The greatest golf courses of Pete and Alice Dye
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The greatest golf courses of Pete and Alice Dye

THE CHAVON NINE AT DYE FORE, CASA DE CAMPO.


Pete Dye counts about 80 golf courses in his lifetime repertoire, and at each and every one of them Pete was constantly on site -- either actually living there (yes, even in far flung places like the Dominican Republic and Switzerland) -- or making regular visits from start to finish. Even Donald Ross and Alister Mackenzie sometimes offered golf courses advice by mail, and those courses somehow ended up getting counted in their tally, even thought they never physically set foot on them. But Dye never, ever mailed it in, neither literally nor metaphorically.

Let’s take a look at the mileposts in Pete’s luminescent, six decade-long career.

Harbour Town Golf Links (1969)

Holding the honor of hosting the PGA Tour stop immediately following the Masters and known for its low-country hospitality, Harbour Town was where Dye began a sea change in design philosophy, switching from the penal architectural school to the strategic.

“Trent [Jones, Sr.] built a lot of fine golf courses, and he was a good friend. The first course I built was the University of Michigan, and it was a lot like Mr. Jones' course, and he always liked it,” Dye explained in an interview. “So when I went to Harbour Town, I moved there, and when I went to build the dang golf course, he was building Palmetto Dunes. And it occurred to me that the only way I would ever get an identity was just go the dead opposite.

“Dead opposite” meant making greens smaller (remember that when we talk about Sawgrass), and the profiles of the greens were intentionally left no higher than 18 inches above grade, a philosophy diametrically opposed to Trent Jones, who rarely met a two-club uphill approach he didn’t like. Finally, Harbour Town was where Dye first introduced his railroad tie bulkheads for hazards, an idea that came from the Scottish courses he and Alice toured together to study the craft.

“I imagine that Harbour Town got a shot in the arm [because] Arnold Palmer won the first tournament, the Heritage Classic. That probably had as much to do with it as anything.  And maybe Calibogue Sound,” Pete noted. “Trent Jones was a great friend, and a great friend of Alice’s, but it was just the opposite of what he was doing, dead opposite.”

Casa de Campo: Teeth of the Dog (1970) and Dye Fore (2003>

Teeth of the Dog

When I was preparing for a weeklong assignment at Casa de Campo, the 7,000-acre, 90-hole golf resort in the Dominican Republic, people told me that Casa may be -- and these is their words -- “the greatest resort in the world.”

After seeing it for myself, they damn well may be right.

Deriving its name from the rocky shoreline that had to be chiseled with hand implements, Dye finished the course in 1971, and Teeth has been top dog in the offshore U.S. region since that day. In a vastly competitive field, it's beaten back everything built in the last 50 years. Whether Caribbean, Atlantic Ocean or Cabo, no designer -- from Robert Trent Jones to Tiger Woods, from Nicklaus to Fazio -- no one and nothing has toppled Teeth from its lofty perch.

Tom Doak once wrote that he thought Teeth of the Dog might be Pete’s favorite course.

“Everybody asks me what my favorite course is, and I don’t know, but I will say that when I started down there, there wasn’t anything within 35 miles. Now 40,000 people have jobs, there's 3,000 homes, five courses, a marina, an airport, new roads. It's really grown down there. And now they have the new interstate, and it goes right by us and then it goes north and east, so it's viable. You can get around easily,” Pete explained. Then he smiled and added, "[And] you have seven holes on the ocean!”

Teeth laid the conceptual groundwork the way for much of the work Pete Dye did at his major championship venues: oceanside golf with intelligent strategic design to test the experts, resort playability for amateurs, and a visually arresting natural setting. He laid the course out in a figure-eight where both nines reach the coastline and where both the wind direction and the shot shaping requirements are balanced.

Teeth is primordial Dye, and you can see the progression of his design principles from this early point in his luminescent career. Greenside swales, for example, aren't as pronounced or rounded as in later courses; they are smoother and more natural looking. It's also an easy walk, with tees and greens close together. Is it a links?  Maybe – you sure can play the ground game and the terrain does link the land to the sea.

Dye Fore

One of the great links golf courses of the world, Dye Fore demolishes all expectations. Set over 250 acres, with a front nine bordering the marina and the back nine traversing the clifftops above the Chavon River, Dye Fore every bit as good in natural setting and golf architecture as Teeth of the Dog. (Many thinks it’s better!)

“Dye Fore ... is along the edge of the river bank. You have the mountains to the north, and the ocean to the south. It's entirely and dramatically different; you don’t even think you're in the same country. There's also 30 meters of elevation change from the north part of the course to the south, and there are big ravines that come in and drop off 90 feet,” Dye recalled, waving his hands to indicate the severity of the elevation change.

