Fazio builds the marketing mystery around Escondido

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Waiting for a phone call from famed golf architect Tom Fazio can make you feel like you've returned to high school.

First you talk to a publicist who tells you how excited Fazio is to discuss his new Escondido design in the Texas hill country. Then you're referred to the head pro and the course superintendent and The Call is finally set up. The morning comes and you're waiting by the phone. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting...

Afternoon arrives and there's finally a ring...and an apologetic Scott Hamilton (the head pro not the skater) on the line.

"Look, I'm sorry but Mr. Fazio and his people just got in his car and took off," Hamilton said. "They're already gone. I guess he didn't have as much time as he thought he had."

There it is. Your introduction to Tom Fazio and his well-orchestrated world of mystery. This is the guy who lets everyone know that his company's phone number is unlisted. Yet it's also the guy who has a PR agency issue a press release when he's touring a half completed course that's not set to open until October 2005.

A little mystery's been very good for Tom Fazio. It allows him feign indifference to the whole star architect phenomenon while attracting crossover publicity that Ben Affleck would be jealous of. Cigar Aficionado magazine is just the latest non-golf publication to feature the golf architect without (gasp!) his own website. Of course, this all makes for good promotion for the courses like Escondido that Fazio's paid seven figures-plus to design. Who else but Tom Fazio could grab a headline for Escondido in the Houston Chronicle with a story that's essentially about how he doesn't have a listed phone number or a web site?

Everyone else dying to drum up a little print attention suddenly appear to be rank amateurs when compared to Tom Fazio. It matters little that Fazio can actually be enlightening and forthcoming when he wants to be as shown in this January 2003 sit down with TravelGolf.com. It only matters that mystery is the best way to attract attention to Escondido at the moment.

The staff at the budding course on Lake LBJ, about 40 miles outside of Austin, is more than willing to play along. Hamilton will tell you that "it's a great piece of property" with "natural views and rock croppings." He'll excitedly gush that "six, seven and nine are all going to be spectacular" and "12, 13, 16, 17 and 18 are all going to be spectacular." And that's about all he'll tell.

"No. 10 is going to be.," Hamilton said. "Well we haven't finished putting in the design on that particular hole yet. Really, I shouldn't be jinxing anything. But No. 10 has the potential to be spectacular."

OK, it's all a tad ridiculous. It's that high school building up the anticipating thing again. But when you have Tom Fazio's track record you can afford to rely on intrigue. He's probably still best known for turning a barren desert strip into Steve Wynn's lush $40 million (in 1990) golf hideaway for the biggest of the big spenders in Las Vegas at Shadow Creek. Fazio had more than 21,000 trees moved in for that project, created waterfalls where there wasn't naturally any water at all.

As beautiful as the property may be at Escondido, Fazio is not about to let any slice of land limit his vision.

"Today the land doesn't matter," he once told Golf Magazine. "You can build a great golf course anywhere."

Hamilton says there is much more running water at Escondido than most other courses in the hill country. Much of that water's brought in by the 59-year-old Fazio's reshaping work.

The site plan on Escondido's web site shows a spread out course over rocky terrain. The 539-yard, par-5 ninth with its narrow, snaking fairway looks especially formidable. A lake runs up the entire right side of the 569-yard, par-5 No. 18, conjuring up visions of an ulcer-inducing finish.

Of course, it all remains very much just a sketch to people who haven't visited the site. Just the way Fazio wants it. Escondido also includes a new housing development and even the prospective home buyers aren't told much about the course besides the fact it's a Tom Fazio.

Instead Hamilton tells them things like he believes "there's more than one half dozen signature holes out there."

So how's the pitch working? "Sales are great," Hamilton said.

This architect of marketing mystery's no dummy. That car was taking Tom Fazio to his own private jet.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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