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Younger Fazio, learning from more famous relatives, likes to 'hand-build' his golf courses

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Tommy  FazioThe golf course design industry has a thing about family trees. You have the Dyes ("Pinky," Pete and P.B.), the Joneses (Robert Trent Sr. and Jr.) and the Fazios in the more famous limb - and all of them seem to have family members struggling to grab their share of the limelight from more famous relatives.

Tommy Fazio, not to be confused with his uncle, Tom, is doing a pretty good job of that. Tommy's father, Jim, is just now starting to get out from under the more highly focused publicity glare of brother Tom, who has nine courses on Golf Magazine's list of "top 100 courses in the U.S." and 19 on the "top 100 you can play" list.

It was Jim's association with Donald Trump, in particular his work on Trump International Golf Club in West Palm B each, FLa., that helped revive a 40-year career that was already solid. The Trump name has also worked wonders for Tommy.

"I've worked with Trump the last seven or eight years," Tommy Fazio said. "It's not an in-house thing, but it's very close to it. Every single golf course he looks at, I sort of go through the whole evaluation for him and his people, to see if we should do it, how we should do it and all that."

This isn't exactly an "Apprentice" relationship. Trump liked the young Fazio's work ethic from the start and once Fazio got to know how Trump worked, the relationship grew even tighter.

"He's phenomenally particular," Fazio said of Trump, a six-handicapper. "He's got a very good eye. He'll walk by a piece of grass that's out of place and you'll be moving it. After working with him, you understand what he's going for after you see it through his eyes. And it's not just the golf - it's everything he does.

Jim Fazio"He's very particular about the quality and once you get in tune with that, then it's not hard. But, there is definitely a learning curve."

Trump also liked the young Fazio's old-school approach. Fazio grew up in the business when sub-contractors were unheard of. One company did all the work from the ground up.

"I do design/builds where I exclusively hand-build my own golf course," Fazio said. "I bring all my own people in and I do not hire contractors. Then I supervise daily the construction, all aspects of it - not just the design, but the underground and everything - so that I get it exactly the way I want it."

Fazio differs from his uncle Tom, who despite his accolades, has been criticized for cranking out too many courses and becoming a "corporate brand," in the words of golf design critic Gib Papazian, writing for Golf Digest.

"I come and move to the project and live there for eight months," Tommy Fazio said. "Because of that, I can only do one job a year. Part of the criteria of me doing a course is that it's got to be a certain caliber, since I only have one to do. I only get one bite of the apple a year."

Trump InternationalAll the Fazios share some common traits when it comes to course design, but Tommy said one important way he differs lies in the difficulty of the courses he builds. Whereas Tom Fazio has also been criticized for designing courses that some consider too easy - only one of his designs has hosted a major tournament (the Champions course at PGA National for the 1987 PGA Championship) - his nephew likes to make them tough.

All the Fazios share some common traits when it comes to course design, but Tommy said one important way he differs lies in the difficulty of the courses he builds. Whereas Tom Fazio has also been criticized for designing courses that some consider too easy - only one of his designs has hosted a major tournament (the Champions course at PGA National for the 1987 PGA Championship) - his nephew likes to make them tough.

"Working with clients like Donald Trump, they always push you to make it harder, as hard as you can make it. We never make it as hard as we can make it because we'd make it impossible."

Fazio is like his uncle in that he doesn't mind altering the natural landscape in search of drama.

Tom  Fazio"Coming from Florida, I sometimes take out what's typical of the area and do something different," he said. "I did a course in Vero Beach (Fla.) where I took out all the palm trees, so it doesn't look like your typical south Florida course. I just try and get a variety of different looks."

Getting to know the family business from the ground up, literally, was a tremendous advantage.

"Back in those days it wasn't as glamorous as it is now - if it is glamorous at all," Fazio said. "I ran tractors, graduated to bulldozers, worked on irrigation crews. It was hard work. I learned it in the trenches. It wasn't until after high school I really start doing the design aspect of it, but it gave me that base knowledge of how to build a golf course.

"They did basically what I do now. So when I went out on my own, I went back to that heritage of hand-building the golf course."

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


 
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