Home » Commentary

Reflections on golf course architecture: Picking the top five Fazio courses

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The thought occurred to me while walking off of No. 18 at the River Course at the Kiawah Island Club. I'd finally played enough Tom Fazio designed courses to contribute meaningfully to the overall dialogue on his great body of work.

Some folks have epiphanies on religion, politics and physics. I occasionally have deep thoughts about golf course architecture. Over the past year, I've been fortunate enough sample 12 Fazio designed layouts in five states. In other words, I've been straddling the fine line between groupie and healthy professional interest.

Despite my empirical research, and two readings of his architectural manifesto, "Golf Course Designs," it never fails: when I have a tee time at a Fazio course the next morning, I can't sleep that night.

Perhaps it's the anticipation of stepping up to the first tee and gazing out on a surreal golf landscape; one that actually feels like a living, breathing organism. Or maybe it's the pot of hotel coffee consumed at 10 p.m. while trying to make deadline on a column. I'd say it was a combination of both, but I know better.

Once again, it is 10 p.m. I have a column to write and a 9 a.m. tee time at a private, Donald Ross designed course. With all due respect to Mr. Ross, I'm brewing a pot of coffee, ranking the top Five Fazio courses I've played, and getting ready for a good night's sleep.

One man's top five Fazio courses

1. Pine Barrens, World Woods Golf Club, Brooksville, Fla. - Pine Barrens is a testament to Fazio's unabashed reverence for Pine Valley. With its 44 acres of waste bunkers, pine-packed fairways and muscular feel, this is as close to the storied course as many traveling golfers will get. Still, Pine Barrens stands on its own as one of the most compelling designs of its time.

The first three holes are deceptively tame, and the green on the par-4 second is even bunker-free. But march up to the tee box on No. 4, gaze out upon the lush green fairway as it crashes into rugged waste area on the right, and you begin to understand what makes this course tick. At first blush, Pine Barrens appears to be a haven for long-knockers. But shot values are of the essence, with most par-4s and par-5s having a clear position "A" off of the tee. Fazio even toys with the unconventional, using split fairways on the fourth and 14th holes to force a choice of route. From the fairways in, Pine Barrens is target golf at its finest.

2. River Course, Kiawah Island Club, Kiawah S.C. This course gets lost in Fazio's compendium of Carolina credits. It shouldn't. When it opened in 1995, the River Course was edged only by the Estancia Club (a Fazio design) in Scottsdale, Ariz. in Golf Digest's best new private course category. The course is a haunting brute that snakes along the reed-c hoked banks of Kiawah River and the shimmering shores of "Bass Pond." The 7,039-yard layout is situated on a 300-acre swath of land that contains more protected wetlands than it does golf course. Fazio's routing takes golfers a mile and a half along the Kiawah River and through "clusters" of holes separated by large expanses of green space.

3. Mirabel, Carefree, Ariz. - The story is as good as the golf course. The 90 acres of finely manicured turf at this Fazio designed masterpiece in quaint Carefree are hiding a 43-acre Greg Norman designed golf course. Less than three years ago, Mirabel was actually a high-end, $15 million public course called Stonehaven wrought by the Shark. Enter Discovery Land Development, a new master plan and new golf course. Fazio was given carte blanche to start from scratch, and it shows. Mirabel's artfully crafted holes feature plump landing areas framed by trademark Fazio bunkers, and knee-buckling approach shots to severely contoured greens. It doesn't have the dramatic setting of Estancia, but Mirabel delivers on its overall design strength.

4. Grayhawk Golf Club, Raptor Course, Scottsdale, Ariz. - Fazio, enticed to the Sonoran desert by Grayhawk founders Gregg Tryhus and Del Cochran, did the Raptor course in the mid '90s while also working on Estancia. Raptor is considered to be the more challenging of the two Grayhawk Courses (the other being the Talon, designed by David Graham and Gary Panks) primarily due to meaty par-4s and par-5s and its emphasis on laser-like approach shots. Raptor's greens aren't nearly as severe as Mirabel's, but they still have a lot of bite. The finishing stretch, culminating with the 521-yard par-5 No. 18, might be the best in Scottsdale.

5. Pinehurst No. 8, Pinehurst, N.C. - Fazio's tribute to Ross and the 100th anniversary of the Pinehurst Resort is a must-play for any avid golfer exploring the North Carolina Sandhills. It is also a testament to Fazio's ability to adapt to Ross's style. Explanation: From tee to fairway, Ross and Fazio have opposing design philosophies. Ross uses fairway bunkers along the preferred line to the green; if you are going challenge par, you're going to earn it. Fazio uses bunkers (typically dramatic ones) on the opposite side of the preferred line to draw eyes away from the task at hand. Both prefer similar treatments around green complexes, however, including raised greens, tightly mowed surrounds and plenty of recovery areas. No. 8 is a perfect blend of Fazio giving way to Ross 75 percent of the time, and Fazio being Fazio the other 25 percent. The "Centennial" contains far more waste areas than Ross ever used, but most of the greens mimic Ross's firm, fast, turtle shells at the famed No. 2 course.

Fazio Five Wish list

1. Wade Hampton, Cashiers, N.C.

2. Black Diamond Ranch Quarry Course, Lecanto, Fla.

3. Seaside Course, Sea Island, Ga.

4. Estancia, Scottsdale, Ariz.

5. Vintage Club Desert Course, Indian Wells, Calif.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
Jacksonville Beach Golf Packages
Dates: August 10, 2017 - June 30, 2018
Discover The World Golf Village Renaissance St. Augustine Resort, within minutes of everything you need for a weekend getaway, golf retreat or business stay.
Price range: $439