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The Lowcountry Legacy of Pete Dye

Next to Captain William Hilton himself, Charles Fraser might be the most important name in the history of Hilton Head Island. But Pete Dye might be alongside Fraser, the man who hired him to create Harbour Town Golf Links, on the Mount Rushmore of people who most influenced the Island’s place as a golf destination and the moniker “The Golf Island” that it has held for decades. Dye passed away in early January at the age of 94, less than a year after the love of his life, Alice, his wife of 68 years.

His legacy on the Island was born just over 50 years ago when a young Jack Nicklaus was asked by Fraser if he’d design what would become Harbour Town and Jack suggested a co-design with the up-and-coming Dye, a friend from their days playing amateur golf in Ohio.

“It was Pete who inspired me to start designing courses, and in so many ways, I owe my second career to him,” Jack tweeted after learning of Dye’s passing.

Harbour Town officially opened on the first day of the first Heritage Classic, Thanksgiving of 1969, and none other than Dan Jenkins, called it “the best new course that anyone has built in ages..and given us nothing short of a work of art” in his Sports Illustrated article on the course, and Arnold Palmer’s first win in 14 months.

What followed was magic. Though tight doglegs were his signature design, Dye’s own style was wide open and straight forward. In his own words, “Pete Dye made Harbour Town and Harbour Town made Pete Dye.”

Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella, maybe in more of an homage to Dye as to Harbour Town calls the layout a turning point in golf architecture, “one of the most important golf courses in America.”

“This is really where we start emerging into what is the modern era of architecture,” says Ginella. “It’s certainly one of the best of the modern era, this collaboration between two of the biggest names in golf course architecture.” 

Dye, of course, wasn’t done with his handiwork on the Lowcountry landscape. The folks developing the Long Cove Club, just up the street, wanted a Dye original. So did the folks building the Colleton River Club just across the bridges. Both courses have been nationally ranked since they debuted. Sea Pines even brought Pete back to do the re-design of the old Sea Marsh course, now known as Heron Point by Pete Dye, a remarkable architectural performance where the Dyes couldn’t change the routing, but moved tees, greens, and a whole lot of dirt to create an undulating masterpiece that’s very much different from Harbour Town just a mile away, and yet obviously has Pete’s fingerprints all over it. Contrasting, yet complimentary.

Pete and Alice followed Harbour Town with ‘major’ courses like the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass (the famous Island 17th coming from the imagination of Alice, who 15 years before designed the unique almost-island 13th green at Harbour Town with its bulkheaded bunker), the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island and Whistling Straits. But when it came time to build the definitive Pete Dye museum, Harbour Town got the honor. Within the unique memorial to Dye’s work are videos and interactive displays of the Dye’s design genius.

Yet the man who has the office across the hall from the Dye museum, longtime Sea Pines Director of Golf John Farrell, has a different take on what made the Dyes unique.

“They were a true love story,” Farrell could tell on occasions when he was with both of them. “You could see the mutual respect they had for one another, as people and professionals. They would yield to each other and wait for the other’s opinion. He would call her ‘Allie’ and was sensitive to her concerns about women playing the course. They loved each other, and the game.”

Give the Golden Bear the final words on Pete Dye, and by extension his impact on Lowcountry golf.

“I think Pete Dye was the most creative, imaginative and unconventional golf course designer I have ever been around,” Jack said this week. “Pete would try things that nobody else would ever think of doing and he was successful at it. If there was a problem to solve, you solved it Pete’s way. In the end, Pete’s way usually turned out to be the right way.” 

Scenic shot of golf course by the ocean.

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