Pete Dye passes away at age 94
January 09, 2020
By Bill Fields, PGATOUR.COM
- January 09, 2020
In Memoriam: Pete Dye
Commissioner Statement on Pete Dye:
"We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Pete Dye, a true friend of the PGA TOUR and one of the most important course architects of this or any generation.
"A 2008 inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame, Pete’s influence is far-reaching, leaving a global imprint on both the amateur and professional games. He designed some of the best known golf courses in the world, though none more recognizable than THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. It was here that Pete masterfully brought Commissioner Deane Beman’s revolutionary stadium golf concept to life, melding Deane’s vision with a brilliantly designed course that is celebrated annually as one of the game’s great strategic courses during THE PLAYERS Championship.
"Pete, though, was always quick to credit his beloved wife, Alice, with his success, including the concept for his most famous hole, the 17th island green at TPC Sawgrass. Together, Pete and Alice made a formidable team in golf and life, and with sons Perry and P.B., themselves successful course architects, they are recognized as one of the most accomplished families in golf.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Dye family."
Paul (Pete) Dye, who enlivened modern golf architecture by building distinctive and difficult courses that could make both expert and average golfers scratch their heads in frustration and whose career was as long as it was notable, died Thursday at age 94.
He designed dozens of courses, many of them done in partnership with his wife of 68 years, Alice. Some of Dye’s courses are among the most well-known in the world: THE PLAYERS Stadium at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., home of THE PLAYERS since 1982; Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, S.C., site of an annual PGA TOUR event since 1969; Whistling Straits (Straits Course) in Haven, Wis., a three-time PGA Championship venue.
“Every potential site I see brings new challenges, and I continue to learn more every day,” Dye wrote in 2013 in an updated edition of his 1994 memoir, Bury Me in a Pot Bunker. “My inspiration comes from the golfers themselves, who, in spite of kicking and cursing find a trip around a Pete Dye golf course is always memorable.”
Utilizing small, sloping greens, pot bunkers, severe mounding and strategically located water hazards, Dye built courses that messed with a golfer’s mind before he settled over a shot. His work seemed to characterize the philosophy of the legendary British writer Bernard Darwin that “golf at its best is a perpetual adventure” and that “it ought be a risky business.”
Dye’s edgy creations—“Golf is not a fair game, so why should I build a fair golf course,” he said—stood in sharp contrast to his disarming and generous personality. “I get a kick out of overtipping people who usually don’t get any tip at all, like the girl at the ice-cream counter., Dye told Golf Digest in 2002. “It leaves her happy and makes my ice cream taste better.”
A talented amateur golfer and successful insurance salesman before deciding he wanted to design courses in the late-1950s, Dye was known to do deals with developers on a handshake and envisioned his layouts without formal plans. He did not finish high school, college or law school but in 2008 became only the fifth golf architect enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame—joining Donald Ross, Alister MacKenzie, C.B. Macdonald and Robert Trent Jones.
“Whatever cloth they cut Pete from, you can rest assured that was the one and only piece they had,” golf architect Bill Coore told Golf World in 2014. “I’ve never met anyone like him.”
Dye grew up in Urbana, Ohio, and learned to play golf on a nine-hole course, Urbana Country Club, that his father, Paul Dye—a bar owner, insurance agent and postmaster—built after becoming obsessed with the game. “I first remember going out there with him,” Dye recalled in 2008 at his Hall of Fame induction. “He gave me a job and I watered the greens with just a garden hose.”
Those boyhood summers working at his father’s club during the 1930s and 1940s led to Dye’s lifelong fascination with agronomy and course maintenance. With the onset of World War II and the community’s men leaving to serve in the military, Dye became greenkeeper at Urbana Country Club when he was 15, a successful stint except for the time he overfertilized the greens and watched them, as he wrote in Bury Me in a Pot Bunker, turn to “yellow straw that spelled disaster for me and the course.”
Once he was old enough to join the Army, Dye spent nearly three years stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., and Fort Bragg, N.C. While in North Carolina near the end of the war, Dye had the opportunity to make the 30-mile drive and play Pinehurst No. 2 Course many times, where he became friends with its designer Donald Ross. The strategic demands of No. 2 made an indelible impression on Dye, piqueing his interest in why a course stood out architecturally, but for years he would concentrate on playing the game.
A state high school golf champion in Ohio, Dye won the Indiana State Amateur in 1958 after being runner-up twice. He competed in the 1957 U.S. Open and the U.S. Amateur half a dozen times. In the 1958 Trans-Mississippi at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kan., Dye lost in the semifinals to 18-year-old Jack Nicklaus, who a decade later would become his design consultant at Harbour Town.
