Pete Dye’s Fi­nal Chap­ter


Golf Digest Middle East - - Contents - BY RON WHITTEN

Time robs a ge­nius of his mem­ory, but his wife and their scrap­books open a win­dow to his soul. BY RON WHITTEN


Alice Dye says to me as I close my note­book and reach over to shut off my voice recorder. I won’t,” I say, not be­liev­ing I can keep the prom­ise even as I say it. How can this not end on a sad note? This en­tire sit­u­a­tion is sad, even tragic. Iconic golf-course de­signer Pete Dye, au­thor of TPC Saw­grass, Crooked Stick, the Ocean Course at Ki­awah, Whistling Straits and many oth­ers, a gen­uine ge­nius at his craft, mem­ber of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Alice’s hus­band of 68 years, the love of her life, sits in a rocker some 10 feet from us, seem­ingly obliv­i­ous to our pres­ence. He looks healthy, maybe a bit puffy in the face, re­mark­ably good for nearly 93 years old. But time has robbed him of his verve. He’s now al­most child­like, his at­ten­tion not on us, but on a re­run of “Gun­smoke” on tele­vi­sion. In the good old days, 30 years ago or three, I couldn’t have had a con­ver­sa­tion with Alice with­out Pete jump­ing in. Like­wise, if I’d ask Pete a ques­tion, Alice would in­vari­ably cut him off with the an­swer. The two of them used to con­stantly talk to me at the same time, much as my par­ents used to do. Dur­ing rounds of golf with Pete and Alice, they’d not only talk at the same time, they’d swing at the same time. The only three-hour rounds I ever played were with them.

This day in Au­gust, we’re sit­ting in the Dye home on Polo Drive in Gulf Stream, Fla., their pri­mary res­i­dence since 1971. Alice, 91, is in a wheel­chair, tem­po­rar­ily, with her left leg out­stretched, a drainage tube lead­ing from her kneecap, the re­sult of com­pli­ca­tions af­ter knee-re­place­ment surgery. She’s on the mend but frus­trated at the slow pace of her re­cov­ery and how it in­hibits her car­ing for Pete. There are three oth­ers in the house to watch over both, but still, that’s her hus­band who needs her help.

An or­derly walks Pete from the kitchen to the den, eases him into the rocker, then turns on the tele­vi­sion. The or­derly tells Alice that he has fed Pete lunch, strictly soft food now, af­ter a chok­ing in­ci­dent a week ago that re­sulted in an emer­gency-room visit. In a loud voice, Alice an­nounces my pres­ence to Pete, but he just stares at the TV.

Pete’s mind is in a state of ir­re­versible de­cline. Call it what you will: de­men­tia, Alzheimer’s, old-timer’s dis­ease, a to­tal eclipse of the brain. What­ever it is, it is cruel, rob­bing him of his mem­o­ries. It’s also strip­ping away his per­son­al­ity. To me, Pete was al­ways a com­bi­na­tion of Will Rogers, Walt Dis­ney and Rod Ser­ling. Now he’s barely Pete. It is heart­break­ing.

I ask Alice if Pete is aware of who we are, or, more im­por­tant, who he is any­more.

“I don’t know what he knows,” she says. “It’s very strange. He doesn’t com­mu­ni­cate back much. But I think he un­der­stands more about what’s go­ing on than we think.”

I guess I’d seen it com­ing but didn’t recog­nise it for what it was at first, or maybe I was in a state of de­nial. Dur­ing a round of golf in 2015 with Pete and Alice at Gulf Stream Golf Club, just down the street from their house, Pete had asked me a ques­tion, then five min­utes later asked me the same ques­tion again. And he kept call­ing me by the wrong name. I dis­missed that as the usual for­get­ful­ness that comes with old age.

Last year, when Alice was pre­sented the Don­ald Ross Award by the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Golf Course Ar­chi­tects, Pete stood off to the side. When I walked up to him, he shook my hand and said, “How ya doin’? How ya doin’?” But I no­ticed he said the same thing to every­body else, too. He doesn’t re­mem­ber

any­body’s name, I thought. Now I’m not so sure he recog­nised any of us.

This day, Alice urges me to slide my chair over and speak to Pete. “He’d be up­set if you didn’t,” she says.

I scoot over and gen­tly touch him on his right shoul­der. He turns his head and looks at me blankly for a mo­ment, then starts to smile.

“Pete,” I say. “How ya doin’? It’s Ron Whitten. Golf Di­gest.”

His smile is now a grin, and he mouths some­thing over and over, chew­ing on a word. To me it sounds like “right” or “write” or “writer.”

“I’m a writer,” I con­firm. “I’m writ­ing an ar­ti­cle on you.”

Pete chuck­les re­peat­edly, and I’m sud­denly over­come with emo­tion. Be­cause I think he recog­nises me? Be­cause he can barely talk? Be­cause I’m pow­er­less to help him? Prob­a­bly all that, but in hind­sight, I think I felt over­whelmed mainly be­cause it was the same chuckle I’d heard from Pete so many times be­fore. His chuckle seemed to in­di­cate to me that he’s con­tent, OK with his fate, not fear­ful. Would that I could be as brave.

“I just wanted to see you and tell you how much I love you,” I say. He re­sponds with more chuck­les as he mouths an­other word, one that doesn’t fully ma­te­ri­alise. “You’ve given me so many fine hours of your time over the years, I wanted to thank you. You’ve given me great stuff to write about,” I tell him. I ram­ble a bit more, my voice chok­ing. “I’m so pleased to see you again.”

Pete con­tin­ues to look at me, then his eyes turn left and he’s star­ing at the tele­vi­sion. I squeeze his hand, and he looks back.

“Take care, my friend,” I say, and I hear him re­spond, “Yeah.” I re­peat my­self as I take off my glasses and wipe tears from my eyes. “Take care,” I say again, and I hear a faint, “I will.” Or did I?

Lis­ten­ing to the ex­change later on my voice recorder, a faint record­ing be­cause it was po­si­tioned sev­eral feet away, next to Alice—I hadn’t had the pres­ence of mind to carry it over to Pete when I spoke to him—I rewind and play the por­tion over and over. I can def­i­nitely hear Pete say, “Yeah.” But the other re­sponse, “I will,” wasn’t from him at all. It was spo­ken by some­one on the tele­vi­sion. Damn. What are the odds of that par­tic­u­lar piece of di­a­logue at that pre­cise mo­ment?

As I re­join Alice, she says, “I think he knows. Don’t you?”

I try to re­spond, but I’m sob­bing.


Pho­to­graph by Dom Furore

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