Tom Weiskopf passed away August 20, 2022 at the age of 79, succumbing to the pancreatic cancer he had fought in the latter years of his life.
Known as a prodigious talent whose volatile temper likely kept him from even bigger things on the golf course, Weiskopf still managed 16 PGA Tour wins, including the 1973 Open Championship at Royal Troon, his only major triumph. He nevertheless became an influential figure in the game beyond his on-course exploits. Weiskopf's absence from the World Golf Hall of Fame is as perplexing as any.
He spent a decade in the broadcast booth, primarily working the Masters in 1981 and from 1985 to 1995. That assignment put him alongside a rookie Jim Nantz in 1986, when Weiskopf's Ohio State University teammate and friend Jack Nicklaus pulled off his improbable sixth victory in the event at the age of 46.
But in the last quarter-century-plus, Weiskopf had evolved from a player and a commentator to a creator of more than 70 golf courses worldwide, including dozens in the United States.
Working for much of his design career with architect Jay Morrish, Weiskopf's designs run the gamut from affordable daily-fee layouts, to stately resort courses to some of the most private clubs in the world. He was not as prolific as "signature" architects like Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, but his courses are practically universally beloved for their playability and fun-factor at a time when brutal difficulty was more de rigueur in design. The exotic locations where he worked - including the Arizona desert, the Montana mountains and the wild interior of Scotland - added to the intrigue and eye-candy appeal of his work. That slightly different block-and-tackle philosophy put Weiskopf-the-architect slightly ahead of his time.
The most consequential aspect of Weiskopf's design philosophy: the reintroduction of drivable par 4s to American golf. Even though these short-but-ornery holes, where scores from 2 to 7 are common, were popular during the early 20th century and architecture's "Golden Age," mid-century architects like Robert Trent Jones, Sr. almost never featured them in their own designs. Inspired by the many drivable fours at The Old Course at St. Andrews, Weiskopf helped bring them back, including at least one on practically every course, often at a crucial time on the back nine.
Weiskopf's most famous drivable par 4 is one of his first: the 17th hole at TPC Scottsdale's Stadium Course, which opened in 1987. Playing downhill past a centerline bunker to a panhandle green whose varied hole locations can change a player's strategy significantly one round to the next, number 17 manages to keep the excitement level high, even after the wild coliseum atmosphere of the par-3 16th. "All [players], regardless of skill level, approach that little par-4 17th with a sense of both excitement and trepidation," wrote architecture expert Bradley Klein in his profile on Weiskopf for GolfPass. "Such is the strategic resonance of a well-designed hole."
Notable Tom Weiskopf golf courses
Avid traveling golfers, especially those venturing west of the Mississippi, have likely run into at least a handful of Tom Weiskopf-designed golf courses. Arizona proved particularly fruitful territory. In addition to TPC Scottsdale, Weiskopf and Morrish laid out both the Pinnacle and the Monument courses at Troon North Golf Club in Scottsdale. That project would help pioneer the upscale public golf "country club for a day" model and kickstart the Troon Golf course management brand, which now boasts more than 600 courses in its stable. “He had a great eye for golf course design, agronomy and was open to [innovative] ideas," said Jeff Spangler, Troon's agronomy chief of Weiskopf. "He was a trendsetter in the biggest ways, finding the delicate balance between old and new."
Speaking of the new, Weiskopf's last design will open this fall: Black Desert Golf Resort in Ivins, Utah.
Like many of his contemporaries, Weiskopf logged many thousands of air miles in his design career. He laid out one of northern Michigan's finest resort courses, the original 18 at Forest Dunes Golf Club. He also designed the Cedar River course at the 90-hole Shanty Creek Resort an hour northeast of Traverse City. His Old Kinderhook Golf Course in central Missouri is popular as well, with a 4.5 GolfPass Rating across 95 reviews. So is Harbor Club on Lake Oconee, which has featured on our Golfers' Choice list of Georgia's best golf courses each of the last six years.
Everything about this place was top-notch. The golf course is immaculate and it has a fun layout. The staff was very friendly and helpful. I really liked Mr. Burns, the starter.
The PGA Tour's annual traveling show enjoys Weiskopf's courses, too. Beyond TPC Scottsdale, the tour has visited his TPC Craig Ranch in suburban Dallas for the AT&T Byron Nelson the last two years, and his redesign of Torrey Pines' North Course has garnered positive reviews from players during the last several editions of the Farmers Insurance Open.
Internationally, Weiskopf's best-known course is Loch Lomond Golf Club, the super-private club in the Scottish Highlands whose course hosted the Scottish Open from 1996 through 2010. Somewhat under the radar due to its location at one of continental Europe's finest and most expensive resorts, Castiglion del Bosco brought Weiskopf's brand of golf course design to the hills of Tuscany. Designs in South Africa, Argentina, the Philippines and Japan added a global perspective to his work.
As time goes on, golf fans will no doubt continue to recognize Tom Weiskopf's playing career as a strong one in the era of Nicklaus, Trevino, Player and Palmer. But thanks to dozens of attractive, enjoyable courses, it may well be his work in golf architecture that cements his legacy as a noteworthy figure in golf history.