Q&A with PGA Course Designer Pete Dye
Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course hosts the PGA Championship this August. We talk to the man who built it
Pete Dye just might be the greatest living golf course designer. Along with his wife and business partner, Alice, the eighty-six-year-old has had his hand in the building of more than a hundred courses, including some of the most revered courses in the South. Among them: Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, South Carolina; the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida; and the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, site of this year’s PGA Championship. We caught up with Dye at his home in Delray Beach, Florida.
You now have close to forty courses in the South. How did you get started?
Well, Mr. Deane Beman [then the commissioner of the PGA Tour] asked me to build the TPC Sawgrass back in 1980. I moved there and built the darn thing. Then Jack Nicklaus told me there was a job in Hilton Head. So I moved there and built Harbour Town. Then it just started to roll.
Which of your Southern courses is your favorite?
I like them all. Harbour Town was the first time I really struck out on my own. One of the first courses I built was Radrick Farms in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I pretty much copied what Robert Trent Jones had been doing, with long tees and high bunkers and elevation changes. Then I got the Harbour Town job, and Mr. Jones was building Palmetto Dunes next door, and I realized I better do the dead opposite. That’s why there isn’t more than three feet of elevation change at Harbour Town.
Have you been working on anything else in the South?
Right now I’m working on nine holes at Gulf Stream Golf Club, next door to my house. I’ve also been working on the Ocean Course for a year and a half to get it ready for the PGA. I rebuilt six greens at the TPC Sawgrass last summer.
So you’re doing a lot of rebuilding, like Michelangelo retouching his paintings?
Well, you see, I’m getting so damn old that they’re falling apart. I keep going back and rebuilding them, trying to fix up my mistakes.
Speaking of the TPC Sawgrass, the island green at the seventeenth hole has become maybe the most famous hole in golf.
Sawgrass was something else. The area was literally a swamp. I took a lot of sand from the area around where seventeen is now for the other holes on the course. Pretty soon, I had a really big hole there, and I started to think I had to put some earth back, to make a par three. It was Alice who had the idea for the seventeenth. She told me, “Don’t worry about filling up the hole with sand and dirt, just make it an island green.” I told her that they’re going to put me in jail if I do it. But I did it anyway.
You finished the Ocean Course in 1991. It’s a quirky course, right?
It is. The land I used had an unusual wind pattern. The wind shifts. On the front nine the wind is entirely different from the wind on the back nine. I think that’s a good thing.
What should we watch for at the PGA Championship?
Definitely the wind. The changes in direction could give these guys fits. The par threes are set in different directions. So are the long par fours, especially the fourth and ninth holes. I’ll catch them somewhere.