Dye began to get the itch to build courses in the mid-1950s. He and Alice got their first design job several years later, a low-budget, nine-hole course south of Indianapolis, where they had settled, called El Dorado. They grew bentgrass for the greens in their lawn and transported the sod to the site in their sedan. “Neighbors used to kid Alice that they could tell when she had a load of bent in the trunk because the front end was raised so high the car looked like a motorboat!” Dye wrote.
“We thought we had built Oakmont,” Dye recalled of El Dorado, “but it wasn’t quite.” In nine holes, the couple designed 13 carries over a creek. Despite the inauspicious maiden effort, Dye was off on his second career. It received a boost not long after when the University of Michigan hired Dye to build a course after also considering Robert Trent Jones, the era’s architectural superstar, and Dick Wilson, another well-regarded designer.
A 1963 journey to Scotland, where Dye played in the British Amateur and he and Alice visited many of the country’s classic courses, was pivotal in his subsequent architecture. Inspired by the look and feel of golf in the land where it began—including tiny but devilishly deep bunkers with faces shored up by railroad ties—Dye returned home intent on making his designs stand out from the prevailing style of brawny courses with big greens, flashy bunkers and landing-strip tees popularized by Trent Jones. Dye was already at work on Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind., where the 1991 PGA Championship and 1993 U.S. Women’s Open would be contested.
“When I came back to the States,” Dye said in an interview with Jeff Silverman in 2014, “I had the idea I had to try to make it look like some of those courses over there.”
As Jim Urbina—who along with Coore, Tom Doak, Bobby Weed and other prominent golf course designers got their start in the business by working for Dye—pointed out, Dye put a new twist on old architectural features. “He’s taken the classical templates, disguised them and made them his own,” Urbina told Golf World. “His angles are classical. His strategy is classical. His courses are classical. But you don’t see it until you really see it.”
Unlike designers during the Golden Age of golf architecture, who lacked modern machinery but often were given the best land on which to craft their courses, Dye often started with bland or hostile properties. No site was more challenging than the swampy, snake-infested acreage south of Jacksonville, Fla., where then-PGA TOUR commissioner Deane Beman, a fan of the complete examination offered by Harbour Town, hired Dye in the late 1970s to create the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass
“It was rough property,” said Bob Dickson, then a PGA TOUR staff member. “There were plenty of places in there where if you were going to walk anywhere close to a straight line, you were going to do it with a machete or a chainsaw.”
Dye sketched the course on the back of a placemat, then, with input from Beman and Alice, immersed himself in the dirty, difficult job, usually with his German Shepherd in tow. “It was amazing,” recalled Vernon Kelly, the TPC Sawgrass project manager. “He’d come out and work us all to death. He had a car rented from National at the airport. They’d just park it, without cleaning it, and it was there for him when he came the next time.”
When Dye was finished with his labor of love, tournament golf had a special stage and its first island-green par 3, No. 17, that would become perhaps the most identifiable one-shotter in golf. If it lacked the splendor of the 16th at Cypress Point or the subtlety of No. 12 at Augusta National, the penultimate hole at THE PLAYERS Stadium epitomized the mental gauntlet that Dye love to throw at skilled golfers. “The thing that gets to a good player,” Dye told Golf World, “is fear.”
Dye contended that his courses looked harder than they were, although the TOUR players carped loudly when THE PLAYERS moved to TPC Sawgrass. Many thought the small, severely undulated greens and their surrounds were too penal. “No question, when it opened up, it was on the wrong side of fair,” Beman said of the course in 2011. “It took a couple of renditions to get it right.”
When he was in his 80s, Dye was still tinkering with arguably his most famous design. His homespun descriptions for his architecture were “playing in the dirt” or “pushing dirt,” but those terms belied Dye’s innate gift and studied effort that went into his courses.
“The way Pete gets on a property and feels it is pretty impressive,” Tiger Woods told Golf Digest in 2008. “His courses built for tournaments are hard, but there’s a good reason behind everything.”
Dye’s courses had a strong impact on golf architecture. Ron Whitten and Geoffrey Cornish wrote in The Architects of Golf that by the 1980s, “even his chief competitors were building courses that were a reflection of his style or a response to it.”
Dye, who was predeceased by his wife Alice, and is survived by their two sons, Perry and P.B., both of whom are course architects, received some of golf’s highest honors. In addition to being a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Dye received the Donald Ross Award from the American Society of Golf Course Architects in 1995; the 2003 Old Tom Morris Award from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America; 2004 Distinguished Service Award from the PGA of America; and 2005 PGA TOUR Lifetime Achievement Award.
“My opportunity to mold God’s earth into a test that golfers can enjoy has given me great satisfaction, and I am extremely indebted to those who have given me the chance to build golf courses all over the country,” Dye said in Bury Me in a Pot Bunker. “Donald Ross once wrote, ‘My work will tell my story,’ and that is how I hope to be remembered.”
In Memoriam: Pete Dye