Start Thinking 2023 – Golf Course Industry

I first met the late Tom Weiskopf in 1979 when I was an agronomist for the PGA Tour. He aspired to be a golf course architect and we had some great conversations about the agronomic aspect of golf course design and construction. Tom and Jay Morish became partners in 1985 and have designed more than 25 memorable courses during their 14 years together. Tom marveled at Jay’s many talents, especially how he could hand-draw a topographic map of a new golf course without the aid of a CAD system.

In 1990, I was the first employee hired at the Double Eagle Club outside of Columbus. Jay underwent open-heart surgery shortly after construction began. So Tom conducted site visits every seven to ten days from his home in Phoenix. One day Tom called me and asked me to go to the sixth hole, a par 5. At 11 o’clock sharp, he wanted me to stake out a target bunker on the left side by placing metal flags 275 yards from the rear departures exactly where the shadows of the trees lied, which became famous The Shadow Bunker.

Tom was playing a practice round at Double Eagle before the big open and he sank a long putt on the fifth green and he said to me, “Terry, sinking a long putt is better than having sex!” I said, “Are you sure about that, Tom?” He replied, “You better believe it,” and he laughed hysterically, as he did quite often. His passion for golf course design was endless, and his most famous design feature was the driveable par 4, as well as playable, enjoyable and risky courses for all skill levels.

Tom and I had lunch at a local restaurant several times when he was doing site seeing at Double Eagle. His fans came to our table to talk with him and he completely ignored them, as he didn’t like to be disturbed while he was eating or in the middle of our conversations. Once we were done with lunch, he was graciously signing autographs and talking with his legion of fans as if nothing had happened.

Shortly after Tom and Jay parted ways, Tom teamed up with Phil Smitha very talented Jack Nicklaus protected. When I started my agronomy consulting business after leaving Double Eagle in 1996, I worked with Tom on his projects with Jay and Phil. His enthusiasm and enthusiasm for design was contagious, as he didn’t like to leave every site visit because he was having so much fun.

Tom and I talked a lot on the phone for the past 30 plus years. He would call me and always ask me what was new in the world of golf and then we would share stories about what he was doing. Tom had the mind of an elephant, as he could remember any subject regarding his career. It’s always fun to listen to Tom laugh, so I really enjoyed telling him funny human interest stories about our mutual golf friends.

Tom didn’t like to use email or text, so I emailed or texted his wife, Laurie, to run something by him and I would always get a warm and prompt response. When Tom didn’t feel like answering his cell, I called Laurie and she put it on the line.

When Tom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2000, Laurie did extensive research on where he should receive treatment, settling at MD Anderson in Houston, considered the best pancreatic cancer hospital in the world. . Tom underwent over 13 hours of surgery during which they totally rebuilt his entire digestive system. He then lost over 30 pounds and weighed the same as he did on his best tournament days. He then went on a strict diet, which he followed religiously. Tom and Laurie returned to MD Anderson in 2021 for a follow up visit and he was diagnosed 100% cancer free. It was one of the most exciting and happiest times I have ever seen after being friends with Tom for all these years.

I once asked Tom what he thought of his possible future enshrinement in the World Golf Hall of Fame. He replied, “It’s up to the voters and the committee to decide” and he never said a word about it, even when I pushed him further. Tom had a reputation for having a temper during his tournament career and I never saw that side of him. He quit drinking 22 years ago and he said his wild side from the 1960s to the 1980s was long gone and he had never been happier, especially after marrying Laurie.

In the spring of 2021, Laurie ordered a new Mercedes Benz Sprinter RV, customized for traveling and dry camping during Tom’s passion for hunting. I volunteered to drive the RV from Reno to their home in Big Sky, Montana. Tom was very excited when I pulled into his driveway in July 2021. Their first road trip was to St. George, Utah for a site visit to Black Desert, one of Tom and Phil’s new course plans and they had fun. While I was at Big Sky, Tom, Laurie, Phil and I had dinner and had a good time together. Tom told many of his great and entertaining golf stories and he let me stand and be photographed with his 1973 Open Championship winner’s trophy, which he won at Royal Troon.

One of the saddest times of my life was when Tom’s pancreatic cancer came back quickly and widely in April 2022. Tom and I talked over the next four months, and he never complained about the pain he felt. He always remained positive, optimistic about his zest for life, and we still had great conversations until the very end on August 20, 2022. Tom was 79 when he passed away.

I miss Tom a lot and I think of him every day. His sense of humor, his friendship, his enthusiasm for life, his laughter, his insight, his passion for golf course design, his loyalty, his family ties, his friendship with Phil, his love for Laurie, his I miss his fantastic golf swing and his friendly smile. Tom is in a better place. We surely miss him.

Terry Buchen, CGCS, MG, is Golf Course Industry’s Senior Technical Writer and author of the monthly “Travels with Terry.”

Michael C. Ford