Editor’s notebook: My friend Tom
Courtesy of Terry Buchen

Editor’s notebook: My friend Tom

Terry Buchen reflects on the life, career and personality of a champion golfer turned successful architect who always wanted to learn more about agronomy.

September 9, 2022

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 nice conversations regarding the agronomy side of golf course design and construction. Tom and Jay Morrish became partners in 1985 and they designed 25-plus memorable courses over their 14 years together. Tom used to marvel at Jay’s many talents, especially how he could draw a topographical map of a new golf course design by hand without the aid of a CAD system.

In 1990, I was the first employee hired at the Double Eagle Club outside Columbus. Jay had open heart surgery shortly after construction started, so Tom made site visits every seven to 10 days from his home in Phoenix. One day Tom called me up and asked me to go to the sixth hole, a par 5. At exactly 11 a.m., he wanted me to stake a target bunker on the left side by placing wire flags at 275 yards from the back tees exactly where the tree shadows lied, which famously became The Shadow Bunker.

Tom was playing a practice round at Double Eagle prior to the grand opening 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 started laughing hysterically, like he did quite often. His passion for golf course design was endless, and his most famous design feature was the driveable par 4, along with playable, enjoyable, risk-reward courses for all skill levels.

Tom and I ate lunch many times at a local restaurant when he was doing site visits at Double Eagle. His fans used to come up to our table to talk with him and he completely ignored them, as he did not like to be disturbed while eating meals or in the middle of our conversations. Once we were done with lunch, he would graciously sign autographs and talk with his legion of fans just like nothing happened.

Shortly after Tom and Jay went their separate ways, Tom partnered with Phil Smith, a very talented Jack Nicklaus protégé. 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 excitement for design was contagious, as he did not like leaving each site visit because he was having so much fun.

Tom and I used to talk on the phone a lot during the past 30-plus years. He would call me and always ask what was new in the golf business, and then we would share stories about what he was up to. Tom had a mind like an elephant, as he could recall any topic about his storied career. It always fun to listen to Tom laugh, so I really liked telling him funny human interest stories about our mutual friends in the golf business.

Tom famously did not like to use emails or texts, so I would email or text his wife, Laurie, to run something by him and I always would get a warm, quick response. When Tom did not feel like answering his cell phone, I would call Laurie and she would put him on the line.

When Tom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2000, Laurie performed extensive research about where he should receive treatment, settling on MD Anderson in Houston, regarded as the best pancreatic cancer hospital in the world. Tom went through a 13-plus-hour surgery where they totally rebuilt his entire digestive system. He subsequently lost more than 30 pounds and weighed the same as he did during his prime tournament days. He then went on a strict diet, which he followed religiously. Tom and Laurie went back to MD Anderson in 2021 for a follow-up visit and he was diagnosed 100 percent cancer free. It was one of the most exciting and happy times that I have ever witnessed after being a friend of Tom for all these years.

I once asked Tom his thoughts about his possible future enshrinement into the World Golf Hall of Fame. He replied, “It is for the voters and committee to decide” and he never said another word about it, even when I prodded him further. Tom had a reputation for having a temper during his prime 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 through the 1980s was long over and that he was never happier, especially after he married Laurie.

In spring 2021, Laurie ordered a new Mercedes Benz Sprinter RV, customized for them to travel in and to go 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 designs and they had a great time. While I was in Big Sky, Tom, Laurie, Phil and I had dinner and spent quality time together. Tom told many of his great, entertaining golf stories and he let me hold and be photographed with his 1973 The Open Championship winner’s trophy, which he won at Royal Troon.

One of the saddest times in my life was when Tom’s pancreatic cancer rapidly and extensively returned in April 2022. Tom and I spoke over the next four months, and he never complained about the pain he was going through. He always remained positive, upbeat for his love of life, and we still had very nice conversations until the very end on Aug. 20, 2022. Tom was 79 when he died.

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

Terry Buchen, CGCS, MG, is Golf Course Industry’s senior contributing technical editor and author of the monthly “Travels with Terry” column.