Dyes Golf Course Design Philosophies, by Pete Dye
architectural philosophy has evolved as the game, the players,
the equipment and course maintenance accelerated.
the early 1960s when Alice and I decided to try to build golf
courses, the game was played by walking golfers with wooden headed
clubs, steel shafts and a moderately lively ball on inch high
blue grass fairways. The rough was un-watered and full of dandelions,
buckhorn and clover. Development of the graphite shaft and metal
woods made a difference, but it was fairway irrigation, the lower
cutting greens mower with the groomer, and then the Stimpmeter
that changed how the game was played. One quarter inch bent grass
replaced the higher cut blue grass and fairways had to be watered.
The game was played more in the air instead of on the ground
where players had enjoyed the extra distance the ball rolled.
we began to build our first important course, the one at the
University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, we favored the style of
Robert Trent Jones, the leading architect of the time. We copied
his technique of building long tees and large bunkers alongside
big sloping greens at the universitys Radrick Farms course.
trip to Scotland in 1963 gave us powerful visions of golf course
design. We wanted to incorporate every feature we had seen including
railroad ties, pot bunkers, fairway swales, rock walls, steep
bunkers, and blind holes with the ringing of a bell to let players
know the green was clear.
Stick, our first course after returning from Scotland, was the
original course to manifest many of these images. We had no idea,
even a hope, that it might become popular for national amateur
tournaments or even a major Championship. We certainly never
thought of gallery or corporate tent considerations back then
but a requirement today when we build a course with professional
Crooked Stick construction began, Alice and I walked the land.
It was mostly cornfields divided by a small woods We thought
about where holes would fit best, what the visual impact would
be, and how shots to the green would be played, something we
still do today. In a sign of things to come, we never had official
plans of any sort but instead laid out the routing on our dining
room table with small slips of paper five inches long for the
par 5s, four inches long for the par 4s and 2 inches
long for the par 3s. We made sure the holes ran in good
sequence and the par 5s and 3s all in opposite directions.
Indianapolis area courses were enjoyable but we wanted a course
to really test the best players who would become members. We
both had played in national tournaments and seen famous courses
so we had a background of ideas to add to the Scottish images.
The back nine at Crooked Stick was started first. I had returned
to check on Radrick Farms and had a chance to visit the Alistair
Mackenzie course by the football stadium. I was deeply impressed
with Mackenzies work and copied his style of large rolling
greens on several holes at Crooked Sticks back nine including
a copy of his horseshoe green encompassing a bunker on #15.
the back nine, we began the first nine holes. Donald Rosss
Pinehurst concepts crept into my mind especially his features
of left to right driving holes with the green entrance right
to left. We also began to copy his manner of smaller, swale-type
greens. We were trying to build a great course by copying the
styles of the best forerunners but we were gradually gaining
confidence to express some of our own ideas and experiences from
our visit to Scotland.
at Harbour Town Golf Links, with Jack Nicklauss approval,
we developed entirely new concepts. We designed multiple tees
and small target greens. Fairways were actually wide but visibly
narrow. We used railroad ties to bulkhead greens, planks to bank
bunkers, tall waving strands of pampas grass for accent and the
controversial pot bunker. We now had a Pete Dye style, one with
fresh and unique ideas and concepts.
the years, we continued our design concept of the deceptively
wide fairway for the drive off the tee as we wanted the expert
player to enjoy attempting a long hit. The driver probably causes
more trouble for the better players than any other club and I
want them to have it in their hands discouraging the hybrid club
layup. For the averages player, we believe the landing area begins
in front of the tee. A cross bunker, stream, ravine or other
hazard that would only be a nuisance to the skilled player could
be a nightmare for others. We want the general players to get
off to a good start as their drive into trouble usually causes
a continuing disastrous hole.
position of fairway bunkers continues to be very difficult as
we do not want to penalize the shorter tee players. Therefore
we kept fairway bunkers only on one side and shallow enough for
recovery but deep enough to present a challenge. We do believe
in creating some severe greenside bunkers requiring strong lofted
shots but there is always a level walking exit place. Alice will
not allow bathtub bunkers.
experience, we know that better players often hit their approach
shots over the back left side of a green so we usually give them
a difficult bunker shot from that position. Except on par 3s,
we no longer completely bunker the front of the green allowing
an entrance of some kind. I prefer the sand in the bottom of
the bunker to be level with a small grass ledge along part of
the bank so the player does not have to tread through the sand.
I like the backs of the bunkers scruffy and un-watered giving
a color definition since watering tends to turn everything green
taking away the sharp outline and any natural look.
philosophy when building greens is that they all have depth.
We may offset some greens but usually the entrance is straight
on. We began using a great deal of contour but with green speeds
so quick these days, we keep the rolls at 1 ½ inch to
every 10 feet. I wish I could contour more but the new speeds
wont allow for it. We do try to keep the greens at ground
level so that the back ground is natural and the player may view
the surface. At the Kohler courses and French Lick I eliminated
any background behind the green so the green appears to go off
into the lake or into space.
has always been an issue. I thought about how sump pumps worked
in my basement and I decided they might work on a golf course.
