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The Essential Pete Dye

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island provides a PGA test from The Most Interesting Course Architect in the World

August 2012

I first met Pete Dye 30 years ago and met his wife, Alice, soon after. I've played golf with Pete on at least a dozen of his designs, and with Alice on several others. (Once, during the inaugural round at Bulle Rock, she allowed me, briefly, to set a course record. Then she holed out to break it by two.) I've attended an Indianapolis 500 with the Dyes, stayed in their various homes and dined with them (more than once) on TV trays.

I've also walked construction sites with Pete, in Lincoln, Neb.; Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.; Haven, Wis.; West Lafayette, Ind.; Port St. Lucie, Fla.; and, yes, The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C., site of the PGA Championship Aug. 9-12 and No. 1 on Golf Digest's list of America's Toughest Golf Courses. (Dye's designs have been booked for 29 major championships, starting with the 1984 U.S. Amateur through the 2020 Ryder Cup.) On one memorable trip, Pete showed me his new drainage system at Old Marsh in Florida during a thunderstorm, then we rushed over to Seminole to compare its system. We ended up clinging to the trunks of palm trees during the height of Tropical Storm Gordon.

Kiawah Island stats

Over the years, Alice has sent me many notes of encouragement, and Pete has gently needled me. His best jab was in 2005. In a panel discussion before a packed audience, I tried to sound profound, and Pete responded, "See, that just goes to show how little you really know about golf-course design."

He was right, of course. Pete Dye, 86, has brushed more course design off his dusty khakis than I'll ever experience. But I've devoted a lot of time over the past three decades to studying his courses, listening to him, and learning. And I took notes.


Dye hadn't begun construction on The Ocean Course when it was awarded the 1991 Ryder Cup Matches, but he was used to that sort of pressure. Few people remember that the 1991 Ryder Cup had been awarded to one of his other designs, PGA West in California. When that announcement was made in mid-1985, Pete hadn't finished building that course, either. The move was made to Kiawah Island in part to allow the Ryder Cup to be televised live to Europe.

Even that wasn't the first rush job for Dye. When he started building Harbour Town Golf Links in late 1968, he read in a morning paper that the PGA Tour would play a new event on his course the following November. "We had just started," he recalled. "It was a swamp. We didn't even grass the greens until eight weeks before the tournament. It was a miracle that that golf course was playable."


'We'd just started when here came Hurricane Hugo, knocking down all the trees, wiping away the dunes, filling in the marshes. It was completeannihilation. Afterward,the governor declared a moritorium on regulations so they could reclaim the coastline. That allowed us to rebuild the dunes, turn some salt-water marshes into freshwater ponds, add new marshes. We ended up improving the environment of that coastline. And we got a golf course out of it."

3rd hole
At 390 yards, the third is the shortest par 4, and it has the widest fairway.

"When the government people redid the shoreline 10 years ago, they let me move the 18th green [30 yards] closer to the ocean. Now they've given us room to slide the 18th tee over 20 yards, closer to the ocean. So it's a different hole than it was for the 1991 Ryder Cup."

"Is The Ocean Course a links? Well, a links in Scotland has a sand base next to the ocean with plenty of wind. We've got all that. But in Scotland, they have fescue grass, which is dry and tight, so the ball rolls forever. Can't grow fescue in South Carolina. We had Bermuda grass; now we have paspalum. The approaches to the greens are paspalum, and so are the greens. We've top-dressed both several times, so balls should roll onto the greens. That's all I'm going to say. You'll have to decide for yourself."

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