Thursday, March 22, 2007

1960-1970 – The Emergence of Pete Dye

The 13th at The Golf Club

This was another great era for the growth of golf where Trent Jones built another 100 courses all over the world. There was a whole new breed of architects that began the next great wave of golf course architecture and almost all were designing the way Trent Jones did. The modern (Trent Jones) school of design was the style that dominated the era almost completely. This was the era of modernization and “progress” where history was ignored for a more modern approach to everything. Maintenance and practicality often took precedence over artistry and aesthetics. Even the architecture in the United Kingdom, walked away from its roots and embraced the new modern American style of golf course. If Tom Simpson were alive, I have often wondered if he would have called this the second dark age.
Only a short rise in front of the green

There was one very fascinating exception to everything that was going on. Pete Dye made a tour of golf courses in Scotland with his wife Alice Dye and came back determined to build course that resembled those great links course and not the courses of Trent Jones. He was the very antithesis of the Trent Jones era doing almost exactly the opposite. He built shorter courses when length was in vogue. He believed in sharp abrupt features like swales and pits and hollows rather than long graceful lines. He built small difficult greens full of wild contour instead of the massive greens of the era. He moved as little dirt as possible, while new course were entirely shaped and cleaned up.
Bunkers unlike any others I have ever seen

He also brought back unusual features like railroad sleepers and pot bunkers. He also wasn’t afraid to use subtle features like a grass slope or long rough as a feature rather than always relying on a bunker. Some of his holes were very tight while others were unusually wide open. He built holes that were nearly impossible, while others offered a breather to the player. If there was one word to describe his style it was variety. This was all a return to much older ideas and sharply away from the modern idea of fairness that was slowly creeping into golf. Dye ran directly against the current trend in golf course architecture, and eventually influenced an overwhelming change in opinion.

The work Dye did at this particular point is some of the most influential on my generation’s architecture. He took us back to our roots, told us that we did not need to move the land, to make the details more intimate, look more closely at the early strategies, forget about length and just design interesting holes, and don’t be afraid to add a sense of humour back into the game.

The massive irony to me is everything he did at this point is an important part of what I believe now – everything that would come later seems like a contradiction to his early ideals.
Footnote added at 6:00pm
1. I forgot to mention Nicklaus came over to see what Pete was doing and this lead to harbour Town
2. See Tim's comments about televised tournament golf - this was an excellent insight that I was not aware of.


Evan said...

I love these blogs! They are really informative on the changes in architecture and styles over the years. I've played a few Pete Dye courses and they've been really interesting. Two of his earliest courses are in North Carolina. The Cardinal in Greensboro, and Oak Hollow in High Point. If you want to talk about tiny greens and interesting ideas for holes, seek these courses out. The Cardinal uses grass pot bunkers. They let the bermuda grow to around 6 inches in small hollows around the greens instead of relying on sand bunkers. It looks great and adds a different playability to the course. Oak Hollow is public and one of the best deals anywhere. You can walk the course for about $25 (less in the winter) and it has some of the toughest (but fair) holes I've played. Both courses are quite short, but Dye made great use of the land to make shot selection more important than length. I've also played Oak Tree in Oklahoma, which is one of my favourite courses in North America, but it's a completely different style than his early NC courses. I love an architect that can lay out a great course without length and still make it fair and interesting. Kind of like Mike Strantz was doing.
Keep up the great work,

Tim said...

Least not forget that this is also the advent of televised golf. An interesting aspect of this (and a reasonwhy big greens came into vogue) was that members of clubs in the north were watching golf being played in the south during the winter. The bigger greens of the southern courses were a necessity because the Bermuda greens didn't grow much in the winter and southern courses needed expanded surfaces to be able to spread out the play in an attempt to have turf on which to putt come theend of the season. (this also held true for members who travelled to Flordia (the emergence of the airline vacation industry) and played on them. They wanted their home courses to reflect this media generated ideal. Now add to that the development of the tri-plex riding greens mower and you could maintain larger greens for less than walk mowing small greens.
Also, speaking of Pete, you should mention that he was a top insurance salesman prior to GC design and intuitively discerned that he should do contrarian design. Jones - big, Dye -small, Jones long, Dye - short, etc. That's why it didn't surprise anyone when Dye deciple, Tom Doak made a media name for himself by doing the same. Contention sells media. So...what's the most important thing Tom learned from Pete? Don't think it had anything to do with golf course design.