Tom Bianca interviews Pete & Perry Dye a leading team for golf course architecture
Pete “I was born with the name of Paul Dye four days after Christmas in 1925. At an early age I was called P.D. and later P,T. and then I got to Pete and it has stuck till this day. I was raised by my mother and dad in a little town called Urbana Ohio. From day one, I’ve been drawn to the game of golf at an early age, my dad built a nine hole golf course on land that was owned by my mother’s family. As I grew older I wanted to play competitive golf and I was fairly successful. I won the 1958 Indiana State amateur, played in five U.S. Amateurs and finally finished higher than my friend Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer in the 1957 open. Although I didn’t become a professional I still loved being around white sand and the green grass, like my dad. Golf course design was my passion. I designed my first golf course outside of Indianapolis, they called it Eldorado. This is what I wanted to do. Yet I needed to learn more, so I decided to go to Scotland in 1963. It would change my life forever and hopefully forever have an impact on the game of golf”.
Jack Nicklaus "He's been a great influence to all of us who've done golf course design. Pete was a great friend 30 years ago or 40 years ago is still a great friend".
Ann Dye "He laughs and says he's retired, his idea of being retired is working seven days a week or maybe six and a half, but he loves his business, he loves creating golf courses. He's as busy now as he ever was and he has no intention of ever retiring. He's just going to keep going, building and doing it as much as he can for as long as he can".
We recently interviewed legendary golf architects Pete Dye and his son Perry.
Tom “Pete from the beginning of your career have you ever thought that you would be a legend in the golf business at your age”?
Pete “No I never did, I don’t know what’s going on, but here I am”.
Tom “I wanted to ask, you started designing golf courses because your father was involved in it right”?
Pete “Yes. My dad came back from World War One and he had to stop in Uniontown Pennsylvania on the way to Washington with my mother and their car broke down and there was a nice little nine hole golf course and he hit his first golf balls in 1923, so my mother’s family owned a lot of land around a town where I was born Urbana Ohio and they went out and found the hilliest part they can find and he built his first nine holes called Urbana Country Club and my youngest son built the second mine about 10 years ago, so there are now 18 holes there and they’re doing fine”.
Tom “So it’s still alive and going today”?
Pete “Still going great”.
Perry “One of our longer projects, 85 years in the making. I mean think about our work in the city of Urbana It was a long time ago with only 6000 people and it’s still going strong today”.
Tom “So you’re still tweaking the course”.
Perry “My brother P. B. lives there and if you look back in time and future, you always tweak because things change fast, the golfer, the technology and nature growing around the golf course, ask my dad about crooked stick”.
Pete “That’s right Perry, it always changes and we have to keep up with them. Of course, we have our son living in Urbana and P.B has been working on the country club ever since he picked it up and it’s really done well”.
Tom “You didn’t start in the golf course business you were actually insurance salesman right”?
Pete “Yes, but could not resist to try a new venture in the golf business. When I was a kid, I worked on that 9 hole course that my dad built and I worked on it until World War Two and then I went into the service in 1944. I didn’t go overseas, but I was with the 13th Airborne Division and parachute infantry and they were about to go overseas to invade Korea and Japan on the backside, but Harry Truman dropped that little present and that stopped the war”.
Tom “When you thought about going into the design business you actually wanted to get some consultation and you chose Bill Diddle”.
Pete “Yes I knew Mr. Diddle and he had built several golf courses around Indianapolis and all around the country and I went to him and talked to him about it and he said, well if he knew what I’d done lately you’ll starve and he was pretty much right”.
Tom “It is still going on today due to economic uncertainty, you really don’t know how many business opportunities your going to receive”.
Pete “Well it’s amazing how the business has slowed down tremendously in the United States, but I have 13 jobs going on right now that includes the design work and I am doing the construction and there are three or four more projects coming towards the end of the year and so I hope are not as hard”.
Tom “So are you still working today you’re not retired”?
Pete “No I go out every day, I’ll be 91 my next birthday, so I got to stop some day. I don’t know when but it will be someday”.
Tom “I notice that some of your projects were small when you first started and I don’t believe you got an opportunity to build a championship courses because nobody was hiring you, so you decided to get a little bit of help from your wife and designed the famous Crooked Stick where John Daly won the 19991 PGA Championship.”
