A chat with a golf course builder

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Jim Fazio knows golf courses: how they are built and what they take to a suburb, a village or even an old city. Since 1961 it has been the family business Fazio.

Together with his uncle George and brother Tom, they have built 250 to 300 golf courses and their designs are staples of the "Top 100" and "Best of" lists around the world.

Mr. Fazio, 77, spoke about the challenges of designing courses in Europe and Japan and America, and how it felt to work for a developer who is now president of the United States.

This interview was lightly edited and condensed.

How did you become a golf course architect?

George was a professional golfer, and when he retired he was asked to help finish a course after the architect walked away.

This is how we started. I started working for George when I was 19.

How did you learn your craft?

We have hired a few local outfits that were small contractors and we learned from each other. We would say that we want a hill here or there and they would show us how it was done and what it looks like.

Really, what we do is get a map of a property and try to fit 18 holes on it. It's like making a puzzle.

You have worked all over the world. For example, next month the Italian Open will be held at the Olgiata Golf Club in Rome, and the Ryder Cup 2022 will take place at another course in Rome, the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club. What have you all done?

We came to Olgiata to update it and to give it a bit more length. It was built in the 1960s and the trees grew so that it changed the golf course.

We had to remove some trees – make it a little wider. They didn't move much dirt back then, so we formed a number of fairways so that the ball would stay on it. That was not done in the early 1960s.

I built the original Marco Simone [1989] but they had to do a lot about my design to organize the Ryder Cup. It was really a challenge and a great experience. It is built around a castle that was built in the year 1000, and there is a tower that dates back even earlier and was the original lookout for Rome. It is approximately 16 kilometers from Rome and you can see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica.

What is the biggest difference between job design in the United States and the rest of the world?

In Europe they did not do land development with golf courses. They built a golf course and then they built houses on the outside, not up and down the corridors of the fairways. The golf course is the core and then houses are built around it. In the United States they build 300 houses and a golf course and you try to get as many houses as possible along the fairways.

What is the biggest challenge when designing a golf course?

environmentalists. You cannot bring down trees. You cannot cross rivers. You cannot enter them. It is difficult to get permission to pass them on. It is very different nowadays than 25 years ago. It is worldwide. In fact, the rules are stricter in Europe and the rest of the world than in the United States. In Japan the problem is terrain. They save everything that is flat for rice. In the actual Tokyo, the country is really expensive. The farther you leave the city, the cheaper the land becomes.

What do you think is your masterpiece?

The Trump International Golf Club at West Palm Beach, Fla. We had to move three million tons of dirt. We built hills and hills and played with heights. There is a 50-foot drop-off from the 18th tee. We use creeks. We use waterfalls.

You have designed a number of jobs for Donald Trump. What is he like as a boss?

The Trump International was the first he had ever done, and he knew nothing about golf course design. He knew about buildings and real estate, but he would come on the weekend when he was in Mar-a-Lago. He wanted drama, and sometimes that wasn't the best for the job.

It was the best experience I have ever had on a golf course. It was a $ 40 million project. He was the best boss I have ever had.

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