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Not a lot of golf course architects become household names. Pete Dye was one of them. His death on Jan. 9 at the age of 94 following a prolonged bout with dementia leaves behind a powerful legacy that reshaped architecture, maintenance and how the game of golf is perceived. Few of his colleagues – historic and contemporary – have close to such a significant presence.
It’s arguable whether anyone achieved that popular status during the Golden Age of Architecture, the era between the two World Wars when golf was just gaining a foothold on the American sports landscape. Donald Ross designed the courses for eight of the 13 U.S. Opens held 1919-1931 but was hardly a well-known figure outside of the client base frequenting the Pinehurst Resort.
In post-World War II America, Robert Trent Jones Sr. achieved a measure of public recognition thanks to a combination of factors: his design vision as an advocate of power golf; the growth of the game as a recreational pursuit of middle-class America; and his considerable marketing skills as a self-promoter.
Pete Dye managed to achieve the status of a golf icon whose name and style became familiar to golfers and non-golfers alike. Televised golf had something to do with it. Who could forget the image of that wacky island green at the TPC Sawgrass-Players Stadium Course when it debuted on national TV in 1982? Tournament winner Jerry Pate tossing Dye and PGA commissioner Deane Beman into the pond alongside the 18th green did a lot to convey the impression that here was someone who could take a joke. From then on, the references to Dye’s architectural style flowed through the pages of golf magazines as if common currency. He was Dye-abolical, the Marquis de Sod and master of railroad ties.
As Dye liked to say, there wasn’t much he did that hadn’t already been done in Scotland. OK, he had the ability to move more dirt than had ever been the case on any linksland course. But once the dust settled, the forms that resulted at a PGA West or Whistling Straits could find their counterpart at a Prestwick, North Berwick or Turnberry. And from the time he played in the British Amateur at St. Andrews during his first Scotland study trip in 1963, he learned the value of ground contour as a way of thwarting aerial power golf.
The odd bounce, the severe deflection – it was all part of a natural game that he would emulate. The difference is that Dye had to create it. And in an era when the likes of Robert Trent Jones, Dick Wilson and Joe Lee were forced to rely upon big earth-moving equipment and small construction budgets, Dye managed to convince owners to open up the purse strings and diversify the equipment arsenal. Knuckle buckets, skid steers, back hoes, hand shovels – these were the tools of architectural intrigue.
That’s what he taught a whole generation (or two) of aspiring designers who cut their teeth on his projects. The list of names is a virtual Who’s Who of the Second Golden Age: Bill Coore, Brian Curley, Tom Doak, Ron Farris, John Harbottle, Tim Liddy, Chris Lutzke, Jason McCoy, Scott Poole, Dave Postlethwait, Lee Schmidt, Jim Urbina, Bobby Weed, Rod Whitman. Player architects also learned from him – Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman.
And of course his own family got into the act. His wife, Alice, who died in 2019, was the savior of the business as well as an accomplished designer in her own right, and their sons Perry Dye and P.B. Dye were exuberant about proving their own prowess at outdoing their father in the scale of forms they built. A niece, Cynthia Dye McGarey, has proven herself a formidable design presence internationally, perhaps because her father, Roy Dye, Pete’s older brother, had a knack for design that he deployed (sparingly) across the American southwest.
Dye’s capacity to inspire those he worked with extended to everyday laborers and equipment operators. He was never one to design on paper and mail in the plans. Everything was done in the field, often scarped out first and communicated to novice workers who had never built or even seen a golf course before. Dye preferred it that way; he could teach them his method rather than have to undo what they had done elsewhere for another designer.
Along the way he never forgot his roots in rural Midwest America. He was adamant at times about letting the site convey the special character of the course he was building. It might be orienting a par-3 hole directly toward a distant farm silo, as he did on Meadow Valleys at Blackwolf Run. Or incorporating the iconography of the Indianapolis Speedway – the infield, the stands on the third turn, an adjoining railroad line or an old barn – into the design of Brickyard Crossing. At the Pete Dye Golf Club on an abandoned coal field in West Virginia, letting the mine shaft serve as a cart path and an old, exposed 200-yard coal seam loom over the fairway of a par-5. At Whistling Straits along Lake Michigan in Wisconsin he hung all of the par-3s over the edge of the shoreline and used the vast water hazard as an infinity-edge backdrop.
Pete Dye changed the American golf landscape. Small wonder word of his transformation became part of everyday conversation.
Bradley S. Klein, Ph.D. (political science) is a former PGA Tour caddie, a veteran golf journalist, a noted author (“Discovering Donald Ross” among others), a golf course consultant and the Golf Therapy columnist for Golf Course Industry.
Inset photographs by Holger Obenaus of The Ford Plantation (top) and courtesy of Bradley S. Klein.
