The interview with Tom Fazio doesn’t go as planned. About 30 seconds into the conversation the architect of many of the world’s most compelling golf courses says something unexpected.
“Of all the things I’ve done in my career, nothing has had as much impact on me, and on other people, as my kids and the Boys & Girls Club. Some people have boats and hobbies. I have golf, which is my business, and I have the kids. Sue and I have six of our own. I love kids.”
There it is. The world famous golf course architect, has just put his heart on the table. For the next hour we will talk about the Boys & Girls Club, the kids that are club members, and the passion he has for them.
November 1, 1993: The Boys & Girls Club of Henderson County opened its doors to 150 youth in the Green Meadows Community Center. (This 2000-sq.-ft. room now houses the Club’s game room and a kitchen.)
And you thought Fazio was all about golf. Why would you think that? Because he has designed more than 200 courses? Because he has more of his designs in the Golf Digest Top 100 Golf Courses list than any other active designer?
Fazio is a lot deeper than that. A devout Catholic, a dedicated father, Tom and Sue Fazio are the founders and moving force behind one of the nation’s most successful Boys & Girls Clubs. It is a place where kids of all ages, races, religions and creeds can come to study, play, learn and just be kids.
The staff at the Boys & Girls Club, say Tom and Sue, are a blessing to them. Fazio thinks it’s a blessing to be here, in Hendersonville, working with the kids.
Having six kids, all born in Florida, it never was in Tom’s plans to move away from the Palm Beach-Jupiter area. He says that’s the golf course design center of the world and probably the universe. But fate and opportunity and a brilliant, generous, insightful and artistic wife brought him to Cashiers, NC and eventually to an office just off of Main Street in downtown Hendersonville, NC.
On Moving to Hendersonville
“I came up for the summer in 1981. I was planning to build the Wade Hampton course in 1983 or 1984. Sue came to visit and said, “You’re going to be working here a long time, so we’ll just move.”
“I was working hard in my business at the time. My office was in Palm Beach. My major competitors — Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus — were there. If you were in the golf business you had to be in Palm Beach County.
“That didn’t matter. Sue said ‘we’re moving.’ I wasn’t very happy about it.
“Sue pretty well took charge of things. One day I had to go to Western North Carolina to work on the Wade Hampton course. When I left the house I saw there was a FOR SALE sign in the yard. I wrote down the number and called the Realtor. I asked him how they arrived at the price. He said Sue got two appraisals and listed it for the higher of the two. I said fine, double it. He said ‘but it won’t sell at that price.’ I said I knew that; I wasn’t going to sell it.”
Fazio tells the story matter-of-factly but with a big smile. He relishes relating how his wife knew best even when he was trying to dig in his heels.
“We were staying in Cashiers during that project. One day I needed to travel. It was a long drive over twisty mountain roads to get to the Asheville airport. The next morning Sue drove back to Asheville from Cashiers — this was before cell phones — and she stopped at a phone booth at the Mills River Restaurant to call a realtor. She didn’t know a soul in this area but she knew I had to be near the airport for my work. The realtor started showing her houses in Burnsville, on the other side of Asheville. I think he was showing us places he was familiar with. I said no, I wanted to be on the south side of the airport so I could get back and forth from Cashiers and the Wade Hampton course.
“It turned out that a friend of ours in Florida had a daughter named Nancy McKinley who was a realtor in Hendersonville. She showed us a house in Horse Shoe. It had a barn for horses, 11 acres, a deck and a great view. I bought it the first day I saw it. It was perfect.
“We had six children in nine years. At that time only two were in school. Sue registered the kids for school and that was what we did for many years, going to all the events, soccer, baseball and the other activities. I discovered that this is a great place to live.”
“Making the decision to leave Florida wasn’t easy. I left my business there and for the first year I had to commute. I still had the house down there and the corporate headquarters. I had even rented a house full of furniture, so we could have Christmas in Florida. I wasn’t going to give up my main office down there, but I learned that the Asheville area really is the best location for me. I can be just about anywhere on the East Coast in about two hours. I bought a King Air (a Beechcraft turbo-prop) because it enabled me to get into so many more places than I could on the scheduled airlines. It has opened up a lot more now, with more airlines and more flights. But that was a long time ago.
