In March, when I was on holiday at Teeth of the Dog, I had the good fortune to run into Pete Dye, without question the most famous golf architect currently in the business (at least who never played on the PGA Tour). Dye, now 87, was busy — he was playing in a tournament at Teeth, where he designed three courses, working at TPC at Sawgrass and tweaking the Ocean Course for this week’s PGA Championship. I had the chance to talk to Pete for about a half hour. Though I’d interviewed him before, it was always by phone. This one was in person, sitting in the office of head professional Gilles Gagnon.
RT: I’ve spent a fair bit of time with both Rod Whitman and Bill Coore. They both worked for you…
Dye: Rod did some work for me in Austin and then in Crooked Stick. Rod is a talented guy. He’s a builder. He moves dirt. Bill Coore is a good friend, but he didn’t work for me for very long.
RT: With the golf business slowing, what’s keeping you busy?
Dye: It is the same schedule down here. We’ve got the Links (at Casa) partially redone. It was there for 30 years and it was time to do it again – tees, bunkers and irrigation. And I’m working on TPC and have rebuilt six greens there. And I’m working on the Ocean Course. I didn’t just tweak it. The PGA wants to do one thing and I’m against it. They want to make it playable and not have the bunkers the way they are. There is so much sand – like Pine Valley. I’ve redone a lot of work at Harbour Town. I have the 18th hole under control. The 5th green is going to be moved 60 feet to the left so you don’t have to listen to the guy flush his toilet. It has gotten so tight with the trees, which were tight to start with. I think we should move back a little bit. I still go there and rework things. I’m also working at Kohler in August and eight or nine holes in Delray. I’ve never had an employee and I’m behind in time and overbudget.
RT: How are you tweaking Kiawah?
Dye: There was a lot of land there that was never used – like the back tees. It’ll be longer this time. And we made the 12th hole, which was long, shorter. During the Ryder Cup the wind was from the north-west, but in August it should be out of the south-east. There’s been quite a bit done to it.
RT: I wrote a piece for T&L Golf some years ago about the trouble with the 18th green…
Dye: That’s all good now. The new dunes that have been created are building up – and we have 200 feet of beach now.
RT: How will the course differ from the 1991 Ryder Cup?
Dye: It will play differently because when they hit the ball off the first tee they have 71 holes and have to add it up. That’s different than the Ryder Cup where they play alternate shot and such and you can take a 10 on a hole.
RT: You have a legacy of developing new designers who started their careers working for you.
Dye: I really enjoy working with the kids – like Coore and Doak – and get them for a couple of years all fired up and then they end up getting married and go off on their own. There are a lot of guys who worked for me. My two boys. All those kids that worked for me – and there’s a bunch of them. Brian Curley. They’ve all gone back to making plans, but they know the construction business.
RT: Is it hard to keep from repeating yourself this far into your career?
Dye: I hope I don’t build two the same though I’m bound to.
RT: You’ve long been outspoken on the issue of how far the golf ball travels. I assume that hasn’t changed?
Dye: The USGA has slowed down play and completely lost control of all of the equipment. Aside from that they’ve done a good job. The economics of a golf course are a mess. You used to put an irrigation system in for $700,000 and now it is $2-million. You don’t need it – but that’s where it is going. And green mowers are crazy. When Hogan won Oakmont it was 6 or 7. And now you need a $50,000 mower. At Gulfstream where I play, Dick Wilson did it in 1958 and now at our speeds the ball just rolls off the green. If you have slope you have to have a bigger green. It just escalates.
RT: At 87, can you look back at the legacy you’ll leave in golf?
Dye: Right now I have more majors being played on golf courses than anyone – but I don’t know if that’s good, bad or indifferent. And I have to change. The Links here – I hope I have the greens right. But things change. The guys used to carry the ball 290. Now they carry it 310. Nicklaus used to carry it 265 – and he wasn’t the longest. Now they are picking up 50 yards on every hole. And if you’re going to have them play – they’ll shoot 60. And I don’t care – but the owner does.
RT: But what difference does the score really make if the course is interesting?
Dye: You’re 100% right. But from my point of view – it is a little different angle. Now you don’t get to see a guy hit a good drive and pull out a 4-iron. That used to be part of the game. Now it is not. And what I’ve been trying to do at the TPC – on the first hole they might have a 3-wood and 9-iron. But then on the long par fours I want to play as long par fours. And if you have four long ones – that’s enough. If you have a long par four you have to bunker it at 300 yards and then they lay up with a 3-wood and have 220 yards in. So that’s what I’m doing on the longer par fours – I’m bunkering it tighter than I would on the short holes. That way the course has more of a variety.
RT: Finally — your courses have a lot of Seth Raynor in them. Was he a big influence?
Dye: Raynor never played golf and he was a surveyor. And I’m a big admirer of his work – but it is all the same. Still, he had a good pattern. I played a lot of golf at Camargo when I was a kid and before I got married. I went back there when they had a change of administration. They had a big meeting and I had a few beers – which I don’t do anymore. And then some of these guys asked me what was wrong with Camargo. I said, ‘The only thing I can see wrong with Camargo Golf Club is the membership.” And they brought someone else in to change the bunkers. And years later they came back to me and asked me to put them back. Ray Charles could have put them in – but Doak got all the credit.