Sunday, 2 January 2011

Pete Dye

I was once asked if Pete Dye passed away, where would he go on my list of top 25 architects of all time. I initially thought that his inclusion was automatic and that his placement would be fairly high (10-15). Lately, I'm not as sure...

Pete Dye’s career is defined by two periods, the Early Years and the Modern Years. The Early Years featured courses that were largely 
Harbour Town was a Landmark Project for architects
built to the lay of the land and were heavily influenced by the links courses and architecture of the British Isles. Dye’s work was as much a reflection to his experiences at the famous links, as it were a reaction against the architecture that was being built at the time. Pete’s use of sod walls, railroad ties and other unique elements all made early appearance long before becoming trademarks to his work, but more often it was the inclusion of subtle landforms and small contours that were the real key to his greatest early holes. While he paid homage to the style of golf that he loved from overseas, he also displayed his own unique sense of humour with how the techniques were applied. Many of these ideas would become the basis of his style throughout his career - others would come and go depending on what 
The Golf Club played a role in the rise of Minimalism
inspired him on each project. What I admire most of his early work is the restraint that he showed and the clever use of the native ground to effect strategy. What sets him apart from most other great architects was his key role in changing the direction of architecture at that time. His work in the early years became the very foundation of the Minimalist Movement that would emerge at the end of the century – ironically long after he himself abandoned the very notions that it is founded upon.
 The Later Years began with his involvement in the TPC at Sawgrass and culminated in Whistling Straights. Pete took many of his early ideas about design that at this point had been tested against great players. He used this knowledge against the players by adding his latest ideas (particularly things they didn’t like or understand) to a tournament course. He employed all his skills as a builder to overcome what was largely a nothing site and eventually crafted a complex thought provoking and strategic layout to test the best the players had to offer. The TPC was brash and bold, full of difficulty through the dramatic use of water, wild green contours, nutmeg grinders (quickly removed), severe bunkering, intentional blindness, and a good dose of intimidation. He not only caught the player’s attention (and outrage), but captivated the public to the point that Pete Dye was quickly the most recognized golf architect in the game.
The TPC was a high point in his career and a flashpoint for a dramatic change in his style. He was offered a quick succession of projects, with each owner looking for the next TPC at Sawgrass – or even something more outrageous if it could be had. Pete became well sought out and well compensated with his pick of projects and great budgets. I think he also became a bit of a victim of his own success. Each owner wanted to outdo the last and each project became bigger and bolder to the point that Pete was reshaping everything and taking more and more architectural risks. There are a lot of great holes and some really good courses but also a few true clunkers along the way. Pete’s courses were always solid due to the underlying strategy that is built largely on carry angles and options to attack – but outwardly many of these courses look over-shaped and overdone. The culmination is Whistling Straights - such a great course on so many levels and yet so overdone at the same time.

Pete Dye was the greatest architect of his generation was clearly innovation and brilliantly strategic. His early work was the foundation for the Minimalist Movement. He clearly makes the list. But I still don't see him among the very elite. I believe his architecture suffers from his desire to control every aspect of the design. His work after TPC Sawgrass was excessive in almost every way as he set out to challenge the player and push the boundaries of architecture. I always thought this was at the expense of the average player.

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