It’s fair to say that Armen Suny is one of the most influential figures in the turf industry. That statement is borne out by the fact that following his remarks at the recent New Jersey Turf Expo, a line of turf professionals waited to speak with him.
As a recruiter for Kopplin, Kueber, & Wallace, the industry’s leading search firm, he assists some of the most prestigious golf facilities in America with the task of finding qualified superintendents (and other management personnel).
A former superintendent, with stops at Merion Golf Club, Cherry Hills Country Club and Castle Pines Golf Club, Suny has a good idea of what clubs are looking for when they’re searching for a superintendent. He says the requirements of the job have changed in recent years.
“I think there’s a greater focus on detail work and business acumen,” he says. “You want to understand that the superintendent, while they are out in the field as much as possible, they are business people. And they’re able to compartmentalize those things and address both of them at the appropriate times.”
Suny’s remarks to his audience at the Turf Expo were straightforward. Many of his insights would be applicable to someone looking to advance their career in any field.
Listed below are some of his thoughts. In some cases, his comments have been edited for length and clarity.
On preparing a resume
“Make sure your resume is a .pdf, and use big fonts. Most of those people who are sitting on those committees wear reading glasses. If you make it easier for them to read your document, they’re probably going to read it.
“And the other thing to remember is, what do you think the most common name of a resume is? If 60 of them say resume, are you going to go to them first?
“Again, think about your target audience, and what’s going to make it better for them. What’s easier for them, what’s going to keep them engaged? How about SMITH, JOHN; COVER LETTER?”
On presenting your work history
“When you put your club’s name in there, I might not know what city you’re in. Put the city it’s in. And put a hyperlink to the club’s website so that we can see it. We’re living in an (electronic) world. If you don’t put it in there, that means they have to take an extra step to find out more about it.
“I disagree with so-called resume experts that tell you not to list your early work experience. I like to know that you had to mow creek banks. I want to know you got stung by yellow jackets. When we understand that you’ve got those experiences, it shows that you’re going to have a better understanding of the job, that you’ll have empathy for your team.”
On accounting for a gap in your educational or employment history.
“Don’t hide it. They’re going to see it. Don’t lie about it. Be candid about it if you’re asked about it, these kinds of things happen to people. They’re learning opportunities.
“I would say that we get very qualified people for all kinds of positions that lie about their education. They are people that would not be disqualified from a search if they did not complete their degree, but they are disqualified for lying about it. It’s a character flaw. Be straight up with those things.”
On having an online portfolio
“They should be password protected and only given to those you’re considering employment with. Your club shouldn’t be able to go online and find you looking for a new job in that fashion.”
On returning phone calls and e-mails
“If somebody gets back to you, it’s incumbent upon you to get back to them in a reasonable period of time; same day, or following morning if it was an afternoon call. That again says something about you.”
If you land an interview
“Ask in advance to be able to walk the golf course. I had a candidate who walked the golf course in the snow. (The search committee) was pretty impressed with that, the level of commitment.”
During the interview
“The most important thing to you is golf course conditioning. Team development. Talk about these things. This is what’s going to get somebody’s attention, it gets my attention.
“I find it funny that almost every superintendent, when they describe their work experience at their latest club, starts with their renovation experience. Because that’s what we all like to do, right? That’s the fun stuff.
“What do members think about renovation? ‘I can’t play the golf course and it costs me a lot of money.’ Are you sure you want to start with that? If the club is coming up on a renovation, you certainly want it as maybe your third bullet point, or your third thing you’re going to talk about, but why don’t you lead with your focus of providing great golfing conditions every day? When somebody on that search committee shows up on a Friday with three of their business associates or friends, all they really want to know is, Is that golf course going to be great? Why don’t you start with that?”
Ask for the job
“Three-quarters of our candidates never ask for the job. You go through all this effort, you get the interview, you’re sitting in front of all these people, yet you never ask for the job. Not only ask for the job but tell them why you’re the right candidate. Is there a better way to close out an interview then asking for the job?”
Saying thank you
“I’ve had some candidates write out thank-you notes while they’re in the parking lot after the interview and leave them at the desk for the committee. That might be a bit much, but it’s something to think about. Certainly, an e-mail after your interview goes a long way.”
It’s no secret that fewer students are choosing the turf industry as a career. Suny foresees a time in the not-too-distant future when that trend will have a significant impact.
“I think we’re a year or two out at this point,” he says. “It was before my time, but I remember there were guys coming out of college right into superintendent’s jobs. Not a good thing. And there were old superintendents.
“And I think we’re going to see that again. We’re going to have old superintendents and young superintendents. I don’t think they’ll be coming right out of college, but I do think we’ll see a lot of young superintendents pretty soon.”
Rick Woelfel is a Philadelphia-based writer and frequent Golf Course Industry contributor.