U.S. AMATEUR FOUR-BALL
Jupiter Hills Club: How George Fazio's Dream Came True
May 14, 2018
By Bob Baal
In 1968, George Fazio came to southeast Florida in search of a dream. Earlier that year, he had been tasked to find an ideal site for a golf course, one that would combine great year-round weather with an interesting terrain, and where he could hold special events for the many friends he made throughout his career as a golf professional, first as a player, then as an operator and designer of golf courses.
It all started at the 1968 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links, which had attracted its traditional field of celebrities, business tycoons and PGA Tour professionals. This year, however, particularly wet and cold weather had beseeched the event, and after one long day on the course Fazio was dining with his playing partner, auto magnate William Clay Ford, along with veteran tour stalwarts Jimmy Demaret and Jackie Burke. As Ford recounted in his foreword to The Jupiter Hills Story, published by the club at its quarter-century mark in 1994, the talk turned to building a great golf course “someplace sunny and warm,” but as the parties dispersed, most soon forgot about the conversation.
Most, but not all. The Philadelphia-based Fazio was in the Palm Beach, Fla., area later that year when he was tipped off about a property that would soon be coming available — a property that at the time was part of Jonathan Dickinson State Park. As it turns out, state officials were negotiating with the heirs of a local legend named Trapper Nelson to acquire land Nelson had accumulated over the years along the Loxahatchee River. To pay for the riverfront acreage, the state planned to sell off 366 acres at the southern border of the state park. Enter Don Moe, a member of the 1932 and 1934 USA Walker Cup Teams, who had become a local real estate broker and member of Lost Tree Club. Turns out, Moe had overheard talk of the land swap at a recent Lost Tree party, did some research into the details, then happened to hear that George Fazio was visiting Lost Tree while in town in search of land on which to locate a new golf course. Seeing an opportunity, Moe convinced Fazio to visit the land in question, and within days Fazio asked Bill Ford to join him to see for himself that this was no ordinary tract of southeast Florida land.
With Ford convinced and committed to provide financing, Fazio put in an option on the parcel and got busy working his rolodex for additional partners. Before long, Bob Hope, whom Fazio had befriended while serving as the head pro at L.A.’s Hillcrest Country Club, had joined as an investor, as did a handful of business leaders with ties to Philadelphia, including Bill Elliott, Jim Nolen, Joe Colen, Alfred duPont Dent and Jim “Jumbo” Elliott. With this heavyweight lineup behind him, Fazio was able to close the deal in April 1969, resulting with the state deeding 366 acres to the new partnership, and Trapper Nelson’s estate deeding approximately 800 acres to the state, which earned Nelson’s heirs a check for $1 million.
The Course Arises
With the financial partnership in place, Fazio set about developing the concept for the layout. The construction of the Hills Course was the work of a team of George Fazio protégées that today reads like a hall-of-fame lineup of golf course architects. The project supervisor was Jay Morrish, who would go on to design dozens of highly regarded courses in partnership with Tom Weiskopf. Lou Capelli shaped the greens and bunkers. And George’s young nephew Tom Fazio, who had begun working for his uncle at the age of 18, was not only on site but by then handling much of the firm’s day-to-day business affairs.
With the course ready for play in late 1969, Fazio and the original partners went about recruiting members. Almost no money was spent on promotions; the club relied on word of mouth to attract “the right sorts of people.” There was no initiation fee charged, only annual dues of $750. There were no written rules, either.
The Club Grows
As “A Golfer’s Club,” the early members were happy to get an invitation to join Jupiter Hills despite the lack of a clubhouse, but by late 1972 the original structure was completed at a cost of $1.5 million and stood sentry atop Conch Hill. Plans for a second course with a surrounding real estate development got underway in 1974, and eventually Fazio would transfer some of the original Hills Course holes to the new course and build three new Hills holes (Nos. 7, 8 and 9) in the northeast quadrant. The three holes transferred to the new course served as practice holes until 1976, when six more were built to form the original nine-hole Village Course. After plans for the homesites around the course were developed, nine more holes were completed and the full course opened for play in 1978.
In those early years, the club would host an annual pro-am in which players from the PGA Tour joined with members to raise funds for Jupiter Medical Center. These annual events attracted many of the top names in golf, including Jimmy Demaret, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Ben Crenshaw, Jack Burke Jr., Gene Sarazen, Dow Finsterwald, Ken Venturi, Bob Toski and Gardner Dickinson. Bob Hope also made visits to take lessons and golf with his old friend, and as such, it didn’t take long for the club’s reputation to grow leaps and bounds. By 1980, the club boasted more than 250 members.
A Legacy Established
In the 1980s JHC began the transition to a member-owned facility, a process that was completed on Aug. 1, 1989. This was when George Fazio would take a step back from the daily operations of the club, something that was further necessitated by a decline in health. Unfortunately, he was not there to witness the fruition of his club becoming member-owned, nor was he there for the preeminent competitive event held there: the 1987 U.S. Amateur Championship. After a five-year battle, he succumbed to cancer on June 6, 1986 at his nearby home. He was 73.
Today’s Jupiter Hills Club membership remains dedicated to the preservation of George’s vision of traditional golf played in a setting of natural beauty with a special atmosphere. His legacy lives on with each tee shot struck, each putt holed and each friendship that is established on the grounds of the Jupiter Hills Club.
Bob Baal is a freelance writer based in Wellington, Fla.