Beginning at Old Marsh in 1987, we located sump pumps in six
by eight foot cement enclosures eight feet below ground where,
when filled by a heavy downpour; they diverted the water back
into irrigation lakes. They proved so successful that I continue
to use sump pumps as this helps the drainage and directs water
back into the irrigation pond.
water hazards and their placement, we always think of them as
the toughest penalties imposed upon golfers. Water does provide
an aesthetic addition to any course. For instance, forgive me
Pebble Beach, but the 18th isnt the greatest hole ever
built but it becomes one with the rolling waves of the Pacific
positioning of a water hazard may prove to be mental as it acts
as a magnet to the mind. The Caribbean Sea at Casa de Campos
Teeth of the Dog, the pond at Kiawahs 17th, and Alices
infamous 17th island green at The Players Stadium Course play
with the competitors psyche the entire back nine.
try to build each tee the appropriate distance for the hole in
terms of its challenge level. The forward tee will have the easiest
angle and as the tees progressively lengthen the hole, each is
set at an increasing level of difficulty by varying the angle
and eye line so that the tee shot actually has less fairway space
for the back tee player. We deliberately position the rear tees
far behind and sometimes even in hidden areas hoping that only
the best players may find them.
the golf ball being hit further than ever before, it is a constant
challenge to all golf course architects. For tournaments, we
have had to add additional yardage and bunkers to our existing
courses. We now build some ridiculously long holes on the new
certainly consider the type of golfer that may play our proposed
course. Will it be for a private membership, a resort, a public
fee, men only, or a housing development? If the owner envisions
even the slightest possibility that amateurs or professionals
will compete in national tournaments, then we factor in the need
to create sufficient gallery positions and areas where corporate
tents may appear.
I first walk the land for a new course, I wind my way along as
my feet feel the elevation changes. I check for natural streams,
lakes, specimen trees, wind directions, valleys and any other
prominent features. I imagine the holes and sometimes sketch
on a small piece of paper what will become my guide more than
any set of plans that are finally completed if they ever are.
at my dining room table, I now use a topographical map to work
the holes into sequence. Balance is most important. The course
must flow from one hole to another with directions and difficulties
spread equally. The views are considered as I want the player
to see the beauty or danger of each hole. I try to present two
difficult holes followed by a breather for catch up. I like to
conclude the round with two or three of the most challenging
holes as the player is now ready for them.
construction costs and permits are obtained with my routing sketch,
construction begins and Alice joins me on the site. We have no
permanent hole or green design plans in an office file so each
new hole we build is unique. No hole is a copy because I believe
I can improve every hole I have ever built. We use all of our
past experience and maturity on each new course and try to imagine
new ideas. I feel like I am trying to fit a square peg into a
round hole to conceive ideas that are fresh and unique. Sometimes
it may seem that I am ahead of my time, but soon others are copying
my design features.
all of our courses, we want to eliminate forced carries except
on par 3s where we know what tee the player is starting
from and can manage the carry. On par 5s, we like to tempt
the player to try to reach the green which we like to keep in
view from the tee. On membership courses, we mold the fairway
so it kicks the ball in toward the green. We keep the greens
with enough depth to hold a long shot and have at least a partial
entrance so players need not layup when they cannot make the
any potential course site, we want to use our experience as both
a player and a spectator to mold it into something special. Alice
and I are always a team. I like envisioning new ideas such as
wagon train cart paths, volcano bunkers, double lipped bunkers,
rock boulder walls and greens floating into space while Alice
insists on playability for the higher handicappers and women.
effect, we create four, five or even six golf courses in one
since we build one for play by professionals, one for low handicap
men amateurs, one for medium and one for high handicap men and
either two or three for women. This covers all the ages and skill
levels, something we never had to worry about when we began many
decades ago. With so many choices, some golf courses are now
permitting composite rounds where golfers play one
set of tees on the par threes and par fives and then move up
a notch to a more forward tee on the longer par fours. This is
the wave of the future and I keep this in mind every time I plan
a new course or remodel an existing one.
the years what I created at such courses as The Players Stadium
Course, PGA West or the Ocean Course at Kiawah was met with heavy
criticism since the professionals were just not ready for the
new design concepts. Later, after they realized they could handle
the challenge, they embraced the unique features and appreciated
a course that would insure a win by the best player. These criticisms
were understandable since I had negative reactions to St. Andrews
the first few times I played it, but once I understood what the
Old Course offered, I fell in love with it.
main goal is to create an enjoyable golf experience. We want
players to remember the holes, to take joy in the views and hit
that one perfect shot that brings them back. We love golf and
enjoy the personal challenge and the friendships the game brings.
Alice and I do have an idealistic wish list. We hope
that one day in the future there will be carts with no wheels
to leave tracks on the course, no need for bulldozers to upgrade
existing courses when the real solution is getting the ball fixed
which is easier, cheaper and wiser, a ball that does not go as
far for the power hitter but goes farther for the shorter hitter,
smaller lighter golf bags that walk along with you, a grass that
needs no water, chemicals or mowing, rainy days replaced by rainy
nights, and more fun inexpensive family golf.
at the end of the day, golf is a great game and I often stroll
one of my courses in the evening with my dog Sixty and just feel
the holes, what they offer and what I could do to improve them
and what might be possible with my next project. It is easy to
build a difficult hole by including a bunch of hazards, trees,
lakes, bunkers and mounds but it is hard to make it manageable
and fun for general play.
the end of the round golfers may call Pete Dye a few unmentionable
names, but that doesnt keep me from thinking of new ways
to try to challenge and thrill golfers on every hole.
- Pete Dye