“For me, Pinehurst is such a special place for golf!”- Tom Fazio
By Lee Pace
Tom Fazio admits that the golf-design firm he and his uncle George were running in the mid-1970s “was a struggling business trying to get known and get recognition.”
George, a former tour pro who won twice on the PGA Tour and was in a three-man playoff for the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion that Ben Hogan won, designed Edgewood Tahoe in Nevada in 1967 with 22-year-old Tom running the operation. They followed with Jupiter Hills in Florida in 1970, Butler National in Chicago in 1972 and Palmetto Dunes on Hilton Head Island in 1973.
But the 1970s economic malaise of high interest rates, political turmoil and oil shortages put the kibosh on real estate and golf.
“There was next-to-nothing new built in 1974 and ’75,” Fazio says. “Renovations were the only jobs out there. Then we got a call from Pinehurst.”
Executives with the Diamondhead Corp., the owners of Pinehurst Resort & Country Club in the 1970s, called to say they wanted to build their first course away from the central resort core. No. 6 would be built on a relatively rugged piece of land about three miles north of the resort.
“Getting the No. 6 job was a major step for us in the golf-design business,” Fazio says of the course that opened in 1979. “No. 6 coming along when it did was a dream come true. It was the biggest piece of cheese we’d ever thought about. It had amazing potential.”
By that time, George was nearing retirement and Tom went solo on a new job along the South Carolina coast. The Links Course at Wild Dunes outside Charleston was a course acclaimed for its windswept terrain bordered by sand and long wispy grasses. His career was off and running and Fazio by the time of the 1990s golf boom was recognized as the preeminent modern golf architect.
“For me, Pinehurst is such a special place for golf,” says Fazio, who at 77 is still designing new courses and working on renovations of his earlier works. “Put Donald Ross in the equation and it’s even more special. It’s been an historical destination for over a century. There’s a special feeling — a feeling for golf and its tradition and history and longevity.”
Roughly 20 years after the call to design No. 6, Fazio got another call from Pinehurst.
“I was at the Masters one year and I called the office for messages,” Fazio says. “I had a note to call [Pinehurst owner] Bob Dedman. I called him and he asked if I’d be interested in designing No. 8. I was sitting there in one of the great places in golf, Augusta National, and got a call to do a course in another great place in golf, Pinehurst. It was like I had won the Masters. It was a great feeling.”
Fazio and his staff worked on No. 8 at the same time they were building a course for a new private development called Forest Creek Golf Club. That course opened in 1996, and he added a second course there in 2005. The original course was designated and remains today the South Course, the newer one the North Course.
“We created two contrasting styles at the same address — as much as if we’d done one course and someone else had done the other,” Fazio says. “The South Course has an Augusta look and feel with gently flowing lines, wintertime overseeding and big, white-splashed bunkers. The North favors a course like Pine Valley with lots of sand, irregular boundaries and native grasses popping through wide expanses.”
Tom and George also consulted with Pinehurst management in the late-1970s on a restoration of No. 2, one that in hindsight many years later would appear to be a mini-version of what Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw would do in 2010-11. Mostly the Fazios tried to restore some of the unkempt look to the course that Diamondhead had removed early in its ownership tenure because it wanted a smoother, greener presentation.
Fazio in the fall of 2010 toured the work of Coore & Crenshaw with Don Padgett II, at the time the resort and club president and COO, and gave the restoration a thumbs-up.
“You can say the word shock when I first saw the golf course,” Fazio said at the time. “The word wow is appropriate as well. I also would say that I think it’s going to be fabulous. It’s such a big deal to do. This is a big deal. This is not a little deal. It’s a big deal. It takes a lot of guts and good management to do this. Some people will be shocked at the changes. I think it’s pretty much on target. I couldn’t be happier, being a Pinehurst fan and having had the opportunity to do quite a few golf courses at Pinehurst myself.”
Chapel Hill based writer Lee Pace has written about golf in the Sandhills since the late 1980s and has authored a dozen books about clubs, courses and the people who’d made it special over more than a century.