A legend at 90: How Pete Dye and the Lowcountry shaped one another

By Jeff Shain
Published on
A legend at 90: How Pete Dye and the Lowcountry shaped one another

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Pete Dye, then newly selected for the World Golf Hall of Fame, found himself in need of a little inspiration on a visit to Long Cove Club a few years ago.
Each Hall of Fame member had a small "locker" to display mementos that best illustrated his or her career in the game. Dye mentioned to Bob Patton, Long Cove's longtime head golf professional, that he wasn't sure what to put on display.
"Pete, that's easy," Patton told him. "Take a pair of your boots, make sure they're good and muddy and stick them in there."
Indeed, mud-caked boots are the prominent item in Dye's locker today, flanked by a pocket watch and a copy of his autobiography. "Yeah, that's him," Patton said with a laugh.
Only Dye knows just where the mud came from. But it certainly would be fitting if a little Beaufort County soil somehow made its way into his locker.
The acclaimed golf course builder – he hates the term "designer" – will turn 90 on Tuesday with a low-key celebration at his South Florida home. It's a day that is expected to prompt a few toasts as well some 480 miles north, where Dye and southern Beaufort County helped shape each other's profiles.
From the iconic Harbour Town course to the south to Hampton Hall to the north, six Pete Dye golf course creations lie within a 25-mile drive of each other from Hilton Head Island to Bluffton. Three are among Golf Digest's top 15 courses in South Carolina, perhaps to be joined by a fourth.
With the exception of Sea Pines founder Charles Fraser and perhaps celebrated golf writer Charles Price, Dye's influence may have had the greatest impact on establishing the area as a golf destination.
"Would this area probably have gotten that notoriety? No, I don't think so," said Cary Corbitt, Sea Pines' vice president of sports and operations. "I think Pete helped launch Sea Pines, Hilton Head Island and golf in the Lowcountry, without a doubt."
Matt Ginella, Golf Channel's travel authority, agrees.
"If you take out those Pete Dye golf courses," Ginella said, "what becomes of that area? I don't know, but it would be a shell of what it is now. I can guarantee you that."
As for Dye himself, the Lowcountry has offered a prime combination of choice soil and exceptional people paying the bills.
"I've always liked the area," Dye said when reached at his home last week. "I've always enjoyed going back to build another golf course. They're all different."
Will Dye be inducted into Lowcountry Golf Hall of Fame?
Harbour Town is the venue for the PGA Tour's annual visit, a strategic test with the Sea Pines Resort lighthouse forming the finishing backdrop. It's No.13 on Golfweek's list of top resort courses and a mainstay in the yearly survey of tour players' favorite stops.
That alone might be toastworthy, but it doesn't stop there. Long Cove and Colleton River's Dye course are ranked among the nation's top 100 residential courses, and Colleton River was the site of last summer's U.S. Junior Amateur. Heron Point, Dye's second creation at Sea Pines, was recently named South Carolina's 2015 "Golf Course of the Year."
"You're talking about a high-caliber, no-clunker portfolio of Pete Dye designs," Ginella said.
Toss in Hampton Hall and Dye's redesign of Robber's Row at Port Royal Golf Club, and it accounts for one-tenth of all golf courses in Beaufort County.
Perhaps the only more prominent cluster by one architect would be found in the North Carolina sandhills, where the Donald Ross collection features four Pinehurst layouts, along with nearby Pine Needles and Mid Pines.
"There's probably some parallels there," said Bobby Weed, a Dye protege who helped build Long Cove and whose own portfolio includes four TPC courses, along with the highly rated Olde Farm GC in Virginia and Spanish Oaks GC in Texas.
"You ask yourself what would the fabric of golf-course architecture be today without Pete Dye. And in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, I don't know where it would have gone if not for Pete Dye's influence in that region."
It's a question that will be taken up in coming weeks as Lowcountry Golf Hall of Fame selects its 2016 enshrinement class. Though Dye is one of just five architects in the World Golf Hall of Fame, he was a notable omission as the Lowcountry Hall focused on local roots for its inaugural class.
"I can only say let's see where the numbers fall," said Bob Collar, the Lowcountry Hall's executive director. "Is he deserving? Yes. I think everybody on the committee would say that. But there are others that are deserving as well.
"I think Pete Dye will be in our Hall of Fame. I just can't tell you when."
Patton, a selection committee member, noted Dye has "done so much for us. Golf is obviously such a driving factor for Hilton Head – for tourism (or) as a retirement area. People look for quality golf and a quality golf experience, and Pete's been the most important golf course designer of the last 30 years."
Dye's master work stretches from California (PGA West) to the heartland (Crooked Stick, Whistling Straits) and down to the Dominican Republic (Teeth of the Dog). But it is the Lowcountry – really, the entire stretch of coastline from northern Florida into the Carolinas – that seems to have brought out some of his best.
Harbour Town and TPC Sawgrass offer two of the game's most instantly recognizable landscapes – Harbour Town's lighthouse, the island 17th at Sawgrass. Kiawah Island's Ocean Course was site of the memorable 1991 Ryder Cup and the 2012 PGA Championship.
A little farther up the coast, Dye's twin designs at Barefoot Resort earn high marks. So does Amelia Island Plantation in Florida and Ford Plantation outside Savannah.
"It's hard not to fall in love with the Lowcountry," Weed said. "A lot of it is just its inherent beauty. The water, the marsh, the ocean. The soil conditions. It's pretty special."
Dye's career beginnings on Hilton Head Island
Harbour Town, of course, served as the genesis. Though Dye was starting to draw notice via his creations at Crooked Stick and The Golf Club in Ohio, he was still a relative unknown when he got Jack Nicklaus' vote as a co-designer.
"Pete would be the first to say that Harbour Town primarily launched his career," Corbitt said.
Dye's small greens, pot bunkers and tight fairways ran counter to design trends of the day, perplexing entrants at the first Heritage Classic. Arnold Palmer won, though, providing an added stamp of authenticity to this new course on a remote island.
"It's a fascinating pinpoint in the timeline of architecture," said Ginella, who recently labeled Harbour Town one of the most important creations in modern design. "Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Harbour Town, won by Arnold Palmer. It's like the atoms collided at Harbour Town."
Asked if he had any sense that Harbour Town would be so groundbreaking, Dye said: "I had no idea."
"It just turned out that way," he continued. "The first year, Arnie won it. And every year after that, it seems they had a major winner. So it worked out fine."
So did Long Cove, built by a crew that included Weed and a young Tom Doak, later to become famed for Oregon's Pacific Dunes, Colorado's Ballyneal and Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania. Later came Colleton River in Bluffton, which Dye calls the best Lowcountry land he's had a chance to shape.
"They've had success," he said, "and I've gone back to all of them over the years. All those courses worked out really good."
So has Dye, whose gait may have slowed in recent years but not his passion. Six new Dye creations opened in 2015; five more are still in the building stages. Though none of those are in Beaufort County, he plans a visit in January or February to check up on the half-dozen he has.
"He's been blessed with a wonderful career," said Weed, who spent 17 years working for Dye before branching out on his own.
"He doesn't stop. He didn't get into the business for the money; he got into the business because he's passionate. He wanted to handcraft golf courses. That's a formula that's never grown old."
It keeps him fresh, you might say, as the mud on his boots.
This article was written by Jeff Shain from The Island Packet Online and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.