Pete Dye: The Last Living Design Legend

Pete Dye

Legendary architect still going strong at 86

By Lance Hanlin,

Pete Dye became a golf course architect almost by default. At 35, he was running a successful insurance business in Indianapolis when he received a call from a local farmer that wanted to build a course south of the city.

“He wanted to know if I could find somebody to do it,” Dye said. “I called everybody I knew. Nobody wanted to do it because he didn’t have any money. Then he asked me if I would do it. I didn’t know anything about designing a golf course but he had all the equipment.”

After talking it over with his wife, Alice, Dye decided to jump at the opportunity. He’s been doing it ever since.

From the tree-lined fairways of our Harbour Town Golf Links, up to the picturesque Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, down to the epic layout of TPC Sawgrass, Dye has produced some of the world’s top courses.

He has also designed some of the Lowcountry’s best: Heron Point in Sea Pines, Long Cove Club on Hilton Head, the Dye Course at Colleton River and Hampton Hall in Bluffton.

In many circles, he is considered the most influential architect of the past five decades -- the last living legend.

Dye, 86, took time from his busy schedule to speak with Golfer’s Guide about his courses, the current state of golf and his lack of a retirement plan.

Golfer’s Guide: There must be some special skill that makes a good designer or everybody would be one. What is your secret?

Pete Dye: I don’t know if I have any real secret. Most guys will draw up a set of plans and have somebody else built it. I do it different. When I built Harbour Town for example, I just moved up there while I built it. I did the same thing with Long Cove and Colleton River. I enjoy building a golf course.

GG: The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island has already hosted the Ryder Cup and the World Cup. The PGA Championship comes in August. How did you build such a strong course?

PD: Hurricane Hugo came by. It disrupted that whole part of the world but it helped me. Governor (Carroll) Campbell made a moratorium so we could clean up the marshes and moats. I got all the trees that had grown in fresh water out of there. Salt water moves in and out now. We also used a lot of the sand to build up the fairways so you can see the ocean.

GG: The Ocean Course is known for great views of the Atlantic and strong winds. I’m sure more than one professional will be complaining about the latter when the PGA Championship gets under way. What would you say to the whiners, if there are any?

PD: There are always going to be guys yelling and screaming at you. That’s the nature of the beast. I don’t mind, as long as somebody shoots a good score. That’s all that counts.

GG: The South Carolina Golf Course Ratings Panel recently moved the Ocean Course up to No. 1 on its list of best courses in the Palmetto State, taking the place of Harbour Town. Do you feel that is justified?

PD: Oh, I don’t know. Ratings don’t mean much to me. I think the best course I ever built is right there off the island at Colleton River and nobody has ever rated it. That’s one hell of a course. You can see the ocean from nine holes and it’s all self-contained.

GG: Obviously, we just had the Heritage here in April. Greg Norman felt the work you did at Harbour Town was pure genius, positioning the trees like hazards. Arnold Palmer once called it a “thinking man’s course.” What do you feel makes it stand out?

PD: I was always a great admirer of Trent Jones. One of the first golf courses I built was at the University of Michigan and I copied him. I had the big bunkers, long tees and everything. I figured the only way to get an identity was to do the dead opposite. At Harbour Town, I kept everything as low as I could and I kept the greens small. Next thing I know, Arnold Palmer wins the thing and it’s in Sports Illustrated. It kicked me off and really got me going.

GG: Jack Nicklaus is credited with helping you design the course. What was his role?

PD: He came in as a consultant. I don’t think they ever paid him for that (laughs). What I remember more than anything was the 15th hole. I had a pretty good-sized green in there and he said ‘You ought to make this really small because I’m the only one who can get here in two.’ We made it real small but I had to go back and make it bigger later.

GG: Nicklaus credits you for the way he approaches golf course design. How would you describe your relationship?

PD: We’ve always been good friends. We talk all the time.

GG: The 18th hole at Harbour Town gets all the press, and for good reason. Along with a great view it has such a unique shape.

PD: I can’t take credit for that. Every time the damn dam would break down, all the sand would float out. That’s why it’s shaped like it is.

GG: You’ve made several changes to the course over the years. Do you finally have it figured out or is there more work to be done?