“In the 1990’s, Ben Balentine and some friends had the idea for Champion Hills, out on Willow Road. I needed to have a place to play golf. Ben knew some folks, and it all fit together. When they were selling it, Champion Hills had an office on Washington Street. There was a room next door – literally a room. I could drop the kids at Immaculata Catholic School and be right at my office. By that time I really liked living here.”
“Moving here was a great decision. Hendersonville is a good place to be. I always liked a little town. This reminds me of growing up in Norristown, PA. I remember when I was a kid, maybe nine years old, one of my friends had a newspaper route. He might have been 11. His route included delivering papers on Main St. I helped him and became a Main St. person. Still am.
“When I had the Washington Street office I brought in five staff members up from Florida. I rented the building where Ken Gaylord, the architect, has his offices now. We renovated the building and were in there for 10 years.
The Boys & Girls Club
“The wonderful thing about a career in golf is that you meet lots of great people and make lots of friends. One of those friends was on the board of the Boys & Girls Club of America. He got me on the board and I had to go to Atlanta three or four times a year for meetings. I was impressed with how they did their work, with the dedication all the staff and board members had, and with all the good they were doing.
“One day I was coming back from Atlanta, driving up Four Seasons Blvd., and it was during school hours. I saw a kid on the street and I wondered why he was there. Why wasn’t he in school?
“That made me start talking with people in the community about the situation. I thought Hendersonville was a great town and I didn’t know we had any problems. I talked with Jeff Miller (owner of Miller’s Laundry and Dry Cleaning), Dave Adams and others who knew more about it. They said there was a real need for children’s programs. There were many programs but none were in the areas where the majority of the kids were.”
1995: The Club obtained two adjacent houses. One was eventually renovated into a teen center (1250 sq. ft.). The other became a classroom facility and counseling center (1200 sq. ft.).
2000-2002: The Club opened a 3,000-square-foot Center for the Arts. Divided into a visual arts space and a performing arts space, the building also houses the largest kitchen on campus. This expansion of the main campus allowed the organization to merge the East Flat Rock unit into the Green Meadows facility. Annual membership surged to more than 500, with a uniquely balanced distribution of African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Caucasian and Native American youth. In April, 2002, the Club opened a 1,750 sq. ft. addition to the main building including a lobby, reception area, parent conference room and office space. By 2003, number of youth served annually surpassed 1,000.
“I didn’t want to spend a fortune but I felt I had to do something. I knew there was a city building on Ashe St., about 2400 sq. ft. I asked Mayor Michalove (Don) if we could have it. He was very helpful. He checked into it and told me it was rented to various groups for meetings but the total rent for the year was about $2,400. I made an offer and they said OK. At first, they wanted us to share it with other groups. I knew that wouldn’t work, we had to develop programs full-time and would need permanent space.
“The first year when we had sign-ups we had 800 kids. It far exceeded our expectations. We started making plans to expand. We needed a gymnasium, so we built one. Now we have 30,000 sq. ft. of space on the campus.
“Thanks to good leadership on the board we have good guidance and a great staff. Sue is the ramrod. I do building projects and fund raising. Jeff Miller was a great president, and John Bruce will be great as well.
In February, 1996 the Club opened a 12,000-square-foot addition of classrooms, lobby, office space and a large gymnasium to serve the expanding membership.
“Our executive director is Scottie Parks. He’s the son of Donny Parks, our former police chief. Scottie came up through the Boys & Girls Club as a kid. After college he worked over at Manual Woodworkers, then for a bank. When he applied for the job as our operations director it was a perfect fit. Now he’s the executive director, and he is doing a great job.
“The awards our club has received have put Hendersonville on the Boys & Girls Clubs map. The best thing that happens, however, is when our kids have great outcomes. There is one girl who was elected Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year here and regionally. She just graduated from Duke.
“Another girl went to Columbia University. We couldn’t be prouder of anything in our lives than seeing these kids turn out so well.”