Those same elevation changes make the southeast and northeast winds -- far more predominant than at Teeth or at the resort’s companion Links Course – it makes the winds bluster and swirl wildly. Also, the greens are much larger and more contoured.

Dye Fore is a bucket list golf course to be spoken of alongside any of the courses at St. Andrews, Bandon Dunes, southwest Ireland and Pebble Beach. With a total of 63 public holes and another 27 at the associated private club, La Romana, you can't say you've seen all the great golf courses of the world if you have not come to Casa de Campo, because there are two of them here.

TPC Sawgrass (1980)

The joke’s on the PGA Tour.

“The course that exists now is the same on I gave them in 1980,” Pete confided with a chuckle. He left unsaid, “I wish they’d make up their minds,” but that may have been that we were both amused at the thought of everyone bellyaching about things he designed there, and then asking him to put them back years later.

Here’s a quintessential example. Back in 1980, it was Tom Watson who led the charge against Sawgrass, actually going so far as to support a petition to have the course kicked off the rotation. One of Watson’s chief complaints was “he took Augusta’s greens and miniaturized them.”

Pete just replied, “Thank you. I always thought Augusta’s greens were too big.”

So shoot me, I love Sawgrass. Yes, I know it’s got too much water. And yes, it gets penal, but it’s supposed to; it’s a PGA Tour stop.

Here Pete once again showed his penchant for problem solving; he raised the course from a swamp. He made hole Nos. one and 10 mirror images of each other so no one could grouse about having to start on a more difficult hole. And, of course, the finish is all-world.

I miss the pyramid-shaped clubhouse. That gaudy monstrosity that Tim Finchem built looks more like the Marrakesh Hilton than true Southwestern mission-style hacienda. It’s completely incongruous in the swamps of Florida. I also miss the goats.

"The goats would eat the grass, and that's how we maintained the course," Pete stated. "But then they'd climb on top of the clubhouse and we'd have a heck of a time getting them down. And then one of them, named Ole Prunes, he head-butted somebody, and that was the end of the goats."

Kiawah Island - Ocean Course (1991)

We’ll refer you to the rest of this week’s work for our thoughts on Kiawah, but as we go to press the winds we prayed for have arrived, and scoring has been mercurial: plenty of birdies, but the Ocean Course is taking most of them right back.

Still, none of the players are complaining. There hasn’t been any bellyaching about the rough, the bunkering, the green speeds...anything.

“Tough but fair,” Phil Mickelson opined after his brilliant 69 early got him to 5-under an a share of the lead with South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen who fired a sizzling 68. They lead by one over two-time champion Brooks Keopka and by two over Masters Champion Hideki Matsuyama, South Africans Branden Grace and Christiaan Bezuidenhout.

French Lick Resort - Dye Course (2007)

Sources within GNN and throughout the golf industry are buzzing that this was the next great step for Pete. In his later years, Pete’s designs became almost a Picasso-esque, hypermodern spin on his favorite designer, Seth Raynor.

Gone were the giant geometric bunkers you’d see at the Marina nine of Dye Fore. French Lick in Indiana evokes more of the ideas and bunkering styles we saw at, for example, Mystic Rock at Nemacolin Woodlands, site of the old 84 Lumber Classic, or Pete Dye Golf Club in West Virginia. If Dye Fore is “Raynor on steroids,” then these new offerings are Raynor on mushrooms.

Honorable Mention

Whistling Straits’ Straits Course - which is really Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, just on Lake Michigan instead of the Atlantic – will host the Ryder Cup this fall. Three excellent PGA Championships have been contested there since 2004 as will, with three marquee winners taking home the Wanamaker Trophy: Vijay Singh, Martin Kaymer and Jason Day.

As an aside, with all the iconic seaside courses Dye designed, it’s a shame he never got a chance to build a course on U.K. linksland.

PGA West’s Stadium Course sees 105 degree temps in the Palm Springs summertime, but with it’s alternating shot patterns and cunning routing, it’s still required reading for young budding architects. The last two holes are longer versions of the closing pair at the TPC – we call them “Sawgrass in the Desert.” The similarities are astounding.

Sleeper picks: Pete Dye Golf Club, The Golf Club (Albany, Ohio), Crooked Stick, Oak Tree, The Honors Course and Long Cove

About the author

Jay Flemma

Jay Flemma

Starting with a blog and a dream, Jay Flemma launched his first sports-writing website in 2004. Some 13 years and 25 major golf championships later, Jay has won multiple national sports writing awards. Besides GNN, his work has appeared in numerous books as well as on-line at Cybergolf, PGA.com, GolfObserver, GolfChannel.com and many other sites and print magazines. When not trying to find a lost golf ball, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet, sports and trademark lawyer in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.