On a Thursday in early spring, as Tom Weiskopf walked up the 12th fairway of the Pinnacle course at Arizona's Troon North Golf Club, his mind snagged momentarily on one of the bad shots he had hit that day. Or maybe it was the bad memory of his best shot—a high, majestic five-iron that landed four feet from the pin and then bounded into a backstopping bunker, up against a wall of desert granite.
Whatever had caused the line of Weiskopf's mouth to tighten, he quickly relaxed. Smiled, in fact. He stared up the fairway, unbothered by the truck parked in front of the green, by the big tractor tracks gouged into the loose brown soil under his feet or by the distracting beep, beep, beep from nearby earthmovers backing up.
"Thank god," he said, "I don't have to do that for a living anymore."
By that, the 52-year-old Weiskopf meant "play tournament golf." Three hours before and five miles away at the Golf Club at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, the former British Open champion and four-time Masters runner-up (and, after his July 2 victory at Congressional Country Club, current U.S. Senior Open champion) had shot 75 in the first round of the Tradition, the Senior PGA Tour's first major championship of the year. But instead of beating balls on the range—or beating himself for his shortcomings, as he was once wont to do—Weiskopf had simply driven to Troon North, thrown on some jeans and a cowboy hat, and started walking the desert that will become Pinnacle, a course he is building as president of Tom Weiskopf Signature Designs.
"I'm the ball," he said, approaching a kidney-shaped depression in a roughly graded fairway. "I want to land here"—he indicated a modest mound of dirt—"and kick back toward the middle." His design associate, Dave Porter, and the construction superintendent, Keith Frederick, made notes in red ink on folded blueprints. Over the next quarter hour the men debated whether to remove a dying saguaro cactus from a green site, whether to transplant another cactus and whether the championship tee on 15 provided adequate visibility.
"I used to get so pissed off when I played bad," Weiskopf said, marveling at his own equanimity. "But today I had this to look forward to. And I love this stuff. This is my freedom."
Freedom, of course, is just another word for multitalented. Since he turned 50, on Nov. 9, 1992, Weiskopf has made about 15 appearances a year on the Senior tour. And although he describes his playing skills as "diminished" and his chances of contending again on the regular Tour as "zero," he seems to get maximum results from minimum preparation. Last year the 6'3" Ohioan won the Franklin Quest Championship in Park City, Utah, and had four other top-10 finishes, including ties for fourth at the Tradition and the U.S. Senior Open. This year, although consumed with worry over his wife Jeanne's battle with breast cancer, he has six top-10 finishes, $431,022 in official earnings and that four-shot victory in the Senior Open to show for his part-time efforts.
Weiskopf shrugs when such results are thrown at him. He quit tournament golf 13 years ago—really quit—and hasn't changed his mind just because a few putts have fallen. "My career ended when I won the Western Open in 1982," he said recently, petting a couple of his bird dogs and watching the sun disappear over Squaw Peak from the pool deck of his elegant house in Paradise Valley, Ariz. "When I walked off the 18th green that day, I told Jeanne, I need something bigger and more challenging than competitive golf.' "
That something proved to be golf-course architecture. In 1985 Weiskopf went to work with Jay Morrish, who had been a longtime designer for Jack Nicklaus Golf Design before branching out on his own. The new partnership scored with its first course, the award-winning Troon Golf and Country Club, northeast of Phoenix. Morrish-Weiskopf went on to create Shadow Glen in Olathe, Kans.; Double Eagle in Galena, Ohio; the TPC of Scottsdale; Forest Highlands in Flagstaff, Ariz.; and Weiskopf's favorite, the spectacular Loch Lomond near Glasgow, Scotland. Weiskopf quickly developed a reputation as a serious student of design. "He's a hands-on designer," says Porter, who served as construction superintendent at Loch Lomond. "He makes 10 or 12 site visits during the rough grading alone."
Weiskopf would have been happy to finish his days working with Morrish, but five years ago the esteemed designer suffered a heart attack. Last November a recovering Morrish informed Weiskopf that he wanted to end their working relationship so that his son, Carter, could eventually take over the business.