“Of all the things I’ve done in my career, nothing has come close to having the same impact on me, and on other people, that the Boys & Girls Club has had. Some people have boats and hobbies. I have golf, which is my business, and I have the kids. Mine and the Boys & Girls Club kids. I just love that.
“You know, looking at the Boys & Girls Club success here, I’ve got to tell you what a great community we have. Good, caring people who are generous with their time and are willing to support these kids financially as well. Hendersonville is wonderful. If you can’t do it in a place like this then the job couldn’t be done.”
2004-2009: The Club opened its doors to a new Teen Center (3,000 sq. ft.) in 2004 featuring a computer lab, library, game room, kitchenette, lounge and large multi-purpose room. Between 2000 and 2003, daily teen attendance grew by nearly 200 percent, necessitating a major expansion for teens. The original lobby space was renovated into a 20-workstation youth computer lab. In 2009 the Club completed a 15,000 sq. ft. Recreation Center, plus a major renovation of 10,000 sq. ft. to create a top-flight Education Center. The former Teen Center became the High School Center; the former Center for the Arts was renovated into the Middle School Center.
Boys & Girls Club of Henderson County Executive Director
“I came back to the Boys & Girls Club because of Mr. Fazio,” Scottie Parks says. “Tom and Sue are the backbone of the organization. We wouldn’t be here without them and thousands of children wouldn’t have had their lives changed.”
Scottie Parks is a Boys & Girls Club kid. “I came down a few times when I was 10 or 12,” Parks recalls. “My Dad was one of the founding members of the board. I kind of grew up in the Club but didn’t really participate much early on. I guess it just grew on me.
“I had seen the club from the beginning. Back in the day when we just had a little bit of space. We were serving 200 kids a year. Now we have 250 kids a day and more during the school year and 400 plus in the summers.”
Parks graduated from North Henderson High School in 2002. By early 2003 he was working part-time for the Boys & Girls Club while he looked for a job. He attended Appalachian State and earned a double degree in Production Management and Technology.
“My first job was working for Lemuel Oates at Manual Woodworkers. I was there three years in operations management and programming. It was a great learning experience with all the products they bring in every year. It’s an amazing company, and they are able to respond quickly to changes in the market. I really learned a lot.
“Then I found an opening at Mountain First Bank as a management trainee. I thought that would be a great career path and it was in my field of training. After three years I was Assistant Vice President in the Commercial Lending department and I was still helping out at the Boys & Girls Club.
“One day a staff member said she needed calculators for a math class. I got the bank to donate some of their older calculators and I brought them over to the Club. Kevin Lauritsen, at that time the Executive Director, told me they were going to lose their operations director and encouraged me to apply for the job. I did and I got the job. In 2011, Kevin retired and the board offered me the job.
“I think it’s the perfect job for me. I’m around the kids a lot, I know we’re making a big difference in their lives, and I can see the good it does for the community.
“I met Tom —Mr. Fazio then— when I was 12 or 13 years old. I played basketball for Immaculata with his son, Austin. I remember he was always at the games, cheering and encouraging us. They were 0 and 2 when I and some of the guys from the neighborhood joined the team. It was great to play with those guys. We won a lot of games.”
Parks said it was obvious to him from the outset that Mr. Fazio paid a lot of attention to the disadvantaged kids. “I think they held a special place in his heart. He was over at the school, and here at the Club a lot.”
“It took a lot of effort to get this up and running. The Fazio’s were taking kids around all the time, doing things for them.
“It brings me back every day when you see how well this works and see the kids participating in the programs and doing so well in Power Hour and other activities. Many of the kids who were here with me have graduated from college and gone on to successful careers. We have graduates from Duke and UNC, and even from Columbia University, an Ivy League school.”
The club motto is Body, Mind and Soul. Parks treads lightly discussing how they support the Soul aspect of the programs. The organization has to be open to all faiths, and he doesn’t actually say churches, even though that’s clearly what he’s talking about.
“We have faith groups come in once a week, on Friday evenings, to serve meals. That way it’s not too big a burden on them. They prepare a complete meal at their own sites and bring it over to serve between 200 and 250 kids. During the week they have nutritious snacks. Kids are always hungry, always ready to eat.”
