Pete Dye:~Insights into one of Golf’s Great Design Legends

When Pete Dye made first contact with Dave Harner, the now director of golf at French Lick he asked, “Do you have ticks down there?”

Dave replied, “Yeah, they will get on you, but you will know it.”

Dye responded, “No not me, my dog.”

His dog Sixty was in Kentucky the week before and brought him back with ticks. Dye’s wife of 62 years, Alice, was upset – the last thing Pete Dye wants (again) in life. After walking French Lick with me, Pete personally washed down Sixty and closely inspected him to insure Alice would be happy.

The name of Pete’s dog is comes from the original purchase. When Alice asked they should name the dog, Pete proposed “Sixty” because it cost him $60 (a lot of money at the time): the advertised $20 for the dog, with an additional $20 for the collar and $20 for the leash to take him home with. This “Sixty” is really the fourth “Sixty.” 

Here are some other insights I learned from Dye in our walk around French Lick:

What would Mary Smith think of this hole? This is a common refrain of Pete’s as he muses and works as a course designer. It references his wife, who has a weekly game with her friends at Crooked Stick who don’t break 100. Perhaps one was named Mary Smith? A bulldozer was working to remove the bunker in the middle of the sixth fairway three hours after Alice first played the hole. I don’t think he had to ask her what she or Mary Smith thought!

A key design principle of Pete Dye: make it play severe for a good player and playable for a high handicapper. Good players get to the back of the green so the most difficulty lies there. The hood on the bunker right of No. 2 green protects the back of the green but allows an easier unobstructed shot to front and middle hole locations. The back of the 11th green is extremely narrow making it difficult to hit and recover when missed.

Pete played with Ben Hogan about 20 times mostly at Seminole in Florida. The first time was spur of the moment, and Pete did not have his clubs with him so he grabbed a set of new Hogan Dyne clubs from the pro shop, went in the backroom and scratched them up a bit. Hogan was impressed that Dye had been playing his clubs for so long. Pete says there is no question Hogan’s club-manufacturing business distracted him from his competitive golf game.

The Everest of golf. Pete Dye once said, “The ardent golfer would play Mount Everest if somebody would put a flagstick on top… golf is not a fair game so why build a fair golf course?”

Maybe Pete has mellowed a bit with age, however, as are two changes to the Dye Course benefit us average golfers. The right side of the fairway at the uphill par-5 15th was recently raised 10 feet so players can now see the top of the flagstick. The other changes will be at the sixth, including widening of the fairway and raising the left fairway bunkers to make the hole more playable for the average golfer, no matter where he or she drives the ball.

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