Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Current Architects that would make the List - Part 1 - Pete Dye

There are at least three architects currently practicing that I would chose to make my list. The first and most obvious is Pete Dye - who while not retired - is at the very end of his long and illustrious career. I’m not going to place any of the architects but with Pete I’ll give an indication of where I see him.

To me Pete’s career is defined by two periods, the Early Years and the Modern Years. The Early Years featured courses that were largely built to the lay of the land and were heavily influenced by the links courses and architecture of the British Isles. Dye’s work was as much a reflection to his experiences at the famous links, as it were a reaction against the architecture that was being built at the time. Pete’s use of sod walls, railroad ties and other unique elements all made early appearance long before becoming trademarks to his work, but more often it was the inclusion of subtle landforms and small contours that were the real key to his greatest early holes. While he paid homage to the style of golf that he loved from overseas, he also displayed his own unique sense of humour with how the techniques were applied. Many of these ideas would become the basis of his style throughout his career - others would come and go depending on what inspired him on each project. What I admire most of his early work is the restraint that he showed and the clever use of the native ground to effect strategy. What sets him apart from most other great architects was his key role in changing the direction of architecture at that time. His work in the early years became the very foundation of the Minimalist Movement that would emerge at the end of the century – ironically long after he himself abandoned the very notions that it is founded upon.

The Golf Club

The Later Years began with his involvement in the TPC at Sawgrass and culminated in Whistling Straights. Pete took many of his early ideas about design that at this point had been tested against great players. He used this knowledge against the players by adding his latest ideas (particularly things they didn’t like or understand) to a tournament course. He employed all his skills as a builder to overcome what was largely a nothing site and eventually crafted a complex thought provoking and strategic layout to test the best the players had to offer. The TPC was brash and bold, full of difficulty through the dramatic use of water, wild green contours, nutmeg grinders (quickly removed), severe bunkering, intentional blindness, and a good dose of intimidation. He not only caught the player’s attention (and outrage), but captivated the public to the point that Pete Dye was quickly the most recognized golf architect in the game.

The TPC was a high point in his career and a flashpoint for a dramatic change in his style. He was offered a quick succession of projects, with each owner looking for the next TPC at Sawgrass – or even something more outrageous if it could be had. Pete became well sought out and well compensated with his pick of projects and great budgets. I think he also became a bit of a victim of his own success. Each owner wanted to outdo the last and each project became bigger and bolder to the point that Pete was reshaping everything and taking more and more architectural risks. There are a lot of great holes and some really good courses but also a few true clunkers along the way. Pete’s courses were always solid due to the underlying strategy that is built largely on carry angles and options to attack – but outwardly many of these courses look over-shaped and overdone. The culmination is Whistling Straights - such a great course on so many levels and yet so overdone at the same time.

Pete Dye was the greatest architect of a generation and is easily in the top 10 for his innovation, vision, strategic genius and influence on the future. He is without a doubt the father of the Minimalist Movement and that’s worth a few points alone too.


henrye said...

Ian, I certainly agree that Pete Dye is one of the greatest and most influential golf architects in history, but suggesting he is "the father of the Minimalist Movement" sounds crazy to me.

bogeyboy said...

The best things about Pete are 1)he could sell ice to an eskimo and 2) he had a knack of producing a great deal of "visual clutter" to confuse the player. In this, he didn't do what many designers do and simply produce a roadmap on how to play the hole. Pete is good at producing a very visually tempting shortcut but one that is pretty much unreachable. He does this by altering the scale of the features, making things appear closer than they really are. Also, a triple break on one of his greens is common, only hard to perceive (unlike his apprentice Doak who's wildly undualting greens can be read by a blind man - too bad greens aren't cut at a 1/4 inch anymore - they might be puttable - like his idol, Mackenzie's were). The one failing of Pete's work is his bunkering is about as bland as it gets.