Alice Dye, inspiration behind the island green, passes away at 91
Wife of famed golf architect Pete Dye had major influence on designs, including TPC Sawgrass
February 01, 2019
By Jim McCabe, PGATOUR.COM
In Memoriam: Alice Dye
Never did she stand in a shadow cast by her famous husband. Not because she didn’t want to, but because her admirers wouldn’t allow it. Alice Dye’s talents were too exquisite, too respected. So, when Jack Nicklaus talked of those younger years that were crucial to his maturation as a golf-course designer, he was adamant, telling Golf Digest’s Ron Whitten: “The greatest experience of my life (was) working with Pete and with Alice.”
The “and with Alice” was not a gratuitous throwaway, either.
“Pete (Dye) may have been the judge,” said Allan MacCurrach, “but Alice was the jury. Pete always knew he was building golf courses for people he knew, but at the end of the day, Alice would write the report card, so he had to explain things to her.”
His voice was saturated in respect, for MacCurrach – as with so many of his colleagues in the golf course design business and, in fact, throughout the entire industry – is mourning the loss of Alice Dye, who died Friday afternoon. She was 91 and was at her home in Gulf Stream, Fla., where she was helping to care for her husband, the World Golf Hall of Fame designer who is 93 and living with Alzheimer’s Disease.
The news also resonated with former PGA TOUR Commissioner Deane Beman, who commissioned the Dyes to create TPC Sawgrass. “In the truest sense of the word, Alice was a life partner to Pete,” said Beman. “Pete is a great architect because he had a great partner in Alice.
“She was the consummate partner, the consummate golfer.”
Said former Commissioner Tim Finchem: “Alice provided a sounding board of good reason in all the projects the couple worked on and Pete had profound respect for her judgement. She was an iconic figure; her humility may not have allowed her to think that, but it was true. Alice Dye was an icon.”
PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan added, “Alice blessed our sport as a player, a designer, and a trailblazer. But if you met her, you realized her favorite role of all was being a loving wife and mother. She loved golf and our sport loved her back. She will be sorely missed, and the PGA TOUR extends condolences to Pete and their sons, Perry and P.B.”
MacCurrach, founder and CEO of MacCurrach Golf Construction, worked with the field crews that built THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in the early 1980s. The project cemented Pete Dye’s legacy, of course, and ignited in MacCurrach a passion for the business. But those memorable days also served notice to how special Alice Dye was. “I loved working with Alice. She was ‘right there’ and ‘right now.’ She had a foundation for the game, she knew golf shots and she wasn’t afraid to reel Pete in.”
Bill Coore, now part of the famed Coore & (Ben) Crenshaw design team, but back in the 1970s he, like MacCurrach, worked on Dye’s projects and marveled at the dichotomy of this husband-wife team. “I was amazed at how involved she was. When we were doing the North Course at John’s Island (Vero Beach, Fla.), she was heavily involved. I admired how well versed she was.”
MacCurrach’s and Coore’s views are universally shared by those in the golf course architecture fraternity. True, nearly each one of her husband’s 145 courses is billed as a “Pete Dye Design,” but Alice’s was a voice Pete Dye not only listened to but relied upon. The results speak volumes for her talents, starting with arguably the most iconic hole in Pete Dye’s portfolio – the island-green, par-3 17th at THE PLAYERS Stadium Course.
Pete Dye let everyone know that his wife deserved credit and those who know – Coore, for instance – substantiate that. Coore recalled when the project got to the 17th, Pete Dye realized he had created a dilemma. Having mined from that area so much of the sand that he needed elsewhere on the course, he was stumped. Where would the green go? “Pete said to himself, ‘Now, what am I going to do?’ ” Coore recalled to The Golf Channel. “Alice said, ‘Well, you’ve taken all the sand out, so make a lake and just leave the green on sand out there. Thus, the island green.’ ”
But it was another of Dye’s memorable holes that had Coore laughing – and which explained the special bond Alice and Pete Dye shared. “He told me a story once, how he was out walking and watching early (during the PGA TOUR tournament at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, S.C.). He was at the (par-4) 13th and heard a few spectators talking about how Jack Nicklaus had designed the green (which is propped up by wooden planks and is a virtual island green surrounded by sand).
