Pete Dye ’50

Golf’s “Dye-abolical” Genius

By Warren Miller ’90MBA

Pete Dye at World Golf Hall of Fame

Last August, the PGA Championship, one of golf’s major tournaments, was played for the second time in six years at Whistling Straits in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Sportscasters covering the event frequently mentioned the name of the man who designed the golf course, Pete Dye ’50, consistently portraying him as a fiendish genius who loves to play tricks with the minds of the world’s best golfers.

That’s partly true.

The golf course architect is no doubt a genius. Anyone in the golf world knows that a Dye golf course (always designed closely with Dye’s wife, Alice O’Neal Dye ’48 ’02H, a former amateur golf champion) does, indeed, challenge the golfer’s thinking. Some shots appear easier than they are, others more difficult, and many holes demand risk-reward decisions as to what shot to attempt.

But frustrating golfers has never been Dye’s intention. A self-proclaimed “dirt-digger,” Dye learned the craft of golf course design at a young age, building courses with his father in his native Ohio. Working with basic tools, he developed a deep love of dirt and the grasses with which golf courses are planted. He began his career during a time when constructing a course that could be maintained economically and still hold up to play was as important as design. “What I’m proud of at Whistling Straits is that as difficult as the course is, it gets more than 20,000 rounds a year, much from repeat customers,” Dye said. “Not only does the course hold up to the volume, but golfers who hack around it for a high score still want to come back!”

In the more than 70 years since he built his first nine-hole course in Ohio with his dad, Dye has designed more than 120 golf courses. He has been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement and received the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s Old Tom Morris Award (2003).

Dye’s courses regularly host major championships and international competition. Among the most famous are the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in South Carolina, which hosted the 1991 Ryder Cup matches, and the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, home of The Players championship.

Now, Whistling Straits has contributed a word to the golf vocabulary: “Dye-abolical”—the name given by the resort’s owner, Herb Kohler, to the course’s 18th hole, whose fairway splits and requires a decision by the golfer as to which side to attempt. Television announcers have used the term to describe the entire course, which was built by Dye on bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan, allowing him to fully channel his love of the classic golf courses of Scotland and Ireland. As Dye wrote in his autobiography, “I realize that Whistling Straits can’t host the Irish Open, but maybe it can be a venue for a major championship or the Ryder Cup matches”—a dream he watched become a reality in August.

Dye’s goal in designing his courses is not frustration, but a permanent legacy. Perhaps his most satisfying golf design, he said, has been his work over decades at the Casa del Campo resort in the Dominican Republic. His Teeth of the Dog course, one of five courses he’s built there, is generally considered the top golf course in the Caribbean. “We just finished the last of 90 holes of golf,” Dye said. “More than 50,000 people have jobs. That’s very rewarding for a dirt-digger like me.”