Pete “I started Crooked Stick as one of my first real jobs and then I built Harbor Town and Sea Pines, Jack Nicklaus got me into that job and I’ve been a good friend of Jack’s since then. From Harbor County, it seemed I just kept growing. Most of my clients came in the golf resort business and they felt the design of the golf course should be around nature and since my most inspiration designs comes from around nature, the resorts helped build my carreer. I felt that the resorts should be around nature and enjoy the scenery. I think they’re better then a housing project you might say”.
Tom “Since you’ve been around the game such a long time, I wanted to ask, you’ve got a chance to golf with some famous people, who was your most famous celebrity you played with”?
Pete “Hogan comes to the top of the list, I’ve played quite a few rounds with Mr. Hogan at Seminole and I’ve played with Nicklaus. The last time I played in the United States Open Championship I beat Nicklaus and Palmer.”
Tom “It was like im 1958 when you did that and that was the beginning of Jack Nicklaus career”.
Pete “Yes, I knew Jack when he was 15 or 16 and he used to come over to Urbana Country Club, play nine holes over there and then eventually when he started college he went to school with a fellow named Ned Kirby and he’s from Urbana and he only lived two houses from me. Ned didn’t know how to play golf, so every time Jack came over to Urbana I ended up playing with him ay the Urbana Country Club.
Tom “So you competed in quite a few amateur championships, but were you good enough to get on the tour”?
Pete “No I never played the tour. I played as an amateur and I played several times in the 40s and early 50s, but I never played competitively. I just played as an amateur”.
Tom “What was your best golf round”?
Pete “Oh I don’t remember, 67 or 68 something like that”.
Tom “I remember when John Daly won at Crooked Stick in 1981, he was walking up the 18th hole waving at everybody, a young John Daly and among the first majors to play on your designs”.
Pete “I know John quite well too “.
Tom “1991 was a big year because not only did you have the PGA Championship going on at your designed courses, but you had the Ryder Cup as well”.
Pete “Right, and since you mentioned John he played in everything and John was a good player when he won the British Open as well, he’s had his ups and downs since then and has done a pretty good job”.
Tom “Now in the back of your mind did you ever dream that your designs would host some of the best PGA Tour players on tour and you made the best fall to their knees”.
Pete “Well I never would have thought my courses would be hosting the top players in the world. It amazes me how the younger golfers are playing. They changed dramatically in the last 10-12 years. Now we have players like Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson hitting their drives 330 plus them competing to being number one, but there are 10 or 12 people out there playing great golf and I am really going to enjoy seeing them taking on my courses, especially The PGA Championship at TPC Sawgrass”.
Tom “How would you think the big money changed the game of golf”?
Pete “Well it’s changed dramatically. I’ve talked to Mr. Finchem many times about trying to control the financial end of the PGA tour, but he hasn’t changed it. They play and win a million dollars. In that perspective it’s a change. It’s a complete turnover of players that are winning and you don’t have many players winning six or more tournaments in one year. Now Tiger has won his fair share but he’s gone down with back problems. This year Dustin Johnson is in there really good and a lot of rest of them, but there’s a group of 10 or 12 players out there that are unbelievable how they play”.
Tom “It takes so much to compete when you throw in a bunch of hazards, wind, fast greens and a bunch of other stuff where only one hole can put you out of the tournament, but when thay can hit it that far, they can get back into it”.
Pete “Yes, the main change is the ball, the club and the phisical comdition of these players today, they’re hitting the ball 300 -340 yards and Nicklaus only used to hit it 265 yards back in his hey day. So it changed dramatically the way they are playing golf and the USGA hadn’t decided to go back to 265 or to 270, but someday they will have to because they can just keep hitting 350 yards, they get older and do not have the abilities they used to”.
Tom “Tell me what was your considered to be your greatest design course, what stands out to you and the most challenging golf course you designed”.
Pete “I went down years ago to the Dominican Republic and there was no golf courses, except in the capital and the people I started to work for I found out that they own five hundred thousand acres of ground. They owned half the country and I went out there and I said you ought to build a course here. Well they said nobody would come out there to play golf. Well little did they know that after I designed the first golf course and it had success, they decided to build five more golf courses because business was so good., Today there’s 3500 to 4000 homes around the courses. The first golf course I’ve built, it’s called the teeth of the dog because the natives called the rock along the ocean teeth of the dog and then the other four golf courses are right next to it. There’s a lot of people from around the world that have built big homes, they come from Italy, South America and Europe and stay there to play golf. So the whole complex has grown and they not only have golf, but tennis and every sport known to man and people come in and they participate and it keeps growing every year. They had all this land in place for a long time, so when they first asked me to make out what land we might use for the golf courses, I just said something like seven thousand acres, so there’s still a lot of land still to develop and they got all the aspects to make it happen including a big river and a new airport. People fly in 13 or 14 wide body jets everyday from around the world. The area known as the Coast of Punta Cana has developed significantly in the last few years and in the last two or three months they have added some major hotels that now offer over 40,000 rooms, so Punta Cana is dramatically gone up”.
