Alice Dye's impact on modern golf architecture

By Bob Denney
Published on
Alice Dye's impact on modern golf architecture

Alice Dye’s introduction to the game of golf was a study in dogged determination.

Born Alice Holliday O’Neal in Indianapolis, she joined group lessons at age 11 at Woodstock Golf Club under the guidance of PGA Professional Wally Nelson. She would play alone on weekday mornings when the course was almost deserted.

If she hit a wayward shot, she would drop her bag, chase after the ball, return and hit it again. Under her rules, her best nine-hole score was a 45. Those early morning experiences led to her ability to focus on every shot.

Alice was a pre-med student and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Zoology from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, where she lettered in golf and basketball. That training served her well once she married Pete Dye in 1950. While he would turn modern golf architecture on its ear, Alice became a key contributor to Dye design.

“I drew amoebas in class and they eventually became designs for golf greens,” she said.

Alice also was a tiger when it came to competition. She won 50 amateur championships, including 12 state amateur titles; led a victorious 1970 Curtis Cup Team and served as captain of the 1992 World Cup Team. She also captured two U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur and two Canadian Senior Women Championships, and pocketed a gold medal in Senior Olympic Golf.

In 1983, Dye “broke the glass ceiling” by becoming the first woman member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. “That was a struggle to become the first woman of their organization,” said Dye, who went on to serve as ASGCA president from 1997-98. 

In 1999, she was named the first woman member of the PGA of America Board of Directors.

 “It was a wonderful experience,” said Dye. I was comfortable because (then PGA CEO) Jim Awtrey was such a nice person. When he asked me to serve, I didn’t think about being the first woman, but of course, I was.

“I felt at the time that it didn’t occur to the PGA about how many women players they had. The PGA and Jim Awtrey were very farsighted and had a lot of courage to invite me to come on that board.”

Alice said that she was focused on a personal mission. “I worked very hard on trying to get the Two-Tee system for women,” she said. “I was successful getting the yardage down between 5,000 and 5,200 yards. I was not successful in getting women to use two tees. To every club I visited, there was some woman who was better than the others and was worried that if the tees were changed she wouldn’t win all the prizes.”

Alice said she would be pleased if women golfers were encouraged to play from the set of tees suited for a player’s respective abilities, and that is not all playing from the same set of tees. They will enjoy it more and will play faster.”    

Perhaps the drive Alice Dye demonstrated in her golf career stemmed from parents that believed in giving a daughter every opportunity possible to succeed. Though Alice was nearly four months old, her mother, Lucy, didn’t want her to miss a historic moment.

On June 17, 1927, Lucy O’Neal held her daughter high as Charles Lindbergh flew his single-engine plane, the “Spirit of St. Louis,” over Indianapolis. Lindbergh, who made his famous transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in May of that year, had reassembled the plane for ensuing U.S. flights to promote aviation.

Lucy O’Neal also gave her daughter a set of wooden-shafted clubs. One week, Alice stayed home with friends while her family went fishing in Canada. Alice spotted a set of six new clubs in the local golf shop.

“I had asked for a pony prior to my golf career,” said Alice. “Well, my father did get me a pony, but it was that set of clubs I was interested in. It was a driver, fairway wood, three irons and a putter. I wrote my father a letter and explained why I needed each of those clubs on the course.

“I got a Western Union telegram back, “Buy them!  They don’t eat all winter like a horse does.”

Alice, now 91, and Pete, 92, have two sons, Perry, and P.B. (Paul Burke), who are also avid course architects. The family boasts more than 170 courses under the Dye Design brand in the United States and more than 70 in 24 countries worldwide.

Dye Courses have hosted golf’s greatest events, including the Ryder Cup, PGA Championship, KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, the U.S. Senior and U.S. Women’s Opens, U.S. Amateur and NCAA Championship.

When pressed about a favorite venue, Alice said that Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Indiana, first comes to mind. “That was the dream course, the first where Pete took the lead in getting it built,” she said. “And, we lived there and we were together. Our children were with us. I have one photo of P.B., about age nine, running equipment on the green.”

Some of the greatest names in golf and golf architecture were once on the Dye Team, or spent time learning from Pete.

“Pete is most proud of the young men who started with us in the business,” said Alice. Among that list are Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Tom Doak, Bill Coore, Bobby Weed, Jason McCoy, Lee Smith, Tim Liddy and Rod Whitman.

Alice, the 2004 PGA First Lady of Golf, has often been called “the Patron Saint of the Forward Tee.”

Several years back, she was invited to a club in Naples, Florida. The watered fairways had soaked the course. Alice said she walked around with a group of eight, and pointed out where the staff could optimize play by placing a forward tee.

Later in the day she met a woman in the locker room, who was ready to vent. “We’re not going to play your forward tees,” the woman declared. “We’re nine-holers, and if we play those tees we’ll finish too soon!”

For 20 years, Alice wrote articles, made speeches and her campaign for two forward women tees didn’t evoke change. “I can tell you that I didn’t succeed,” she said. “It is not easy to build holes that are difficult for the good player and playable for the high-handicapper. Pete does it with angles and the pros hate it because with the angle he gives them, they don’t have much fairway to hit. The average person would hit straight down.

“If you look at our courses and look where the higher handicap men and women players are playing, the course is not that hard. Most of our bunkers are on the right or left of the green. We don’t block our pins.”

Alice has worked hard to bring more women to the game.

She is a board member of the Women’s Western Golf Association, and recently wrote a letter of regret about not being able to travel to help run a tournament. A tournament official sent back a reply, “Don’t feel any regret. You have done more for women’s golf than all of us together.”

Reflecting on a life journey through golf, Alice’s career is a canvas painted with special moments. What stands out for her, she said, may surprise you. It is not necessarily the glitter of major championships or ribbon-cutting at new courses.

“I have too many really good, happy memories of playing with friends,” said Alice. “That’s the biggest thing that you get out of the game - the friendships you make along the way in amateur golf.”