Sunday, 21 July 2013

Pete Dye - Golf's Most Influential Architect?

Trent Jones - Founder of the Modern School of Architecture

A great question was posted on Golf Club Atlas in the discussion group a few weeks back. It asked the question, “Is Pete Dye the most influential architect since World War Two?


When in 1951 Ben Hogan said, "I'm glad I was finally able to bring this course—this monster—to its knees." A star was born – Robert Trent Jones.

Herbert Warren Wind’s timely profile in The New Yorker that focused on Trent Jones and his changes to Oakland Hills made the architect a household name. His career took off and since there were no influential holdovers left from the Golden Age, the new generation of architects embraced the architectural philosophy of Robert Trent Jones and in mass began practicing the Modern School of Design.

Modernism has absolutely dominated golf design world wide from the end of World War Two to the present day.

Pete Dye was one of those architects who followed in the style of Jones, but a trip to Scotland and the desire to set himself apart from Trent Jones took him in the opposite direction. He intentionally built shorter courses based around the links of Scotland trying to differentiate himself from Trent. He also drew upon the courses of Raynor, Langford and Ross for additional influence. The work may have initially stood out because of the contrast, but have survived the test of time because the underlying ideas were outstanding.
 
Pete Dye-courtesy of Links Magazine
Course like The Golf Club and the original Crooked Stick were effectively the first Minimalist courses built. While Minimalism would not become a significant movement for at least 25 years, the origins lie with Pete. Many future Minimalists, like myself, point to this work as an influence on our design philosophies.

Interestingly the person who seems least interested in that work is Pete, who when given the chance renovates to his current philosophy and style.

People began to pay attention to Pete right away. Harbourtown was full of imaginative holes, looked and played unlike anything else built in that era. Short holes, timber walls, wild greens and long grasses all captured our imagination. The golf course look amazing on television and its success would lead to the commission to build the TPC at Sawgrass.

TPC Sawgrass - The Course that Changed Golf
At TPC Sawgrass, Pete was being asked to build a course from essentially a swamp. This meant the entire project would have to be created from scratch. He delivered a brilliant test of angles, courage and patience built largely on the same principals that he had used before, but ratcheted up the difficulty to test the mettle of the players. They didn’t talk about the risk and rewards scenarios, the aggressive use of diagonal bunkering, the marvelous greens or grand theater that Pete and Alice had created. They bitched about the intentional blindness on the shot four, the difficulty playing from Pete’s severe chocolate drops, the narrow margin for error because of the timber walls and the fact that the 17th was completely unfair. They hated the place. We loved the fact they hated the place and turned this into a significant television event. Pete was featured in the television coverage, discussed in magazines, players complained about his work during the event and eventually he was tossed in the lake by Jerry Pate. Like Trent Jones at Oakland Hills, only decades later - a star was born. Soon Pete Dye was on American Express commercials saying “Do you know who I am?” And most golfers answered, of course, your Pete Dye!
Whistling Straights - Courtesy of Golf Digest

The commissions came fast and furious with many of them being intended for golf tournaments. Pete’s view on architecture had changed at TPC and now he was going bigger, bolder, harder and more shaped. Each project spiraled up the results culminating in Whistling Straights where nobody knew how many bunkers there were. I have to admit along the way, he completely lost me. I’ve spent the better part of a decade trying to reconcile with the fact that I like his early work, but detest most of his work after TPC Sawgrass. I recognize that he’s brilliant, but don’t care for the combination of over-shaping, difficulty and length that I find define the latter half of his work. The restraint in his early work is impressive; the lack of it later in his career is oppressive.

What was more amazing was how many other architects rushed to design like Pete. The amount of work with railroad ties and other typical Dye features skyrocketed as everyone tried to catch his star by copying his work. It's too bad that most didn't understand all the best aspects like the diagonals and instead embraced his worst ideas like the Island Green.
Doak, Crenshaw and Coore - Tomorrow's Influence
One of the more interesting aspects of Pete is who worked for him and their impact. As Pete became successful he began to attract some of the brightest young minds in architecture. When you look at the people who worked for Pete you see the names of Bill Coore, Tom Doak, along a whole host of others. When you extend that out to others who worked for them and you include names like Gil Hanse. That’s pretty much the leaders of the Minimalist Movement in Architecture. When you speak with anyone who worked with Pete, they quote many of his architectural ideas and you can hear the influence he was on each of their careers. The extension of his architectural tree is quite enormous among the leading active architects of today.

The leadership on tomorrow may actually be rooted in Coore, Doak and to a slightly lesser degree Gil Hanse. They are the leaders today. They are Minimalists and so are most of the young architects of tomorrow. They may eventually be the most influential people in the future, but that’s making a massive assumption that Minimalism will have as long and dominant run as modernism, but in a shorter attention span generation I’m not fully convinced that Movements can last near as long.
 
Golf's Most Influential Architect after WWII
Therefore this comes down to Dye or Trent Jones. Pete’s a better architect and has a better architectural tree. I give Jones the first two decades, but I give Pete the next three. Jones has little or no influence on new architects coming into the business and Pete clearly still attracts their attention. So there is no contest, Pete is indeed the most influential architect since World War Two. 



2 comments:

  1. Great to know the -- in depth from this blog.This will really help for my forward steps to be taken.

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  2. So no love for Long Cove, The Honors, Black wolf Run, Kiawah, Pete Dye Golf club? I could have probably threw a couple more in there but figured I's stick to Top 100 stuff.
    It's easy to say you don't like his post 1980 work but when you look at his best courses post 1980 it is hard to ignore them. In fact, most of his highest rated courses are post TPC, would you not agree?

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