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The Prince Of Dirt

Continued (page 3 of 3)

And he did. He did it by raising his own game to that higher gear Coore alludes to. Part of it comes through redefining classical lines of play and part through use of nature itself -- via the wind -- though those two strands are one in Dye's arsenal. Given the site, he had a completely blank canvas to build on; he could devise features from lakes to spectator mounds to rolling greens to fairways that wriggled this way and that, any way he saw fit. (A few years later, when Dye was about to carve PGA West out of a Palm Springs pancake, co-owner Joe Walser thought, "This is the perfect site for Pete. If there were a hill or a stream, he might have to compromise.")

Back then, players weren't used to hitting long shots into prevailing breezes and short shots with them; the idea flew in the face of design wisdom. Dye liked that. "It makes them uncomfortable," he says. It put longer clubs in their hands on second shots. It also helped make a short course play longer, as do those angles of play. With the exception of the four par 3s -- "It's the first course I ever did where they all go in different directions" -- every hole has at least one slight turn in it and usually two, forcing players to work the ball on both drive and approach, and, because of where they turn, to think hard before pulling any triggers.

"When you build a golf course and the strategy is so simple," Dye says, "sometimes what you see gets you overthinking things." Take the seemingly straightforward opener. "There's plenty of fairway, and then they have nothing but an 8-iron shot. Left-to-right off the tee. Right-to-left into the green. Why in the hell do they miss that green? I just sit there and wonder."

pete dye

Clockwise from top left: Pete having a chat with Rory McIlroy during the 2012 BMW Championship at Crooked Stick; Dye with "Sixty" at home in Delray Beach, Fla.; Dye with Ocean Course superintendent Jeff Stone (blue shirt) and others discussing the shifting shoreline at Kiawah Island in 2005. Photos: Stan Badz/PGA TOUR; AP Photo/The Post and Courier, Mic Smith


But he knows. They miss because he's inserted the questions that led them to weigh macros, assess micros and then take something off the drive for safety -- to avoid missing left. Which leaves a much more difficult path to the green. "This is a real second-shot golf course," explains Beman. "If you decide to take something off the tee shot to position yourself to not get into the little turns of the holes, you're confronted with a much more difficult shot than you've avoided off the tee in the first place."

Dye-think in a nutshell.

Add to that the challenges around the greens, where players face delicate chips and pitches instead of a constant hack out of bunkers or tall grass, and something else becomes manifest: The Stadium Course's panoply of decisions cumulatively grinds players down. From Beman's perspective, "It makes for what may be the ultimate strategic golf course that the tour players play."

And we haven't gotten to the final three holes yet. "The moment they book a tee time," says Dye, smiling, "they start thinking about 17," which makes it pretty much perfect.

Still, despite his tinkering through the years, he wouldn't mind another go at it. "It needs to be stronger," he says. "The greens are OK. The bunkering is good. But you've got places where you can add length. Bring some of the par 4s back to 520, but in a way" -- a little turn here, a little turn there -- "that stops a Dustin Johnson from hitting 340 without thinking about it."

Length -- and the need to expand courses to accommodate the changes in the game -- has made Dye dyspeptic for decades. "The USGA just had this big fight over the putter. The problem isn't the putter," Dye says. "The problem is when Nicklaus was in his prime, he hit the ball 265 yards. Now they hit the ball 325 yards, and their 8-irons 180. When you're building a course, you have to account for that, and still make it fit for women and old men to play. And that can keep you up at night. Not many of the young guys have been able to figure this deal out. So a lot of them build too hard. Courses like that are no fun to play."

Nor are they easy to maintain to pristine Augusta standards -- favored resort courses of Dye's such as TPC Sawgrass and Kiawah and Whistling Straits and Teeth of the Dog are not easy to maintain, either -- which raises the price tag of the game. "When I first built a course, there was no maintenance," he says. "Now everyone expects a certain amount right down the line from the TPC to the muny. Everything escalated. It hurts the game. I'm as guilty as anyone. I've done a bad job on that."

For Dye, that is less a regret than a nod to reality. He is about the present. On the verge of his 10th decade, he still carries a 2-iron, still lives and breathes the game, and still has courses to build.

He leads me from the Florida room, through the kitchen, to his world headquarters. "Everybody has a big office," he says. "A bunch of people. Shows they're important. This is mine." It's the dining room. A portrait of Alice's father looks down from the wall reminding Pete, perhaps, that he's a builder, not an architect. The table is piled with projects, like Gulf Stream, in need of completion, and -- no surprise -- there's no drawing board. He produces a topographic map of White Oak Plantation, north of Jacksonville, that he's filled with scratches and notes, and some tracing paper, with more scratches: his version of 18 stakes in the ground. "It's as far as I've gotten," he says, but he's been out to walk the land, and will eventually figure it all out. "Then I'll take this" -- his scratchings -- "and clean it up, then get a guy to make a nice drawing."

The dirt, as ever, will be his.

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July 28, 2014

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