“Well, Pete stopped and said, ‘That’s not correct. My wife actually designed this green.’ And Pete told me that as he walked away, he heard one of the spectators say, ‘Wow, the drunks are out early.’ ”
Coore said Pete Dye loved that story as it hit on two integral components of his life. His deep love and respect for Alice (she died the day before the couple’s 69th wedding anniversary) and the admirable lack of ego that was a hallmark of Team Dye. They didn’t do it for the glory or fame, “they just loved golf,” said MacCurrach. “They ate their TV dinners to The Golf Channel and had breakfast while watching and talking golf. It was golf, all the time.”
But if Pete was the one with incomparable vision and imagination, Alice Dye’s legacy will be her ability to communicate to her husband that average golfers had to somehow get around his devilish layouts. “She wouldn’t hesitate to say, ‘That is a stupid golf shot, Pete,’ ” laughed MacCurrach, who confirmed that Alice was affectionately called “The Patron Saint of the Forward Tee,” and should be widely praised for embracing golf for the masses.
“I worked very hard on trying to get the two-tee system for women,” Alice Dye recalled to Bob Denney of the PGA of America. “I was successful in getting the yardage down between 5,000 and 5,200 yards.”
Though her efforts have paid enormous dividends and the “play-it-forward” philosophy today is advanced by organizations throughout golf, she told Denney that change didn’t come easily.
“To every club I visited, there was some woman who was better than the others and was worried that if the tees were changed, she wouldn’t win all the prizes.”
Likely, these women never realized that the woman architect who passionately proposed forward tees was herself a polished player with a rich history of golf prizes who more importantly embraced a wider view of how to help the game prosper.
Born Feb. 19, 1927 in Indianapolis, Alice Holliday O’Neal embraced golf from the time her mother, Lucy, gave her a set of wooden-shafted clubs. Of course, she also wanted a pony, which her father bought her, and Alice reveled in telling the story that made her realize that her parents would support her love of golf. “I wrote my father a letter and explained why I needed (a new set of clubs),” she told Denney. “I got a Western Union telegram back. ‘Buy them,’ it said. ‘They don’t eat all winter like a horse does.’ ”
An attorney, Perry O’Neal never regretted his daughter’s foray into golf as it paid off handsomely. There was a string of victories in the Indianapolis Women’s City Championship and at 19 she captured the first of her nine Indiana Women’s Golf Association Amateur Championships. She was a pre-med student at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., when as a junior she met a young man from Ohio. Pete Dye was at Rollins on the GI Bill, having already served a stint in the Army at Fort Benning (Georgia) and Fort Bragg (North Carolina).
They had in common their Midwest roots and their passion for golf, but Alice Dye wrote in her 2004 autobiography “From Birdies to Bunkers” that she was cautious of Pete’s free spirit. “He wanted to have some fun . . . but mostly he just skipped class and played golf.”
Still, their relationship endured, even after Alice graduated in 1948 and moved back to Indianapolis and worked at an insurance company. Pete quit Rollins, enrolled at Ohio Northern University, then settled into a job with his father’s insurance company. For these two post-Rollins years, the girl from Indianapolis and the kid from Ohio had a serious long-distance relationship, but there was something else they shared: Competitive golf schedules. Pete played in the 1949 Ohio Amateur and U.S. Amateur, Alice remained a force in the Indiana Women’s Amateur.
Alice told Whitten that during this period she once asked Pete, “What about marriage?” and he replied, “Not in golf season.”
Lucy O’Neal presumed that Feb. 2, 1950 wasn’t golf season in Indianapolis, so that is the date that was chosen for the couple’s wedding. Alice was a few weeks shy of her 23rd birthday, Pete was 24, and after a honeymoon to Orlando the couple settled in Indianapolis where Pete Dye sold insurance for Connecticut Mutual. But Alice told Whitten that her husband shrewdly molded his work to give him the best of both worlds.
