By Jay Blasi | January 10, 2020 9:30 am
I only met Pete Dye once. I was 21, he was 73. We spoke for two minutes in the parking lot at Whistling Straits. And yet, Dye had a profound impact on me and my career as a golf designer. I imagine the same is true for golfers and golf designers far and wide.
Over time my idea of Pete Dye has evolved.
As a kid, he was a hero. The famous golf designer who created Harbour Town and Blackwolf Run. The same way I idolized Jordan and Magic, I idolized Dye.
Truth be told at that time I really didn’t know much about Pete other than what might have been said on a TV broadcast. Or that he was the guy who designed the courses on my Nintendo golf game.
In college I read his book Bury Me in a Pot Bunker and was fascinated by his story. Stomping off the course while caddying for his future wife and design partner Alice. Giving up selling insurance to design golf courses. Cutting trees and running off before Herb Kohler could catch him at Blackwolf Run. An interesting life to say the least.
Reading the book gave me a much better sense of who he was as a person and a designer.
Over the years I’ve played a number of his courses including Blackwolf Run, Whistling Straits, Harbour Town, PGA West Stadium and more. While each course occupies a unique canvas, they have much in common: the use of angles, the par sequence, deep punishing hazards and more. More than any other designer, Pete Dye gets in the player’s head and gets him or her to try things they shouldn’t. While MacKenzie may be the master of camouflage in golf design, Pete is the master of angles. Often asking players to work the ball one way off the tee and the opposite way on the approach, he gave you options but fooled you into the wrong one.
Playing his courses gave me an infinite number of small things to file away in the young designer brain.
His work at Whistling Straits was as inspiring as any course I’ve played. Now there are dozens of courses I like more and believe are better, but they didn’t inspire me in the same way. Knowing that Pete started with a flat site and used grading to create a series of terraced holes that felt as if they were along the lake even if they were inland was so powerful to me.
A few years later when I was working for Robert Trent Jones II and we were designing Chambers Bay, I “borrowed” Pete’s terracing idea as we crafted holes 2 and 16. Thanks, Pete!
Having now been in the business for 19 years, I have a completely different perspective. Just in the past few years, I’ve toured some of his courses, spent quality time with his associates, talked at length with clients and friends of Pete, and watched as golf raters tackled his layouts. Each of those experiences provides a unique sense for the impact Pete has had on the game.
Simply put, Pete Dye could capture your heart and head in an instant and keep it for a lifetime.
How should we remember Pete Dye? Fifty years from now, what will be the simple takeaways from his life and work?
I’m a big fan of the TV show The Profit with Marcus Lemonis on CNBC. Lemonis talks about the key factors to a successful business being people, process and product.
The 94th PGA Championship at the Ocean Course of the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. (Bruce Chapman-Imagn)
Here is how I believe 50 years from now we will look back on Pete’s career.
People – Bill Coore and Tom Doak
While Pete’s own work and career (which was always a collaboration with wife Alice) is one of a kind in the golf world, I believe people will be equally thankful for his gift of mentorship.
Most notably the influence he had on Bill Coore and Tom Doak. In addition to Coore and Doak and their respective “family trees of designers,” Pete also mentored:
• Perry Dye
• PB Dye
• Cynthia Dye McGarey
• Jack Nicklaus
• Bobby Weed
• Lee Schmidt
• Tim Liddy
• Chris Lutzke and countless others
Process – Design / Build
Pete is known in design circles as the guy who transitioned golf design from the Robert Trent Jones era to the current era. Pete not only transitioned the game away from the Jones aesthetic and strategy, but he brought a different approach to building golf courses. Pete was hands on. He was on site regularly, he got on equipment and he had a team of golf builders working with him as opposed to working for a contractor.
Coore and Doak have employed a similar approach and their influence on the next generation has the design / build method as a staple more than a one-off.
Product – Tournament golf
While other architects may have designed more courses in more countries or may have more courses ranked in the top 100, it would be hard to find another designer who was able to watch more tournament golf on their courses.
Pete is probably best known for creating (and tinkering with) TPC Sawgrass, home of the the Players Championship. The Tour thinks so highly of the course it serves as its headquarters, and officials have gone out of their way to brand it as the fifth major.
The 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits (Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports)
While the Players Championship is not a major, think about the list of major venues that Pete designed where he could have been on hand to watch the game’s best battle his creation:
1991 – Kiawah Ocean Course
2017 – Des Moines Golf & Country Club
1988 – Oak Tree
1991 – Crooked Stick
2004, 2010, 2015 – Whistling Straits
2012 – Kiawah Ocean Course
Senior PGA Championships
2006 – Oak Tree
2007 – Kiawah Ocean Course
2015 – French Lick Resort
U.S. Women’s Open
1998, 2012 – Blackwolf Run
The 2012 U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wis. (Dwight Nale, Gannett WIsconsin Media)
U.S. Senior Open
1999 – Des Moines Golf & Country Club
2007 – Whistling Straits
2009 – Crooked Stick
2014 – Oak Tree