*Ron Whitten catches up with Pete Dye. **The living legend has been busy falling off cliffs, breaking 80, building bunkers and fixing famous greens:
Hadn't decided, I told her. Then she put her husband, Pete, on the phone, since he'd struggled with a bad back for years. We eventually got around to talking about that, but first, he had to tell me about the 77 he'd just shot at Gulfstream Golf Club, a few blocks from his home in Delray Beach, Florida. He's now 86 (or as he puts it, Half a 172, and 15 days), so he was a full nine strokes under his age.
Pete then brought me up to date with his current work. He'd just finished reworking six greens at TPC Sawgrass, home of the Players Championship.
Problem was, on the six greens edged by wooden bulkheads and water hazards, neither the carts spreading the sand or the carts dragging the sand out would get too close to the bulkhead edging, and over time, the transition from putting surface to bulkhead went from level to a slope. Sometimes a sharp slope, even a two-and-a-half inch drop from grass to wood on one green, Pete said. So balls would drop down the ledge, roll off the bulkhead and into the water.
Pete had portions of the six bulkheaded greens stripped of sod, then he scraped away some layers of sand and replaced the sod. The sand buildup on some parts of those greens was two inches, he said.
The profile of some areas of those greens went from 12 inches of sand to 14 inches of sand in five years, Pete said, adding, Anyone who tells you that topdressing has never changed the profile of Pinehurst's greens is crazy. We changed them at TPC in just five years!
The TPC Sawgrass greens made more docile are the 4th, 11th, 13th, 16th, infamous island green 17th (pictured) and 18th.
Pete also told me he spent the late fall of 2011 reworking some holes at the Straits Course at Whistling Straits, which will host its third PGA Championship in 2015. From what he described, I've concluded that Pete has become infatuated with infinity greens (although he says he's not seen Castle Stuart in Scotland, where the fad originates.) He blew out hillsides behind the fourth, eighth and 13th greens to remove all backdrops but Lake Michigan. He also dropped the elevation of the tee boxes behind the 15th green so that, from portions of its fairway, it too looks like it's floating right above the water.
Pete said he's also added some chipping areas and bunkers. Mindful that, after I counted all the Straits bunkers in 2009 and came up with 967, owner Herb Kohler let me know that he wanted over 1,000 bunkers, I asked Pete if he added bunkers in response to Mr. Kohler's desire. No, Pete said, I didn't add bunkers because of Herb. We just needed some in some areas.
Pete also told me about the new Pete Dye Golf Trail that the state of Indiana has instituted with his knowledge but without his involvement. It's a marketing campaign involving seven Dye designs: Mystic Hills in Culver, the Kampen Course at Purdue, Plum Creek, The Fort, Maple Creek and Brickyard Crossing, all in Indianapolis, and the Pete Dye Course at French Lick. (Details are at petedyegolftrail.com).
They've got a $35 green fee course up north at Culver and a $350 one down south at French Lick. Which probably makes no sense, Pete laughed.
Well, it covers every demographic, I said.
Finally, we got to talking about my back problem. He said he hopes my treatment solves it. Just don't do what I did, he said.
What was that? I asked.
Five years ago, when he was working on some holes at Dye Fore in the Dominican Republic--the course that sits high atop a bluff overlooking the Chavon River--Pete says he stood on the elevated championship tee of the 10th hole, trying to figure how he could lengthen it, stepped backwards and straight off the back edge, tumbling down a steep briarpatch-filled cliff some 70 meters deep (that's about 230 feet!), until a bush snagged him. The maintenance crew had to climb down and carry him back up. Pete said he was scratched and bruised but suffered no broken bones.
Pete said he didn't tell Alice about it for weeks. But it sure cured his back problems. It's been better ever since.
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