George Fazio wore numerous hats in life — including that of an outstanding golf course architect
Although arguably the least well known of the trio of golf course architects represented at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, George Fazio can make at least one impressive claim that Robert Trent Jones Sr., and Arthur Hills can not.
Jones and Hills were both accomplished players, but Fazio was a professional golfer … and a very good one at that.
The son of working-class Italian immigrants, Fazio was one of eight children. He took up caddying and playing golf at age 9. A decade later, he landed an assistant professional job and soon became a Philadelphia-area golf fixture, winning local tournaments and becoming the head professional at famed Pine Valley.
Fazio was good enough to win the 1946 Canadian Open and the 1947 Bing Crosby Pro-Am. He nearly won the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia, finishing third to Ben Hogan and Lloyd Mangrum in an 18-hole playoff — an event later memorialized as one of the 15 most memorable Philadelphia sports moments.
From 1950 to '53, Fazio recorded three top-fives at the U.S. Open. From 1947 to 1954 he competed in seven Masters Tournaments, where his best finish was 14th in 1952.
In those days, however, the meager prize money — Fazio had career earnings of slightly more than $50,000 — required most players to cash in on their fame in other golf-related pursuits. So, like many touring pros of his era, Fazio dabbled in a variety of other enterprises in and out of the golf industry.
Fazio was the head professional at six different Philadelphia-area clubs. He owned driving ranges, a car dealership and even a scrap-metal business.
But those pursuits went to the backburner when Fazio discovered his calling as a golf course architect. His life changed in 1955 when he was hired to renovate Cobbs Creek for the PGA Tour stop in his hometown. A few years later, his breakthrough came with his creation of Waynesborough, a private course that he designed, owned and operated.
Fazio’s sensibilities as a player informed his work, resulting in pretty, playable layouts. He had an eye for how a golf hole not only should play, but also look and blend into the terrain. He is particularly noted for his cloverleaf and butterfly bunkers.
As his playing career began winding down, Fazio moved into a career of course design resulting in great recognition and acclaim. Indeed, for a course architect who didn't realize his calling until he was in his mid 40s, Fazio built an impressive résumé of 64 designs that includes not only Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, but also Jupiter Hills in south Florida, Edgewood on Lake Tahoe, Butler National, Hershey East and Pinehurst No. 6. He also redesigned the major-championship duo of Inverness in Ohio and Oak Hill in New York.
Much of this work, including Palmetto Dunes, was performed with the assistance of his nephew, Tom Fazio, who later built a brilliant career in the business. “If not for (George), I'd be caddying somewhere for a living," Tom Fazio once said. Another nephew, Jim Fazio, also assisted George, as did course designer Lou Cappelli.
The arc of Tom Fazio’s career was marked by a move away from his uncle’s philosophy. “George Fazio built hard, technical courses designed to expose flaws in your game,” says Adam Messix, club historian at Wade Hampton in North Carolina. “After Tom went out on his own, he began breaking into more strategic design, and then into landscape aesthetics.”
Years later, when his design business slowed down in Philadelphia, George Fazio took his operations to Jupiter, Fla., where he lived his last 16 years before his death in 1986 at the age of 73.
Fazio never apologized for the wide-arching scope of his professional career. “What are you going to do, hit golf balls for the rest of your life?” he once said. “I'm not saying it's wrong, but for me, it's boring. I don't think anybody should take more than five years to do anything. You should do six or eight or 20 things in a lifetime.”