As for how he came to be called to the job, Parks is more direct. “In college I thought my ideal job would be operations director at the Boys & Girls Club. You never know what God’s plans are for you.”
Having so many kids drop in on the Club after school necessitates a high level of organizational skills. Parks is well suited to the task. Kids don’t just come in and mill around, hang out or run around the playground. They are assigned to groups by age, sex and interest. Boys & Girls are generally divided for activities such as Power Hour where they are encouraged and supervised in doing their homework.
And despite their growing numbers, Parks remembers most of their names.
On a typical day’s schedule the kindergarten kids are in the gymnasium from 2:45 until 3:40. Then they go to the game room from 3:40 until 4:30. They have their Power Hour and Mentoring session from 4:30 until 5:30, and Social Recreation from 5:30 until they are picked up by a parent or guardian.
Programs vary day to day. Kindergarten and first graders are together. Boys & Girls are divided beginning in the 2nd grade through Middle School. Boys & Girls are reunited for many programs beginning in the 8th grade. Shared activities include Power Hour, Fitness, Robotics and Social Recreation.
“It really helps to split the Boys & Girls,” Parks says. “Everybody gets a lot more done.”
During our walk-about, Parks comes across a teenage boy standing alone in a stairwell using his cell phone. Parks knows the youngster and quickly sends him back to where he’s supposed to be.
“You have to keep track of them,” he says. “They come here because they want to participate in our programs but they’re easily distracted. Some have family issues that have to be addressed. We want to be consistent with them so they know what to expect when they become members of the club.
This article was supposed to be about Tom Fazio, the world renowned golf course architect. Well it is. It’s just hard to talk about greens and grips, birdies and bogies when the architect’s passion clearly is on kids. The discussion inevitably gets back to the Boys & Girls Club.
For the record, Fazio is one of the world’s top golf course architects. He intentionally limits the size of his company to just five or six major projects each year so he can be personally involved with each one. Some clients, such as Augusta National, home of The Masters, are household words and seemingly long term projects.
“It’s great to work with great courses,” Fazio says. “Most of our work there is aimed at keeping up with technological changes. The equipment is so much better now than it used to be. The Masters, U.S. Opens, PGA and PGA Tour events are very special places to work.”
While the Fazio Golf successes just keep on coming, Fazio says the economy has just about brought the days of new golf courses in the U.S. to an end. The market has moved overseas. There are hundreds of opportunities for top designers such as Fazio to grow their business but many are in far-away locations that require hour after hour of mind-numbing travel, and weeks away from the family. And from the Boys & Girls Club.
For that reason, coupled with age and the aptitude shown by his son, Fazio Golf is now headed by Logan Fazio, President, working from the corporate headquarters in Jupiter, Florida.
“I’m blessed with great kids and a wonderful, supportive wife,” Fazio says. “Logan and the staff have really come along and do a beautiful job. It’s great to work with them. My son Austin is in my Hendersonville office and handles all our family’s personal business as well as new ventures. My son Gavin lives in Boston and works in the financial service business. After a few more years of on-site training, he plans to manage the family’s financial interests. Our three daughters, Jenon, Keegan and Onae are raising children and supporting their fine husbands in their fields of interest.
“We’re doing courses in Brazil, China, Dubai and South Korea. I didn’t want to travel too much anymore. In 20 years I designed over 100 courses, but I never had to spend more than one night on the road after I bought the Turbo Commander.
“It’s great to have sons with the interest and talent to do the on-site course work. The majority of it consists of supervising the contractors, making sure everyone gets what we visualized when I designed it.
“This really is a family business. My uncle George was a great golfer. He won two PGA tournaments and six in non-PGA events. His brother, my bother, Jim, and his two sons are also in the business with their own company. It’s easy to see why the Fazio name is on so many courses around the world.”
For the past several years Fazio has had the distinction of having more of his courses on the list of World’s Top 100 Golf Courses than any other active architect. His current major projects include work on the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, PA, site of the 2013 U.S. Open.
“It’s been great to have chosen this career at the time I did. I absolutely love doing it. It’s almost not work.”