From the hallway came a growl.
Sixty! Get out here and siddown.
It was the Great Man. Sixty, a two-year-old white German Shepherd, reluctantly sauntered into the hall and returned with her master, golf course architect Pete Dye. He had agreed to meet me for a sit-down interview to support a show I was producing on the latest changes at TPC Sawgrass.
Dye, 81, had already put in the kind of day that would floor a younger, less vigorous man (or dog). He and Sixty had been to Gasparilla Golf Club in west Florida, and had been flown over to St. Lucie to see me. After we were done, he still had work to do. He looked neither wilted nor deterred.
While I am often portrayed today as a wicked designer from hell, I am in fact from the quiet midwestern town of Urbana, Ohio, wrote Dye with Mark Shaw in Bury Me in a Pot Bunker, his 1995 autobiography.
This time of year, just before THE PLAYERS Championship begins, the specter of Dye as Great Satan, not Great Man, reemerges as the best in the world try to figure and refigure TPC Sawgrass, one of his most notable creations.
Today he will discuss with me why it was necessary to peel back the turf on that course, scrape out a quarter centurys accumulation of organic muck, and replace it with fast-draining white sand. (You can see the whole process in the new Golf Channel special, TPC Sawgrass: A New Era, Wednesday, May 9th at 9 p.m. ET)
What may be most frustrating to those who love to hate Dye is the fact they all know: far from being evil, Pete Dye is one of the best things that ever happened to golf ' for tours, fans, and yes, players, even those who have to brain-wrack their way around some of his exceedingly difficult tests.
If Alice (his wife and a fine player and architect in her own right) ever divorced me, my staff would drop to exactly zero, Dye said as the microphone was being clipped on, Sixty finally recumbent at his feet.
So it has ever been.
If its hoopla in any way, Dye is not interested. No cell phone, no entourage, no drawings except what can be scrawled on the nearest surface at hand with whatever is available ' usually a stick and some dirt, on-site. (A new painting of Dye in the new clubhouse at Sawgrass shows him in just this mode ' the usual khaki pants, blue golf shirt, and ball cap, stick in hand, drawing brilliance on the desert floor. If he did cave paintings, we could be sure golf would survive eons into the future.)
Hoopla aversion aside, the man has a sense of drama. To best demonstrate to PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem how 25 years had undermucked Sawgrass, Dye brought the course to Finchem ' a couple Dixie cups worth, anyway.
I took out a big plug [of turf] and put it on his desk, one Sunday afternoon, Dye said, his tone implying the question, Well, how the hell else would you do it? Finchem corroborates the story. When Dye asked if he could clean up the desk, Finchem said no; he wanted his staff to see this.
The redone Sawgrass that will welcome the first PLAYERS in May will play hard and fast, as Dye originally intended, thanks to the process begun by Dyes plug of turf. The course-wide six inches of new sand under the turf will drain much better, keeping the course from getting like Velcro for golf balls if rains come.
When Pete designs a golf course, its like one of his kids, Finchem said. He has to keep an eye on it, he wants to take care of it.
That includes giving the kids a good start in life. When the interview was over and my cameraman and I began to disassemble the equipment, Dye said he needed to borrow me for 10 minutes.
We got in the car and drove a mile to the Dye Course at PGA Golf Club. Here; stop here. Theres a break in the trees, Dye told our driver. I followed him onto the first fairway just short of the green, where the land gently sloped down then up again to the green, framed by a long bunker with a high lip. How did this get done in south Florida flatland?
We just pushed some things around gently, Dye said as he walked purposefully up the fairway. Nothing major. But look, he said, pointing to the side. Were actually below the bottom of those cypresses in the woods over there. We were able to scoop this out just a little to get that effect. But here, this is what I really wanted you to see. Lemme get the sumgun offa here.
By now, all 81 spry years of Pete Dye were on his knees in the fairway, forcing off a six-inch drain cover and shoving his arm in up to the shoulder. I mean, the man used to walk around the Sawgrass construction site shirtless and machete rattlesnakes in the late 1970s. So whats one more water moccasin in a drainpipe, right?
No snakes this time. Well, were in a drought, so the water is down a bit, Dye said, bringing up a dry hand. But look at this course. Not burned out, but were not breaking the bank on irrigation either. Let me show you why.
We walked behind the cypresses to the side of the green and he opened a huge steel door that was almost flush with the ground. Fifteen feet below, water rippled in a cistern.
All recycled irrigation, he said. Used over and over. Caught in that drain, along with the danged rain when we can get it, and reused. There are more of these on the course. This is how it should be done. I keep tellin em, what with the cost of water and maintenance these days, and environmental concerns and all. Here, they listened. The PGA people who are in there now; they didnt even know they had this. When I showed em, it was a revelation, you can be sure. They were pleasantly surprised.
He closed the door with a bang, then looked around at the contours of the first green and the expansive view from the second tee. Some of the best work Ive ever done. Right here.
It takes a real great man, I suppose, to check on the kids once theyve grown up.
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