The Dyes legacy -- Pete and Alice -- lives on

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2021 PGA Championship
Posted on
May 19, 2021
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Dye legacy lives on
Courtesy Kiawah Island Resort


Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

KIAWAH ISLAND, SC. This week's PGA Championship will focus ample attention in returning for the second time to the renowned Ocean Course. A clear corollary to that dimension is the man responsible for its creation -- architect Pete Dye. In January 2020, Dye passed away at the age of 94. That followed the death of his wife Alice in February 2019. The twosome was indeed a formidable pair. Alice's contributions, on a whole host of fronts, influenced the manner in which Pete implemented his vision for a given property and transformed it into a golf course of noteworthy distinction.

The Ocean Course was not even built when the PGA of America announced the 1991 matches would be contested there. The Dyes faced a time frame with a set deadline. The project was completed just prior to the start of play and the players from both teams faced a rigorous test -- one providing no quarter to anything less than a finely played shot.

Pete's entry into design started after being disgruntled with a short-lived career in selling insurance in Indiana. Alice agreed to walk in lockstep with her husband and became his lifelong business partner. Their first 18-hole effort came in 1962.



A visit to Scotland came in 1963 and during that visit Pete was greatly influenced by the classic elements found at a number of the courses there. Knowing full well he would be competing in a field against the leading course creator in Robert Trent Jones, Sr., Dye opted for a style completely opposite of that.

The major turning point came with his creation of Crooked Stick Golf Club in 1964 -- just north of Indianapolis. Located on a fairly flat piece of terrain, Dye included a series of bunkers supported by railroad ties and included a range of holes with varying playing angles to greens mandating precise approach play. Shortly thereafter a key moment came with the design of The Golf Club -- a very private course designed for its owner Fred Jones and located just north of Columbus, OH. An array of positive reviews provided the momentum for Dye and his stature was reaching critical mass.

In 1969 -- he made major strides with his effort in South Carolina at Hilton Head Island for a real estate development called Sea Pines. It was there that Dye brought to life Harbour Town Golf Links. The feedback was universally positive -- a golf course showcasing a far different style than what many others were creating. Tight tree-lined corridors to small greens and protected by an array of different style bunkers. The credibility of the course -- and designer -- were helped when the initial tournament was won by Arnold Palmer in 1969. Harbour Town still hosts the PGA Tour -- now called the RSB Heritage and is generally played the week following The Masters.

Dye's return to South Carolina in creating The Ocean Course was a clear risk. The time clock for completing the work was always ticking and the need to bring to life a layout of quality was always front and center. The Ocean Course transformed the Ryder Cup matches with team USA barely escaping with victory courtesy of a missed final green six-footer by German Bernhard Langer. Having network television provide 22 hours of coverage was a clear advertising bonus for the Dyes.


The story of The Ocean Course also includes the significant contributions by Alice -- an accomplished player in her own right and often called the "First Lady" in golf architecture. It was she who recommended to Pete that the greens at the course be elevated -- perched high enough to see the adjoining Atlantic Ocean. Over a period of time the nature of the course has been modified slightly -- providing a bit more playability but still presenting a stern and unrelenting challenge -- most notably when wind conditions are whipping around the property.

This week's PGA Championship marks the first major played at a Dye designed course since Pete's passing. Later in 2021 -- another Dye design -- Whistling Straits will serve as host to the bi-annual Ryder Cup Matches.


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Pete's vision on golf was ever straightforward and cutting. Among his famous quotes--

"Life is not fair -- so why should I make a course that is fair"​

"The ardent golfer would play Mount Everest if somebody put a flagstick on top"

"Every time you build a golf course, it's not a golf course when you get there. You have to improvise."

Dye's legacy extended to those working on his behalf -- learning the myriad of such crucial details and then branching out onto their own successful design careers. The list includes Bill Coore, Tom Doak, John Harbottle, Butch Laporte, Tim Liddy, Scott Poole, David Postlewaite, Lee Schmidt, Keith Sparkman, Jim Urbina, Bobby Weed, Rod Whitman and Abe Wilson. 

Much of the attention Dye has received comes from his outstanding effort at The Stadium Course at TPC / Sawgrass -- site of the annual Player's Championship. The most noted hole being the island green 17th hole which many do not realize was the brainchild of Alice.


As vexing as that hole has been over the years there is another penultimate hole with no less the demands and will be on full display for this week's PGA Championship. The 17th on The Ocean Course is played to a sliver of green angled from the teeing area that hugs a water penalty area as close as a kindergartner tugs at his mom's side on the first day of school. When wind is blowing strongly -- no matter the direction -- the intensity of the hole climbs dramatically and the pressures will undoubtedly be present with the Wannamaker Trophy on the line.

Neither Pete nor Alice will be physically present at The Ocean Course this week. However, it's absolutely certain they will be observing from a nearby distance. The passion each had for golf was imbued into the finished golf products that will stand as testaments to their respective brilliance. For the Dyes -- that life force lives on and The Ocean Course this week will be ground zero as the world watches this week's PGA Championship.


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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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