“Pete spent most of his time in the evenings with pre-med students at the Indiana Medical School, convincing them to buy life insurance,” she told Golf Digest’s architectural editor. “He’d play golf during the day.”
By 1959, the pull of golf was too strong. Pete announced he was leaving insurance and advertised his services in the newspaper as a “golf-course architect” and even if there were skeptics, in Alice he had a support system. Whitten pointed out that there are newspaper accounts of Pete Dye’s first jobs in the Indianapolis area and Alice is prominently mentioned. Could the dream to design golf courses have been hers as well as his?
“I followed along, because that’s what my husband wanted to do. But I enjoyed it. Still do,” she said.
Never, though, was Alice Dye just along for the ride. She was admired as a trailblazer by colleagues, the first female member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (1983). “That was a struggle to become the first woman of their organization,” she told Denney, but clearly her actions made an impact; she became the group’s first woman president in 1997.
When that term ended, in 1999, Alice Dye broke another “glass ceiling” – she was the first woman named to the PGA of America Board of Directors. She took immense pride in this honor and offered praised to then PGA of America CEO Jim Awtrey. “I felt at the time that it didn’t occur to the PGA about how many women players they had,” she told Denney. “The PGA and Jim Awtrey were very far-sighted and had a lot of courage to invite me to come on that board.”
Nineteen years later, the PGA of America has its first female president, Suzy Whaley, and thanks in large part to doors kicked open by Alice Dye, women are gaining more golf leadership roles every year. It was a competitive fire Alice showed early and never let go of.
Those state amateur wins in Indiana – Dye winning the last of her nine in 1969 at the age of 42 – were only part of a brilliant playing resume. Alice Dye also won the 1968 North and South Women’s Amateur; went back-to-back in both the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur (1978-79) and Canadian Women’s Senior Amateur (1983-84); and triumphed in three women’s state amateurs in Florida (1973, ’74, ’79).
In 1970, Alice Dye produced arguably the key point in the Americans’ 11 1/2 - 6 1/2 triumph over Great Britain & Ireland in the Curtis Cup at Brae Burn CC outside of Boston. Two down with four to play against Julia Greenhalgh, Dye rallied to win; instead of a presumed 4 1/2 - 4 1/2, the American side scratched out a one-point first-day lead thanks to Dye, and never looked back.
Another prideful honor was being named American captain at the 1992 World Amateur team championship in Vancouver.
Seven-time USGA champion and World Golf Hall of Famer Carol Semple Thompson was a member of that U.S. team and cherished her friendship with Alice Dye. “Very much a second mother to me. To be able to play on the World Team with her as my captain was a dream come true,” said Thompson. “She leaves a huge hole in my heart.”
Perhaps what defined Alice Dye’s character and life more than anything, though, was the unyielding commitment she made to her husband and the care she offered as his health declined. Close friends had noticed signs as early as 2015 that Pete was repeating questions and forgetting names. But he remained active and Alice remained fiercely private and loyal to her husband, coordinating his care, limiting visitors, and keeping life as normal as possible.
In October of 2018, Alice welcomed Whitten to the Dyes’ home in Gulf Stream, and his subsequent story – “Pete Dye’s Final Chapter: Time robs a genius of his memory, but his wife and their scrapbooks open a window to his soul” – was brilliant. He opened with a quote from Alice Dye: “Please don’t end your story on a sad note.”
Whitten acquiesced; his heartfelt story didn’t end on a sad note. “And,” said MacCurrach, “you can say the same thing about Alice’s story.”
It deserves an uplifting end, for Alice’s was a love she carried to the finish line.
When he visited a few weeks ago, MacCurrach said he took some plans that Alice had uncovered and, per her instructions, put them in Pete Dye’s lap. “She wanted to watch as Pete moved his hand over the plans.” Alzheimer’s owned Pete by now, of course, but the great man sat there calmly, hands moving over the plans, Alice seated right next to him in her rocking chair, just smiling.
“I think she just wanted that image,” said MacCurrach. “Just one more time for her mind.”