Talking bunkers with course designer Pete Dye 

click to enlarge Pete Dye tools around in a cart at Gulf Stream Country Club in Delray Beach, where he recently resigned nine holes.
  • Pete Dye tools around in a cart at Gulf Stream Country Club in Delray Beach, where he recently resigned nine holes.

If you've ever played a round of golf in Indiana, chances are you've played one of Pete Dye's courses. One of the greatest golf course designers in the world makes his home in Carmel, and has built more courses in Indiana than anywhere else. We talked with Dye about his design philosophy and asked why his new course in French Lick is one of his favorites. Hint: It's all about the view.

NUVO: What's influenced your design approach?

Pete Dye: Alice [Dye's wife of 63 years] and I went to Scotland in 1963, and we saw so many different styles. A variety of big bunkers, little bunkers, no bunkers - or 100 bunkers. I noticed that most of the American courses had bunkers on the first hole that were very similar to the bunkers on all 18 holes. So I just thought about that, and I tried to build different ones throughout. I don't know if I did the strategy right, but they're still playing the [PGA] Tour in places like Harbour Town [in Hilton Head] and TPC in Jacksonville. I've had 28 majors played on my courses, and I've only built 80 golf courses in my lifetime.

NUVO: Do any holes or designs stand out from the courses you've built in Indiana?

Dye: I built the new course at French Lick. When you build a nice golf course, it's about strategy and the length, and all that it's great. But if you have one that has views of the ocean or views like they have at French Lick ... I mean, in some places you can see for 30 miles, and it's just terrific.

NUVO: What are your favorite Indiana courses to play?

Dye: I've played Crooked Stick a dozen times, and I really like Woodland Country Club.

NUVO: How have technological advances in golf balls and equipment changed the game?

Dye: If you want me to get into that subject, we can have an all-night conversation. (Laughs) Nicklaus used to carry the ball about 265 yards; now, they carry it about 305-310 yards. Nicklaus used to hit a 7-iron 160-170 yards; now, they're hitting it 190 yards. The game has given up 65 yards. I have a letter from Donald Ross, written in 1923, saying the the ball was going too far. I think the the ball going further has escalated the cost, and when you do that, there is going to be a problem.

The Pete Dye Course in French Lick is built around one of Indiana's highest points.
  • The Pete Dye Course in French Lick is built around one of Indiana's highest points.

NUVO: How good of a golfer are you?

Dye: I still play. The last U.S. Open I played in, I beat Nicklaus and Palmer. I haven't played 18 in a few months, but this winter I shot a 76.

NUVO: Do you ever take two off the first tee?

Dye: Sure, I do it all the time. (laughs)

NUVO: What's the hardest course you've ever played?

Dye: Probably, because of the weather conditions, The Ocean Course (at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina) is the hardest. It could be the easiest, too. The winds change dramatically there.

NUVO: Have you ever hit a hole-in-one?

Dye: Yes, I've had 5 or 6.

NUVO: Why is the "island green" Par 3 at your TPC Sawgrass course so special?

Dye: When Sawgrass was built, it was a swamp. When we were digging around the Par 3 17th, we found sand. I needed sand so badly for the rest of the fairways, so we kept digging and digging until finally all we had was a hole. I thought, "Where am I going to put this green?" Alice came down and said, "Why don't you take some of the dirt you have and build it up to water level, fill it full of water, and turn it into an island green?" I said, "You're crazy!" But I built it that way, and it's only 130 yards. Believe it or not, the club professional put 100 balls down and hit every one on the green. Now you have got to tell me why those pros come there, and with a little wind and rain and a green about 5,000 square feet, they miss that green. I don't know how they do it - but they do.

NUVO: Do you agree that you can learn everything you need to know about people by playing a round of golf with them?

Dye: I think that is a pretty true statement, yes.

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