When developer Richard Cohen hired Pete Dye to redesign a golf course that would become the Links at Perry Cabin, he knew he would be getting a course from the man many people consider the greatest golf architect in the post-Second World War era. What Cohen did not know he would be getting is a piece of history.
In late 2016, Dye, who was in his early 90s, first showed signs of Alzheimer’s disease, according to his son PB who was also involved in the Perry Cabin project. Pete’s condition declined rapidly and by the middle of 2017 he no longer had the mental faculties to work at Perry Cabin. By that point, however, he left an indelible influence on the layout having designed and made revisions to 15 holes as well as having input on the other three.
In late February of this year, the Pete Dye room at the Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, South Carolinas, was dedicated. The architectural timeline that is part of the display lists Perry Cabin as Dye’s final work.
Originally Dye refused the offer to come to St. Michaels, Maryland, on the state’s eastern shore, and convert the mundane existing layout into one of his own, saying he was in essence retired, but Cohen was not stymied by the rebuff. The original layout was the Martingham Country Club. Roy Dye, Pete’s brother, with Pete having a modicum of influence, designed it. The original developer of the project failed and neither Dye was paid for their work. A second owner completed the layout without the input of the Dyes. It opened in 1971 and years later was renamed Harbortowne Resort Country Club. Roy died in 1994.
As part of Cohen’s enticement to Pete, he not only paid him for the Perry Cabin work but also paid what he was owed for the Martingham design.
For the Perry Cabin layout, ponds were dug on the course to increase strategy as well as to mine material used to add elevation, movement and mounding. Nothing of the former design remains. “The only thing left from the other course is the dirt,” says PB. “It was flatter than day-old beer.”
There was also a third Dye involved in the design of Perry Cabin: Alice, Pete’s wife and PB’s mother. “She wouldn’t ride around with Pete. She’d ride around with PB,” says Cohen. “She didn’t want Pete hearing her criticisms and observations.” At some point, though, the three Dyes would sit down and talk over their ideas.
The time Cohen spent with Pete has left memories it is obvious he cherishes. “In the beginning he was so much fun,” says Cohen, the excitement evident in his voice. “He’d yell at me to stop the cart and he’d take notes as he was running up and down hills.”
According to Cohen, when Pete was on site the routine was always the same. Pete would work by himself in the morning, directing all his attention towards the green complexes, then break for lunch. Pete and Alice would eschew the fine cuisine of the Inn at Perry Cabin for sandwiches in the maintenance building with the construction crew (Pete always had egg salad). Cohen would join Pete for another tour of the course after that. “He’d tolerate me in the afternoon,” says Cohen, laughing.
What Pete Dye, with assistance from PB and Alice, created is unmistakably a course that will sit comfortably alongside Pete’s best-known works such as the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass, Harbour Town and the Pete Dye Golf Club. The tried-and-true tenets that Dye saw in the designs of classic era architects such as Seth Raynor and the team of William Langford and Theodore Moreau that influenced his work are found from stem to stern at Perry Cabin.
There are multiple paths to play each hole. If a tee shot calls for a right-to-left ball flight you can be sure the next effort rewards a shot that turns left to right. It is the same with the par threes; the player who can move a golf ball in both directions will have the best chance of scoring well.
Throughout the 18 holes, successfully biting off or challenging hazards gives players a decided advantage over the more cautious golfer. The penalties for missing lines and targets, though, can be acute.
The greens are all Pete, but according to PB, the style deviates from his dad’s most recent work, which, as a result of higher green speeds, were flatter than his previous creations. For years, according to PB, on most of Pete’s putting surfaces the back edge sat a foot higher than the front edge. While that trait remained in the designs of the last few years, the tiers, hollows and humps that defined his early greens were left out, Pete saying they made for unfair situations on lightning-fast surfaces. “Dad got into flattening greens, but he went overboard,” says PB.
At Perry Cabin the movement has returned, in part because under Cohen’s guidance and understanding of his clientele, green speeds will not be ludicrous. It is after all a resort (there will also be a membership component). According to PB, he and his mom lobbied hard for the previous versions. “Mom and I worked on him,” PB says with a smile. According to PB, his dad went back to his formula of six flat, six medium and six lumpy greens.
Cohen says Pete took no input on that area of the design. “He went alone and talked to his guys. He really insisted on doing the greens himself,” recounts Cohen. ‘His guys’ were a group of equipment operators, including finish shapers, some who have been building Pete Dye golf courses for more than 30 years. It was PB who brought them on board. During construction Pete directly conveyed what he wanted to his trusted men. “I know it’s better for me to let him get with these guys,” said PB. “It’s his comfort zone.”
Much of the initial earthwork was performed by Cohen’s people, even though they had no experience in course construction. PB says his dad prefers working directly with clients and their firms rather than an outside contractor.
When Pete told Cohen that he should purchase additional land so the driving range could be converted to a new 18th hole, the owner obliged. The result – Pete Dye’s last original hole creation – is a testing par four that plays from 320-484 yards. It arcs left to right around a pond that separates it from the starting hole. Bunkers guard the left side of the hole, which ends at a three-tier green, the most entertaining and, invariably for some, the most maddening, on the layout.
Cohen did have two significant contributions to the design. First, he wanted mounding to block golfers’ views of the surrounding homes. Second, the green design at the par three seventh, a Biarritz, was Cohen’s request. An avowed Raynor fan, Cohen loves the ninth hole at the Course at Yale, Raynor’s best known Biarritz. While Pete Dye is also an admirer of Raynor’s work, he has never designed a Biarritz and seemingly did not approve of the Perry Cabin version. “Every time we’d come out on the green, he’d just shake his head and keep walking,” says PB with a smile, evidently proud of his creation no matter what his dad thinks.
For Cohen, the Perry Cabin Biarritz illustrates precisely what makes Dye a designer for all classes of players. The attributes found on the seventh are in abundance throughout Perry Cabin. From the back tees the hole plays 250 yards with a pond having to be flown to reach the green. As the tees get closer to the green they not only lessen the distance, but also require less of a water carry. The member tees play from 211 yards, almost the exact yardage as the Yale Biarritz. For golfers on the most forward tees, only the most egregious of misses will find the pond. The hole remains challenging though, no matter from where the tee ball is played.
The Perry Cabin complex, in addition to the course, includes a five-star inn, which has 80 rooms, the original building dating to 1816 (it was the site of the main wedding reception in the movie The Wedding Crashers). Cohen also purchased the hotel and cabins that were part of the original golf course facility, a two-mile drive from the inn. The entire property, now known as the Lodge at Perry Cabin, is being remodelled and is scheduled to open in 2019. It will accommodate 111 guests.
For those who tee it up on the Links of Perry Cabin, they might not know or care that it is a Pete Dye design, never mind that it is his final performance in a brilliant career that lasted more than a half of a century. What they will understand though, is that they experienced an easily walkable, exceedingly fun design that challenged and surprised them along the way. For his final act, would Pete Dye have created anything else? GCA
Anthony Pioppi is a Connecticut-based golf writer and historian, as well as the executive director of the Seth Raynor Society. His most recent book, The Finest Nines, North America’s Best-Nine Hole Golf Courses, was published in February 2018.
This article first appeared in the April 2018 issue of Golf Course Architecture.