Pondering the Genius of Pete Dye, Uber Quipster

A couple quick stories about Pete Dye while I’m sitting here in my barn office, avoiding the packing process while simultaneously champing at the bit to leave this frozen wasteland for the tropical glories of Casa de Campo, where Dye is responsible for all 63 holes:

Circa 1994, I was serving as editor in chief of a national business journal called Golf Course News (today it’s known as Golf Course Industry magazine). For a few years there, GCN sponsored a national trade show called the Public Golf Expo, and as program chair of the associated conference, I was the de facto host of this event. Part of my job was lining up keynote speakers and this particular year, in Orlando, I landed Pete Dye.

Mr. Dye is known for many things: integrating links features and scale into modernist course design, railroad ties, strip bunkers, angles, and courses that, initially at least, totally confounded tour players. What many people don’t realize is this: The man is hilarious. There are quite a few very funny course architects, but Pete’s in a class by himself. He comes off as a sort of rumpled, midwestern bumpkin who meanders around a subject before dropping some zinger that takes everyone by surprise.

I don’t recall what Pete Dye was supposed to talk about that day in Orlando. We had discussed something, surely. But after a few comments to kick things off — each one punctuated by a laugh line funnier than the last — he just threw it open to questions and answers. He kept this up for 40 minutes, fielding each one with off-the-cuff aplomb and hilarity. But two stand out:

• Some fellow rose and asked Pete about the environmental movement in golf, and whether this was stifling development and design creativity, and how he dealt with ever-tightening environmental regulations. You could tell Pete didn’t know quite where to go with this one, and it would not have been like him to launch into some mealy-mouthed defense of golf’s environmental credentials. But he soon launched into a story that went something like this… and I’m paraphrasing here:

Well, we like to have the environmental regulators come out to our golf course sites early in the game, before we’ve even broken ground. They usually like to walk, these environmental types, and I like to walk. So we get out there on the property and I walk ‘em. And I walk ‘em. Then I walk ‘em some more. And when they’re really getting tired, I walk ‘em some more. 

Then I lie to them. 

• Sometime later that same Q&A session, another fellow rose and asked Pete why he didn’t use railroad ties any more. He had, of course, made their use famous at several courses in the 1970s, including the TPC at Sawgrass, but had foresworn their use by the time 1994 rolled around. I was sure Pete would come back with something like, “I got tired of yo-yo’s like you always asking me about the damned railroad ties,” or maybe a quick quip/yarn about how even Tom Morris got tired of putting sleepers in his bunkers. But he just stared at the guy, and then he smiled before he leaning into the microphone:

Not expensive enough. 


2 Responses to “Pondering the Genius of Pete Dye, Uber Quipster”

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  1. Jeff

    I’m delighted to read someone who knows the correct term “champing at the bit.”

  2. Hal Phillips

    Jeff: Only now am I sorting actual comments on my TAP page, so thanks belatedly for weighing in… A friend of mine often reads my stuff and sends me notes about typos. Normally quite helpful. But he thought it should be “chomping”. I had to set him straight. Thanks for reinforcing the idea my liberal arts education wasn’t wasted… hal

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