Tom “Tell me the influence that the owner has on your design, does he control the project or are you able to does he let you run it”?
Pete “Usually they let me handle the project, but the best one I mentioned in the Dominican Republic Punta Cana. The company was known as the Gulf and Western, who owned all the sugar down there, called me and they didn’t play golf, but was interested in designing one. When I went down there and I started I put the first one on the ocean, he thought I was crazy, but when it kept growing he just left everything to me. The owner of the property has gone to the great beyond now. The sugar mill he had grinds about 17 to 18000 tons of sugar in one day and they’re the one of the largest. They supply a lot of the Dominican and the United States, so they’re big and they also made the by product called Furfuryl and use that fuel, so when I begun the project, they were more interested in their business Furfuryl and sugar then the five golf courses, so I had a lot of control over that project. I’ve had control of the golf course for many years and will be putting in a new irrigation system. So they’re in good shape and now on the east coast Punta Cana not only the big airport, they built up a four lane highway to Punta Cana, so most people fly to La Romana and within 30-40 minutes they’re playing golf in Punta Cana”.
Tom “So tell me what keeps you inspired and motivated to keep on going”.
Pete “I don’t have any wild idea but right now it’s the work, some of it is on my own golf courses that I’ve built 30-40 years ago and some of them are new. Now I have one in Canada, I’ve never worked in Canada before, it is north of Toronto and has 36 holes. So it’s a whole different story now and everything changed and the old courses like Columbus country club has always been rated very high, I went back and rebuilt that again. So I haven’t been slowed down, so I’m going okay”.
Tom “So staying busy and looking at new projects. It’s weird how times have changed from the 70’s and 80’s to today. Did you ever think you’d be hearing words like tweeting, viral, selfies, things like that”?
Perry “We hope that this next generation would invent something besides the Internet and social media to occupy their time. But going back to golf, there’s no doubt that golf has changed and for the next generations. I mean, my son in law can book a tee time with one or two buttons and get three or four of his buddies on that tee within less than five minutes and when we would make a game back in our hey day it would take us two days. It needs to be a little bit more casual, needs to be a little bit more fun. You talk to all the architects and it kind of what my dad’s been doing is trying to make the tour to keep pace of what their strength factor is and you talk about players hitting shots 330 plus yards, the game for them has gotten longer, longer, longer and so meanwhile our aging populations that are good players, the one’s that support our country clubs like Glenmoor are the ones that keep their parking lots full. That generation is slowly maturing and they just don’t hit the ball as far. So just like my dad says, remodeling golf courses and making tees more acceptable and doing some things to make it a little bit more accommodating for the shorter hitters and I think we always have built a challenging golf course, I mean my dad was a good amateur player so Match Play was part of his thinking and so every hole became a piece of art, became a contest and you look at that look at our courses today I think you could say that’s the way we try to keep them. My brother came in for our 40th anniversary, he’s out there and slugging it out and is trying to promote courses for shorter tees and more people come up to me and say thank you for the forward. We’ve been a family of golf for a long, long time now and just went to the 50th anniversary of crooked stick. My dad kind of paced through the whole architecture business and I think this family is dedicated to good golf for all. Today in the real broad spectrum of tour players at 360 yards to some like my grandson who’s four and a half years old trying to tee it up and has a pretty good swing, he can bump that ball down there about 100 yards and try to get him excited about the game at that age. I try to remind all the fathers that if you move your children up to the forward tees and he hits a good shot towards the green and a couple more to get on the green and a couple more putts, it’s much better than dragging him to the back tees to play with you, where he hits six or seven shots before he gets to the green, by time he gets there he is exhausted and hates the game. It puts your tee time behind schedule and then he picks up the ball and he never learns how to chip and putt, move your kids forward and get them playing the shorter golf course and when they get to be like my son in laws who drive a 300 yards, move them back, there’s no harm in moving forward.”.
Tom “Pete I remember a quote I remember you said golf like punishment. What made you say that”.
Pete “They liked to be challenged”.