PD: We finally got the drainage figure out. That only took about 20 years. I talked to Slugger White (PGA Tour vice president for rules and competitions) and tried to get the general opinion of all the guys. They seem to think everything is OK, so there’s no reason to jump in there and go backwards.

GG: So you don’t like individual feedback from professionals?

PD: Different players have different thoughts. What Vijay will tell you, then what somebody else will tell you, it’s like they’re not even from the same planet. You try to get the general opinion.

GG: Railroad ties seem to really give a course some personality. Why do you choose to use them?

PD: When I went to Scotland in 1963, every golf course over there had railroad ties. I figured if it was good enough for Queen Anne, it was good enough for me. I haven’t put any in for 20 years. Everybody else has copied it so I get credit everywhere I go for all the railroad ties.

GG: An outstanding course most of us here don’t get to play is Long Cove. Some say it’s your finest work. Do you get back there much?

PD: We did some work on that last year with a bunker here, a bunker there. I’m trying to get a permit on a couple of holes to do something but I don’t know if I ever will or not. They’ve done a good job of maintaining that golf course.

GG: You also have Heron Point and Hampton Hall. Why are your five local courses so different?

PD: A lot of guys have a style, and they take that style from A to B to C to D to E. I’m dumb enough to think you build a course like Harbour Town, then you build one at Long Cove that is different. Then you turn around and build one in Colleton River that is different from both. They’re all different and I love them all. Whether they’re any good or not is up to somebody else to decide.

GG: In your opinion, what makes our island and the surrounding area such a great place to plunk down a golf course?

PD: The sand. All of your great courses in Scotland, Ireland and everywhere all have that in common. An area that has a sand base is always going to be better than where you have a clay base or a soil base. To tell you the truth, the only sand I’ve ever worked on has been right there in South Carolina.

GG: Equipment upgrades have drastically changed the game over the years. As a course designer, how do you feel about that?

PD: Equipment changes have escalated the cost of golf, not only buying more expensive equipment, but the maintenance of a golf course and the building of a golf course. If you ever want to host a PGA Tour event, you’ve got to make the length something crazy these days.

GG: You are married to a fellow designer. How much input does Alice have in your work?

PD: A lot. She has played with Babe Zaharias, Sam Sneed and Byron Nelson. Then on Tuesdays, she goes out and plays with three girls that can’t break 130. Every time I build a golf course, she asks how one of those girls would play the hole.

GG: You’re 86, you’re a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and people still ask for your autograph. With all you have accomplished, what are you the most proud of?

PD: Probably the Dominican Republic. There wasn’t a tree, not a soul, not anything before I built 90 holes of golf out there. Now there are 3,500 homes and 35,000 people have jobs on the property. They’ve got a new airport and a big marina. Now instead of a dirt road coming out of Santo Domingo, they’ve got a four-lane highway.

GG: How much longer do you plan on doing this?

PD: Until they bury me. I don’t know what else to do.

GG: What projects do you have in the works?

PD: I just talked to a fellow who has a golf course up in Charlottesville (Va.) that needs to be completely restored. That’s where I’m going next.




Notable courses that Pete Dye either designed alone or co-designed (* private course):

Arizona State University (Karsten Golf Course) - Tempe
Red Mountain Ranch Country Club (Championship Course) - Mesa
Ancala Country Club - Scottsdale*

Carmel Valley Ranch Golf Resort - Carmel Valley
Ranch Carlton Oaks Country Club (Dunes Course) - Santee
La Quinta Resort and Club (Dunes Course) - La Quinta
La Quinta Resort and Club (Mountain Course) - La Quinta
PGA West (Stadium Course) - La Quinta
Lost Canyons Golf Club (Shadow Course) - Simi Valley
Lost Canyons Golf Club (Sky Course) - Simi Valley
The Westin Mission Hills Resort & Spa (South Course) - Rancho Mirage
Trump National Golf Club - Los Angeles

Cheyenne Mountain Resort (C.C. of Colorado) - Colorado Springs
Plum Creek Golf and Country Club - Castle Rock
Riverdale Dunes - Brighton
Gypsum Creek Golf Course - Gypsum
Glenmoor Country Club - Cherry Hills Village*

