? Now it's a
carry of about 320 yards to clear the bunker."