With all due respect to Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf and Donald Ross, Tom Fazio is the undisputed king of modern mountain golf course architecture. And as we approach his 77th birthday on Feb. 10, it’s only appropriate that we give credit where so much credit it due.
From the Blue Ridge to the Rockies and numerous ranges in between, the master architect has more nationally ranked mountain layouts than his World Golf Hall of Fame contemporaries combined.
The former North Carolina native designed 32 (nearly a third) of the courses on Golfweek / USA Today’s 2022 list of the “Top 100 Residential Golf Courses in the U.S.” For courses ranked 101-200, he has 11 more design credits.
So enamored with mountain golf in general, and its North Carolina interpretation, specifically, Fazio chose Hendersonville (where he also lived while working on Champion Hills) for his office and nearby Lake Toxaway for his summer home.
For golfers looking to tee it up at elevations where the temps are cool throughout the summer and the tee shots soar amid purple mountain majesties, here’s a collection of 10 of Fazio’s best highland golf course designs.
The golf cognoscenti and course rankings experts agree: Champion Hills is one of Fazio’s seminal designs, a game-changing layout that along with Wade Hampton forever altered the way mountain golf courses were routed and built. Fazio deftly demonstrates that playing at altitude doesn't have to mean blind shots and uneven lies. And playing to 6,510-yards from the back tees, the timeless layout reminds players that the 7,000-yard benchmark is an arbitrary measurement of “championship” caliber golf. Proof positive: Champion Hills moved up 13 spots in Golfweek's ranking of the "Top 200 Residential Courses"
Former Winged Foot head professional John McNeely and Frederica (St. Simons, Ga.) owner Wayne Huizenga founded this uber-exclusive golf club in Banner Elk, N.C. As the story goes, they had their sights set on working with Fazio and Fazio only. McNeely made the two-hour drive down to Hendersonville to personally pitch Fazio at his office. The rest, as they say, is history.
Situated in neighboring Cashiers, Mountaintop, along with Wade Hampton, Diamond Creek and Champion Hills completes North Carolina’s famed foursome of Fazio mountain marvels. The layout climbs gradually from a valley floor to a mountaintop pinnacle that serves as the inspiration for the course’s name.
Like Champion Hills, Wade Hampton was a late 80s western North Carolina layout that established Fazio as the nation’s premier mountain golf craftsman. Also similar to Champion Hills, Wade Hampton is “private golf Fazio” at the top of his game: generous fairways, flowing bunkers and severely undulating greens.
Given its proximity to chic Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, it’s little wonder that Gozzer Ranch attracts more than its fair share of celebrity golfers. Former New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez is a frequent guest, and hockey great Wayne Gretzky is a long-time member. Fazio routed several holes along the site’s basalt bluffs, where 100-foot-high spires, crags and cliff faces are back-dropped by sweeping views of the lake and nearby mountains.
Red Sky Ranch
Located near the Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts, Red Sky Ranch sits at a breathtaking (literally) 7,000 feet on a former sheep ranch. Its routing rises and falls amid 600-feet of total elevation change throughout its 7,113-yards. A 7,113-yard stunner, this top-of-the-world layout offers panoramic views of Castle Peak to the west and Vail’s fabled Back Bowls to the east.
At Shooting Star in celebrity-soaked Jackson Hole, Wyo., Fazio devised a brilliantly simple method of designing an eminently playable mountain golf course: site the majority of the holes in a valley. Well, a 25-acre meadow to be precise, but the result is just as stunning as any of Fazio’s highland heroics. There are also over 50 acres of lakes on property that come into play on 13 of 18 holes.
The Lake Tahoe region is coveted by many golf course architects, and a design credit in the high Sierras is a mountain golf badge of honor. Set at 6,100-feet above sea level amid 2,177 rambling acres, Martis Camp is considered by many, including former PGA Tour player and two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen, to be among Fazio’s greatest courses.
The Stock Farm
Fazio designed Stock Farm in the southwest corner of Montana’s Big Sky country in the very heart of the Bitterroot Valley. The course originally opened in 1999, and Fazio returned in 2018 for a complete renovation including rebuilding green complexes and bunkers. Situated at a reasonable 3,500 feet, it’s the views of the surrounding Bitterroot Mountains that cause golfers to reach for their smartphone cameras.
The Fazio Course at Pronghorn in Bend, Ore., is unquestionably one of the most visually stunning golf courses in the U.S. Its rolling fairways and sculpted greens are punctuated by ancient lava rocks that create a surreal, almost Mars-like effect. Considered one of the most unique holes in the world, the par-3 eighth hole includes a 45-foot canyon and exposed lava tube.