Wintonbury Hills Golf Course - Bloomfield

River Ridge Golf Course - Palm City
PGA Golf Club (Dye Course) - Port St. Lucie
TPC at Sawgrass (Stadium Course) - Ponte Vedra Beach
Gasparilla Inn Golf Course - Boca Grande
Palm Beach Polo (Cypress Course) - Wellington
Tuscany Reserve Golf Club - Naples*
Harbour Ridge Yacht & Country Club (River Ridge Course) - Palm City*
Southern Hills Plantation Club – Brooksville *

Atlanta National Golf Club - Alpharetta*
The Ogeechee Golf Club, Richmond Hill*

Oakwood Country Club - Coal Valley
Ruffled Feathers Golf Course - Lemont
Tamarack Country Club - Shiloh
Yorktown Golf Course - Belleville

The Pete Dye Course - French Lick
Royal Oak Country Club - Greenwood
Maple Creek Country Club - Indianapolis
Brickyard Crossing - Speedway
Eagle Creek Golf Club (Pines, Sycamore Courses) - Indianapolis
Harbor Trees - Noblesville
Plum Creek Golf Club - Carmel
Sahm Golf Course - Indianapolis
The Fort Golf Course - Indianapolis
Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex (Kampen Course) - West Lafayette
Oak Tree Golf Course (front nine) - Plainfield
Mystic Hills Golf Course - Culver
Forest Park - Brazil
The Bridgewater Club - Westfield*
Crooked Stick Golf Club - Carmel*
Woodland Country Club – Carmel*
Maple Creek Golf & Country Club - Indianapolis*

Des Moines Golf and Country Club - West Des Moines

TPC of Louisiana - Avondale
Belle Terre Country Club - LaPlace*

Kearney Hill Golf Links - Lexington
Peninsula Golf Course - Lancaster

Bulle Rock Golf Course - Havre de Grace
Harbourtowne Resort Country Club - St. Michaels
Rum Pointe Seaside Golf Links - Berlin

Radrick Farms Golf Course- Ann Arbor*
Wabeek Country Club - Bloomfield Hills*
NEBRASKA Firethorn Golf Club – Lincoln*

Paiute Golf Club Resort (Snow Mountain, Sun Mountain and Wolf courses) - Las Vegas

Pinon Hills Golf Course – Farmington

Pound Ridge Golf Club - Pound Ridge

Founders Golf Course - St. James Plantation
Oak Hollow Golf Course - High Point
Cardinal Golf and Country Club - Greensboro*
Country Club of Landfall - Wilmington*

Avalon Lakes - Warren
Fowler’s Mill GC - Chesterland
Little Turtle Golf Club - Westerville
The Golf Club - New Albany*
Little Turtle Golf Club - Westerville*

Oak Tree Golf Club - Edmond*
Oak Tree Country Club – Edmond*

Iron Valley Golf Course - Lebanon
Mystic Rock Golf Course – Farmington
Montour Heights Country Club - Coraopolis*

Harbour Town Golf Links – Hilton Head Island
Kiawah Island Golf Resort (Ocean Course) - Kiawah Island
Heron Point – Hilton Head Island
Cherokee Valley – Travelers Rest
The Dye Club at Barefoot Resort - North Myrtle Beach
Long Cove Club – Hilton Head Island*
Colleton River (Dye Course) – Bluffton*
Hampton Hall – Bluffton

The Honors Golf Club - Ooltewah*
Rarity Mountain Golf Club - Jellico*

AT&T Canyons Course of TPC at San Antonio
The Stonebridge Ranch Country Club - McKinney*

Pete Dye River Course of Virginia Tech - Radford
River Course at Kingsmill Resort - Williamsburg
Virginia Beach National - Virginia Beach
Virginia Oaks - Gainesville

Pete Dye Golf Club - Clarksburg*

Big Fish Golf Club - Hayward
Whistling Straits (Irish Course) - Haven
Whistling Straits (Straits Course) - Haven
Blackwolf Run (River Course) - Kohler
Blackwolf Run (Meadow Valleys Course) - Kohler
Hidden Glen Golf Club - Cedarburg*

Casa de Campo: Teeth of the Dog - Casa De Campo
Casa de Campo: Dye Fore - Casa de Campo
Casa de Campo: The Links - Casa de Campo
La Romana Country Club - La Romana*

The Black Pearl, Pristine Bay Resort - Roatan

Fuego Maya - La Reunion

Caesarea Golf & Country Club - Caesarea, Israel


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