Pete Dye, famed golf course architect and Hall of Famer, dies at 94

Pete Dye, the World Golf Hall of Famer regarded as one of the game's great course architects, died Thursday, Dye Designs, the company he founded, announced.

He was 94.

Dye designed more than 100 public and private golf courses worldwide, including some of the sport's most well-known tracks -- Harbour Town Golf Links, Whistling Straits and TPC Sawgrass, with its famed "Island Green" on the 17th hole, to name just a few.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan called him "one of the most important course architects of this or any generation" as well as a "true friend of the PGA Tour."

The PGA of America shared the thoughts of Suzy Whaley, its president, via Twitter.

Jack Nicklaus said he owes his second career in golf course design to Dye, whom he first met some 50 years ago.

"I think Pete Dye was the most creative, imaginative and unconventional golf course designer I have ever been around,'' Nicklaus said. "Pete would try things that nobody else would ever think of doing or certainly try to do, and he was successful at it. If there was a problem to solve, you solved it Pete's way. In the end, Pete's way usually turned out to be the right way.''

Born in Ohio in 1925, Dye was the son of an amateur golf course designer and learned the game at an early age. He enjoyed success as a player, competing in five U.S. Amateurs, one British Amateur and one U.S. Open in 1957, finishing tied with Arnold Palmer and eight shots better than Nicklaus.

But his true love turned out to be constructing golf courses, not playing them. He left a successful career as an insurance salesman in 1959, and together with his wife, Alice, an excellent golfer in her own right whom he first met at Rollins College, set along the path of designing and building some of the world's greatest courses.

"He was an icon when it comes to golf course design," said Brandt Snedeker, who won at Harbour Town in Hilton Head, South Carolina. "He was a guy who really made you uncomfortable the whole round. And he did it visually. He'd always make you think.

"He's one of those guys that you respected him because he built some great golf courses," Snedeker said with a smile. "But in the midst of playing them, you hated his guts."

His courses were often described as "Dye-abolical" because of the penalties they could inflict with a bad shot. But they were memorable, and often difficult. Among them was Blackwolf Run, where Se Ri Pak won her first U.S. Women's Open in 1998 at 6 over par.

Dye's designs are hailed for their uniqueness, adaptability and environmental friendliness. The template for his future work came when he and Alice spent several weeks touring some of the best courses in Scotland in 1963.

"He was profoundly influenced by the features he saw," his biography on DyeDesigns.com reads. "Small greens, pot bunkers, short, potentially drivable par-4 holes, undulating fairways, often wider than they looked from the teeing ground, and wooden bulkheads were among the features he began to integrate into his own work."

Four years later, the Dyes made their first mark with Crooked Stick Golf Club in Indiana, host of the 1991 PGA Championship won by John Daly and annually regarded as one of the top 100 courses in the United States. Dye then teamed up with Nicklaus to design Harbour Town, which currently hosts the RBC Heritage the week after the Masters and is known as an atypical stop on the PGA Tour; its narrow fairways and low-hanging trees emphasize shot-making and accuracy and de-emphasize the length needed at most other tour events today.

More great courses followed.

In 1980, Dye, inspired by his wife, built TPC Sawgrass in Florida at the urging of his friend, Deane Beman, the former PGA Tour commissioner. Sawgrass hosts the Players Championship, known as the "fifth major," and is home to arguably golf's most entertaining hole -- the "Island Green" 17th, which is short on length but high on fear as its green is surrounded by water.

"Originally, the water was just supposed to come into play on the right side, but we just kept digging," Dye once said of the 17th, according to Golf Channel. "And then one day Alice came out and said, 'Why don't you just go ahead and make it an island?' So we did."

Among the other notable courses designed by Dye are Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, three-time host of the PGA Championship and home to the 2020 Ryder Cup; the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in South Carolina, where the U.S. edged Europe in the 1991 Ryder Cup and Rory McIlroy won the 2012 PGA Championship by a record eight shots; and the Stadium Course at PGA West in California, which has hosted PGA Tour events in the past.

"You can't mistake a Pete Dye. You knew it was his as soon as you played it," said Vijay Singh, who won the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. "He had a different set of rules when he built golf courses and every single one he built was tough."

"Dye's approach to constructing a new course harkens back to an older time -- he does not strictly adhere to detailed architectural plans or diagrams, preferring instead to fashion each hole out of the ground in a very personal and hands-on fashion, very much in the manner of the grand masters of golf course architecture," wrote the World Golf Hall of Fame, which inducted Dye via its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.

In recent years, Dye had battled Alzheimer's disease. Alice died in February 2019 at age 91. They are survived by sons Perry and P.B.

"Together, Pete and Alice made a formidable team in golf and life, and with sons Perry and P.B., themselves successful course architects, they are recognized as one of the most accomplished families in golf," Monahan said.

Herb Kohler, who brought Dye to Wisconsin to build courses such as Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run, said Dye's courses were accessible to everyone, which is part of their charm.

"While Pete designed to torment the most accomplished professional, his forward tees allowed the most inexperienced to play," Kohler said. "He would challenge the professional both physically and mentally, while remarkably accommodating the raw amateur who was learning the game."

Charles Howell III recalls the time Dye walked nine holes with him for a practice round at Whistling Straits during the 2004 PGA Championship.

"I would ask him, 'Mr. Dye, why would you put that bunker right there. What were you thinking?' And he would look at me and said dryly, 'Just to [tick] you off.' He was a good man who obviously loved golf, just a wonderful course designer who knew how to make difficult golf courses," Howell said.

"If you were going to play well around his places, you couldn't fake it," he said. "It's a sad loss for golf. His footprint was at all of his places, undeniably, and not a lot of designers can say that. And boy, you knew it was going to be tough."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.