A tip-off that you have been bitten by the golf bug: You decide
to build a course and spend $11.5 million doing so, hauling in
100,000 tons of personally selected rock, for character. Your
clubhouse resembles a medieval castle--a castle with a cabinet
that will showcase medieval swords--and even the maintenance
buildings have battlements and turrets.
Yes, Rick Hvizdak (pronounced VIZ-dack) was badly bitten, and the
thing of it is, he never saw the bug coming. He grew up on a farm
in Hillsville, Pa., and was introduced to the game only five
years ago. Now 41 and a multimillionaire--he's the head of a
Pittsburgh-based real estate information company that he founded
in 1990--Hvizdak is about to cut the ribbon on his own course,
which will be open to the public.
Olde Stonewall, a 6,934-yard, par-70 track in North Sewickley,
about 40 minutes northwest of downtown Pittsburgh, should be a
contender for best new course of 1999 when it opens this spring.
Designed by Michael Hurzdan and Dana Fry, it begins on lightly
wooded, rolling terrain, runs adjacent to the serene
Connoquenessing Creek, then heads up into the hills. There are
ravines, waterfalls, a cart path over a suspension bridge and
breathtaking views. Skip the par-4 16th hole if you have vertigo.
The tee shot there has to carry a ravine, then plummets 150 feet
to the landing area. Players must cross another ravine to reach
the green. The 14th and 15th holes are back-to-back par-3s of 197
and 217 yards.
There are blocks of limestone, some as big as 28 tons, everywhere
on the course. At first the stone was used to support cuts made
on steep hillsides, but Hvizdak liked the look so much he kept
the rock coming--after he had spent a few Sundays prospecting in
nearby quarries. An immense stone wall, perched on a hillside
overlooking the 18th fairway and visible for miles, is the
course's signature feature. "There's Olde Stonewall in your
face," Hvizdak says. "When you're walking up 18, I want it to
look like those rocks are going to come down at you." Green fees
for Olde Stonewall will be in the $85-$105 range.
Hvizdak, a 24 handicapper, got hooked on the game after his first
dozen rounds, in 1993. Mike Forgas, now Hvizdak's managing
director, took him to the Pete Dye Golf Club in Clarksburg, W.Va.
Hvizdak and his wife, Michele, loved the place and promptly
joined, but the club was more than 125 miles from their house. "I
looked around Pittsburgh and didn't see the golf club I wanted to
belong to," Hvizdak says. "Plus, I didn't like some of their
rules and, I hate to say it, their snobbiness. Pete Dye is an
experience, and I felt that with the right property, investment
and will to make it happen, it could be recreated here."
The end result is Olde Stonewall, a little pricey given its
remote location but probably a better bet to succeed than Hvizdak
once was. Only a D student in high school ("I like to say I was
in the upper two thirds of my class," he says with a laugh),
Hvizdak skipped college and eventually went to work for his
brother's real estate company. After seven years, his brother
fired him. "Remember the game show Family Feud?" Hvizdak says.
"That's what we were like."
Hvizdak looked at the $1 billion spent annually for real estate
information--title searches, credit checks, loan applications,
taxes, judgments and other legwork that banks are either loath or
unable to do themselves--and saw an opportunity. He started
National Real Estate Information Services, developed software
that made collecting such data more efficient and scored big. His
growing company merged with his brother's, and Hvizdak took
control. The firm now has more than 250 employees, and Hvizdak
has licensed his name and software to businesses around the
country. "The key is to focus on your niche," Hvizdak says.
"Theirs is banking. Mine is searching."
One search is over. Hvizdak's next trick will be finding the time
to play. He estimates he didn't get in more than 15 rounds last
year. "I'd like to play more in '99," he says, "but with all of
our projects, I don't know if that's in the cards." His last
round of '98 was his best, an 87 at Olde Stonewall. "If I didn't
work," he says, "I'd play golf every day."
--Gary Van Sickle
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Statues adorn Hvizdak's Olde Stonewall design.