DALLAS, Texas - Architect Tom Fazio has achieved just about everything possible in his stellar career, dozens of highly rated golf courses, millionaire club owners clamoring for his service, plus the regularly applied title of America's Greatest Living Architect, but the 58-year-old designer said he is ready to launch another career phase.
In an exclusive interview with WorldGolf.com, Fazio said he will be taking his considerable golf architectural skills overseas for the first time in his 30-year solo career.
"I've always had calls from people overseas to design courses, but the answer was always "no" because I had six kids at home," Fazio said. "Now, for the first time, the kids are out of the house and I'm able to travel.
"I'm certainly going to do some courses overseas, probably 1-2 a year," he said. "My wife has already told me that the first places on her list to do courses are Tuscany and the south of France, so if those people call, then I'm there."
Fazio emphasized he wasn't especially looking for work, he has an unlisted number for his design company in Hendersonville, N.C., doesn't have a web site or maintain any sort of marketing activity. But Fazio said with his kids out of the house and his wife able to travel, he was ready to take his architectural show on the road.
Until now, all of Fazio's courses have been in the continental United States with the exception of a 36-hole facility in Barbados and the stunning private Querencia course in Los Cabos, Mexico.
His first course in Europe will be the recently announced renovation at the Waterville Golf Links in Ireland.
"I've already been over there several times and this summer I'm taking my three sons over there for two weeks to play golf, and I'll be at Waterville every other day so it should be a lot of fun."
No one has ever questioned the quality of Fazio's work in the U.S. He began working in his uncle George's firm in the 1960s and 70s, working out of their Philadelphia headquarters, but has long since branched out to do highly regarded layouts like Jupiter Hills in Florida, Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, Barton Creek in Texas, multiple courses in Pinehurst and the recent renovations at Augusta National.
His desire to spend time with his large family and dedication to spending every possible night at home, watching his kid's activities, kept him stateside for nearly two decades.
"I've had people tell me I missed an opportunity to do some courses in Japan when they had a lot of capital and a lot of land, but I was always into the seasons. Basketball season, baseball season, whatever my kids were doing. My thought was if I missed it, so what, there will always be another course somewhere.
"I always had good people to work with and do the work on the courses, but they always wanted me to come in person as well and I wasn't interested."
Fazio said one thing that won't change whether he does courses at home or abroad, is the high standard of perfection people expect from brand new courses, a standard Fazio and others in the industry have helped create.
"Back when I was working with my uncle George, we would always say when we worked on a course that it would mature for 3-5 years and then really be good. Today, you couldn't get a course built like that.
"We've evolved to the point to where the first day a course is opened, people want to compare it to the best course they've ever played in their life.
"People have a very high standard of what a course will look like and for the most part they do not let financial aspects get in the way," Fazio added.
He said that's because of the number of high profile owners he has worked for in the past that are willing to spend any amount of money to get a perfect course on opening day.
"We didn't put any sod on until the early 1970s. Then we put down one strip, then two, then three. I was working for the owner of Coca Cola (at the Honors Course in Tennessee) in the late 70s and he didn't like the grass on his fairway, so we wanted to sod the entire fairway.
"I told him he needed 300 acres and the only place that had 300 acres of this type of grass was a nursery in Cincinnati, Ohio. But all they had was 300 acres, so this man wound up buying the nursery to get all of their sod.
"Once that came out and the course opened, it changed the industry forever."
After that, it was nothing for casino magnate Steve Wynn to have Fazio import an entire forest of trees to the middle of the Nevada desert to create his own personal 18-hole garden at Shadow Creek or owners to hire Fazio to create courses on sites too steep or rugged for most experienced climbers.
"At (hilly) places like Barton Creek (Austin, Texas) or Dallas National, most people would never even take the job because they couldn't envision how a course could be built there," Fazio said.
The next challenge is a public course at Lake Las Vegas, Nevada where Fazio has his choice of four different ways to finish the 18th hole, but doesn't have to make the choice until construction this fall.
Now when the phone rings at his Hendersonville headquarters, Fazio says he can almost predict the conversation from the would-be golf course owner.
"They have a great piece of land, it's the only good spot left in the town, they have unlimited resources and they want to make it the best course in the country. We get that same call 2-3 times a week and sometimes they don't even own the land yet."
Before he proceeds with any project or even sees the land, Fazio said he sits down with the course ownership to talk about what type of project they have in mind.
Fazio's work does not come cheap, with his design fees running well into the seven-figure range according to some clients, but the bottom line is production.
"Tom's certainly not the cheapest architect around, but you definitely get your monies' worth and that's all you can really ask for," one former client said.
At the EDS Byron Nelson Championship kickoff luncheon where Fazio was the featured speaker, principals from both of his North Texas private clubs, Mike Abbott at the Vaquero Club and John MacDonald at Dallas National were in attendance and both gave unsolicited glowing reports of Fazio's work.
In fact repeat business is so good, that Fazio has formed agreements with top developers like Mike Meldman at Discovery Land Company or Wynn to do a series of exclusive courses for them.
Asked if he's ever concerned about topping himself, Fazio paused only slightly before saying, "People have a very high standard for me and my work and that's very flattering, but we try to do the best we can from the very first day the course is open."
It's a far cry from Pinehurst in 1976, the last time Fazio ever had to pitch a developer to use his services for a layout.
"It was going to be the first non-Donald Ross built there, the golf building business was in a depression and I really wanted that project. I called them up and told them I was their man."
Now the calls flow the other direction and beginning in 2003, the international long distance charges will be adding up.
January 22, 2003
PGA pros are hitting the ball longer than ever, and the tour views the onslaught as problematic, at least if you judge by how often they seek to lengthen tournament venues. Throughout the rest of the golfing community the distance issue has become even more pandemic, one that views nearly every important golf course as a potential victim of obsolescence. So what should golf course owners, club committees, and architects - presumably also key figures in the equation - do about it? Senior Writer Derek Duncan has is suggestion, or lack there of.
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