Dye’s legacy looms over first Players Championship since his death
This week’s Players Championship is the first one to be played since its creator passed away two months ago.
And even though Pete Dye didn’t make it a point to attend every Players Championship at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, those involved in the tournament, from players to the PGA Tour leadership, still feel a void as the deepest field in golf tees it up for the 39th time on Thursday at Dye’s design.
“I miss his love of the game,” said former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman, who collaborated with Dye to create the masterpiece that became the permanent home of The Players in 1982. He really cared about the game.”
“One of the very unique people in the game,” added former commissioner Tim Finchem, who made it a point to consult Dye on any change, small or large, to the golf course. “Not just about here but the game.”
Those close to Dye still can’t believe he’s gone, even though he lived a long, full life before his passing on Jan. 9 at the age of 94, less than a year after his wife and partner in every sense of their personal and business life, Alice, passed at 91.
“It was always good to pick up the phone and call, and get his advice and opinions,” said Bobby Weed, who worked with Dye on the TPC Sawgrass Dye’s Valley, and courses in Amelia Island and Hilton Head Island, S.C. “I miss that. I miss talking to him and Alice. They were a dynamic duo. Pete was a mentor and a friend and there’s still a void.”
The Players is honoring Dye in several ways this week:
A permanent plaque has been installed on the first tee with a quote from Dye: “It is a great bit of personal satisfaction to be asked by the Tour members to build their golf course.”
Three large panels on the PGA Tour Fan Shop are inscribed with tributes to Dye by Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, flanking an image of the par-3 17th hole.
NBC and Golf Channel will honor Dye throughout their telecasts with vignettes of his life.
“When (Dye) passed away … golf lost a visionary, a legend and a creative force,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said earlier this week.
Dye never used the week of The Players Championship to return and preside as an architect emeritus.
“Pete had the least ego of any architect I ever knew,” said Vernon Kelly, former president of PGA Tour Properties. “He was smart as could be but I never ever saw him put anybody down. He was a good man.”
But that’s not to say Dye was never around.
Finchem said the problem is that you never know when that would happen. And when it did, Dye usually had an agenda.
“He would show up unannounced, not during the tournament but odd times, and go out and find something to tell us,” he said.”It just the kind of thing he did.”
Finchem himself was the victim of one of those impromptu visits. Dye had been pestering the Tour for years after the turn of the century to renovate the fairways and scrape off about a half-foot under the turf that had turned into a moist, mucky mixture of dirt and organic material that was inhibiting drainage.
Finchem and the Tour had a plan. They wanted to renovate the course and the clubhouse at the same time, and time it for a move of the tournament to May. But genius isn’t always patient and Finchem looked up from his desk one summer day in 2005 to see Dye striding in with styrofoam cups filled with the dirt he had dug up.
Dye then tipped over the contents onto Finchem’s desk and proclaimed,”There … this is what this golf course has become.”
Finchem understood that Dye loved the Stadium Course like he loved one of his children.
“There has never been anything done around here without him being involved,” Finchem said.
Players learned to play Dye courses the way he intended, or went down in flames.
It wasn’t just about Island Greens, undulating fairways and pot bunkers. Dye gave players uneasy sightlines off the tee, loved to create optical illusions and made holes that gave them fits if they were too aggressive, or too conservative.
“(Pete Dye courses) are like beer when you’re younger,” said defending Players champion Rory McIlroy. “You sort of don’t like it but then you think it’s cool to drink and then you sort of acquire a taste for it.”
Jim Furyk, who finished second to McIlroy last year, said he remembered that Dye said he liked his courses to be “visually disturbing.”
“The first fairway from the tee looks extremely narrow,” Furyk said. “It’s uncomfortable, it’s tough to pick a target and it looks like you’re hitting to a 15-yard wide fairway. And you get up there and look around and go ‘sheesh … the fairway is pretty big.’ Then I look at the green and I go, ‘my goodness, that’s a tiny green.’ And I miss the green, get up there and say, ‘this green was plenty big enough to hit with an 8-iron. How did I miss it?’”
Furyk said trusting your game is difficult on a Dye course.
“They look more difficult than they are and I think he forces you into hitting shots that you wouldn’t normally hit because of that,” he said.
Mark McCumber, the 1988 Players champion, said Dye would tweak players who complained.
“I would see Pete and tell him that his courses had too many rough edges and were too visually intimidating,” he said. “Then he’d tell me, ‘what are you complaining about? You’ve won four times on my courses.’ ”
In 2012, Ernie Els laughs with golf course designer Pete Dye during the Pro-Am at the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind. Dye died in January at age 94.