Open champion and golf course architect Tom Weiskopf dies aged 79

  • Feddinch Club
    Feddinch Club

    Tom Weiskopf (pictured in 2018 on the site of a potential project near St Andrews) has passed away aged 79

Adam Lawrence
By Adam Lawrence

Tom Weiskopf, the 1973 Open champion who later became a successful golf course designer, has died of cancer at his home in Big Sky, Montana. He was 79.

Sixteen times a winner on the PGA Tour, when playing well Weiskopf could look like a golfer who could do nothing wrong. This writer saw his win at the Benson & Hedges Open at Fulford GC in York, England, in 1981. The 489-yard par-four thirteenth hole had been causing problems to almost every player in the field, but not Weiskopf, who holed a majestic one-iron for an eagle two.

Weiskopf turned to golf design as his playing career wound down, initially working with the late Jay Morrish, with whom his best-known project was probably the Loch Lomond course in Scotland. Located right next to Scotland’s largest freshwater lake, Loch Lomond was notoriously wet, and Weiskopf came close to losing his life during construction when he fell into a peat bog, taking several hours to extricate himself. The course held the Scottish Open for many years and has been acclaimed as one of the best modern courses in the UK. Weiskopf was a great advocate for driveable par fours, and his courses always included such a hole. Indeed, he can be said to have played a significant role in creating the current popularity of driveable fours.

He split with Morrish in the late 1990s, and established his own firm. Architect Phil Smith, previously with Nicklaus Design, came to work with him in 1999, and the two developed a very close relationship. They worked together full time until 2015, when Smith establised his own business, but the two of them continued to collaborate.

“Tom called me out of the blue one day – he had got my number from a friend,” Smith told GCA. “I actually thought it was a prank at first. He was just starting his firm – he had secured some really good projects at the time, including the Ocean Club in the Bahamas with Sol Kerzner and the Yellowstone Club in Montana – and he needed some help. But he wanted to keep the firm small and intimate, which appealed to me.

“He had a reputation for plain-speaking, but in private he was the most gentle person I have met. He enjoyed design so much. He really found his niche in life and it brought him a lot of happiness and joy. He wanted to hear everybody’s ideas – he was always very open minded. I will remember him for his loyalty and kindness. The man was bigger than life. When he walked into a room he was a presence, but he was so very easy to talk to. He thought of me as a brother and I thought of him the same way. We have done some amazing projects together over the years. We are working on one in Utah at the moment that might be the most remarkable site we have had.”

Weiskopf’s wife, Laurie, survives him, as does one of his children from his first marriage, Heidi.