Pete Dye Remembered

People
Typography

DESIGNER OF HARBOUR TOWN GOLF LINKS DIED IN JANUARY AT 94

Everyone who has ever played a Pete Dye-designed course or worked with the colorful architect has a story — players, caddies, tournament administrators, volunteers. 

Dye left a legacy as a paradigm-shifting golf course architect and salt-of-the-earth character when he died at the age of 94 on Jan. 9 after a suffering from dementia for many years. The sharing of Dye anecdotes will be especially poignant this month even though the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing is canceled. Harbour Town Golf Links was the springboard of his career, and Hilton Head owes the popularity of its PGA Tour event to his genius.

Dye was an accomplished golfer and successful insurance salesman in 1955 when he turned his attention to golf course architecture. His early efforts mimicked the post-World War II template of long, straight tee boxes; flat, straight fairways; and large, sloping greens flanked by huge bunkers. That changed in 1963, when he and his wife, Alice — an exceptional golfer who won the Indiana Women’s Amateur Championship nine times — took an extended trip to Scotland, where the couple toured its classic courses and Pete played in the British Amateur Championship at St. Andrews.

Dye was hired, contingent upon Nicklaus lending his notoriety and input as design consultant. The result was Harbour Town Golf Links.

In his autobiography, “Bury Me in a Pot Bunker,” Dye characterized the trip as a design epiphany: “My (newfound) knowledge of the use of small greens, wide fairways, the impression that ground-level greens were elevated, contrasting grass mixes, severe undulations in the fairways, pot bunkers, railroad ties, blind holes, and inclusion of gorse-like vegetation to frame holes would affect all our future designs.”

Four years later, a recommendation by a fellow Ohioan would validate Dye’s resurrection of those classic design features. 

By age 27, Jack Nicklaus already had won 20 PGA Tour events, including six major championships. He was intrigued by golf course architecture but had no 

experience with it. When The Sea Pines Resort founder Charles Fraser approached Nicklaus about designing a course, he demurred, but suggested that Fraser consider Pete Dye. 

“Never heard of him,” Fraser said. 

“You will,” Nicklaus replied. 

Dye was hired, contingent upon Nicklaus lending his notoriety and input as design consultant. The result was Harbour Town Golf Links, a “shot-makers’ course” created to reward brains over brawn. In 1969, it played host to the inaugural Heritage Classic, won by Arnold Palmer, who praised the course’s retro architecture. Before long, demand for Dye’s artistry skyrocketed, and he delivered masterpieces such as The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island; The Players Stadium Course at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida; Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic; and Whistling Straits. 

“It was Pete who inspired me to start designing courses more than 50 years ago, and so in many ways I owe my second career to him,” said Nicklaus in a series of tweets following Dye’s death, calling him “the most innovative course designer in my lifetime.” 

John Farrell has been on the Harbour Town staff since 1991, today serving as PGA director of golf. He spent countless hours with the Dyes discussing golf course matters, but his favorite memory is Pete and Alice’s dedication to each other. 

“I got to be in meetings with them and got to see how his mind worked, and his reverence for Alice,” Farrell said. “He would always defer to her, and she to him. It was a love affair, a beautiful relationship.” 

Out in the field, when pondering some aspect of a golf hole, Pete would invariably look at his wife and ask, “What do you think, Allie?” The result of one such query was No. 13 at Harbour Town: The small, heart-shaped green fronted by a horseshoe bunker with cypress plank bulkhead is entirely Alice’s handiwork. (She died in February 2019, a year after attending the opening of the must-visit Pete Dye Room in the Harbour Town clubhouse.) 

Pete Dye didn’t spend time poring over drawings on a design table. He was famous for getting down on his hands and knees, literally sketching holes in the dirt. His legacy lives on at Harbour Town Golf Links and in the minds of those who knew and loved him.