Legendary architect Pete Dye dies at 94 after battle with Alzheimer’s

  • Dye

    Pete Dye was one of the most influential figures in golf architecture

  • Dye

    Dye mentored a number of highly successful architects

  • Dye

    Dye and his wife Alice changed the course of golf architecture with their groundbreaking designs

Adam Lawrence
By Adam Lawrence

Pete Dye, arguably the most influential golf architect of the second half of the twentieth century, has died at the age of 94 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Born in Ohio in 1925, Dye came to golf design in his 30s after an early foray into the insurance industry. Along with his wife Alice (who predeceased him last year), his lifetime partner in both business and family matters, he built a number of courses in the midwest before a seminal trip to Scotland in 1963 changed his outlook on golf design, with subsequent courses incorporating features such as pot bunkers, railway sleeper-supported bunkers and gorse-like vegetation – but also focusing closely on the strategic element he found on the links.

Dye transformed the industry, not once but twice; first in the 1960s with designs like Harbour Town, which broke the mould of the large-scale championship courses favoured by Robert Trent Jones Sr and his followers, and later in the 1980s, when his TPC at Sawgrass in Florida ushered in a new era of specially built ‘stadium’ courses for professional events. He also proved the most successful ‘design mentor’ in the game’s history, with architects such as Bill Coore, Tom Doak, Brian Curley, Bobby Weed, Chris Lutzke and Tim Liddy learning their trade at his feet.

Bill Coore told GCA: “He and Alice had made such an amazing team in life and golf. Professionally, I would say that Pete Dye was one of the most influential golf architects in the history of the profession. Pete was the only golf architect that changed the course of golf architecture twice, first with Harbour Town, an old world design with characteristics totally opposite to the contemporary golf architecture then in vogue. Then, he and Alice redirected golf architecture again with the creation of TPC Sawgrass, a course that would dictate the direction and style of golf architecture around the world for the next two decades. Personally, I can say Pete Dye was one of the most influential people in my life. Golf, golf architecture and I will miss him.”

Read more: 'First lady of golf course architecture' Alice Dye passes away aged 91

Bobby Weed said: “I first met Pete in the 1970s at Amelia Island Plantation. That was the start of a 45-year relationship. We built Long Cove together in 1981, and I’ve been building golf courses ever since. I can hardly approve a feature without feeling Pete’s influence. Pete was always ahead of his time. How many golf designers could that be said about? As much of a legacy as his courses will be, the impact he had on those fortunate to work with him may be more enduring. The stories and memories are plentiful but seem insufficient. We all have someone who took hold of us and set us on our life’s path, maybe without our even knowing it. For me, that was Pete. Everything I hold dear in golf took root from my relationship with him. Not bad for someone that lived to be half of 188!”

“What I admired most about Pete is that he really didn't have much ego; he was just as happy working on a golf course in a housing development as he was on a big tournament site, as long as the client didn't restrict his creativity,” said Tom Doak. “He liked to tease people, and he treated everyone the same, from the lowliest guy on the crew to the billionaire client to Jack Nicklaus."

Read more: Pete Dye spoke exclusively to GCA in January 2008, as he was embarking on the design of Caesarea Golf Club in Israel

“I was fortunate to be tagging along with him the week of the first event at the TPC at Sawgrass in 1982, when every professional golfer wanted to take issue with his design of the course. He didn't do press conferences and try to cash in on the attention. He listened to the players' criticisms, but he also went out to watch them play, and see how the course worked. We would go to one hole after another, and wait for one of the players to get himself in a terrible predicament, and then watch him hit a spectacular recovery to save par, and Pete would say, “Well, that hole's playable,” and we would go on to the next one. When asked about the controversy, he said, “Golf is a controversial game, and I'm glad to be part of it.”

“Too many people nowadays try to measure greatness by how many top-ranked courses an architect produced in his career, but Pete did a lot of his work from flat desert or swamps, so top 100 lists are a poor measure of his ability. He could create a greater impact with a single, abrupt contour than most architects can by contouring a site from wall to wall. When he did have a great site, at Teeth of the Dog, he nailed it, and that was always his favourite course.

“I think his legacy is in teaching a whole generation of designers that the secret to success is to get out on site and be creative, and really work at making each project worthwhile.”

Tim Liddy, who worked very closely with Dye until the last years of his life, said: “His designs matched his personality: strong, bold, smart and creative. He was a mentor to so many, a true legacy of his genius and compassion. He was my mentor and his love of golf and golf design was infectious.”

Read more: Links at Perry Cabin: Pete Dye’s final act