There’s a library full of stories surrounding the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island (S.C.) Golf. And as with the career of its designer – Pete Dye – some are true and some are apocryphal. Dye, who died this past January at the age of 94, wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Ocean Course is Ol’ Pete’s masterpiece. Sure, there’s the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass; Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head, S.C; Teeth of the Dog in the Dominican Republic; and Whistling Straits in Koehler, Wisc. But for sheer size, scope, layout and championship pedigree, the Ocean Course is at the top of a remarkable list of Dye golf course designs.
“Pete would describe himself, not as a golf course architect, but as a golf course builder,’’ said Roger Warren, president of Kiawah Island Golf Resort. “What’s the difference? Well, the difference, for a lot of people is, somebody sits down and draws a golf course and somebody else will build it.’’
Dye was as hands-on a builder as any architect in modern history. That includes the Ocean Course. The story goes that on Sept. 23 – the day after Hurricane Hugo swept through Kiawah Island – Dye and his crew – many of whom had been stranded on the island during the storm – were back at work moving trees and routing in areas they weren’t permitted in before Hugo.
Fact or fiction? It doesn’t matter now. The Ocean Course has withstood the tests of time and the world’s best golfers, first at the 1991 “War by the Shore’’ Ryder Cup and then at the 2012 PGA Championship. In May 2021, the Ocean Course will again host the PGA Championship.
“The golf course (more than 7,300 yards from the tips) is one of the hardest golf courses in the country from a slope and course ratings standpoint,’’ Warren said, “but at the same time, if people will get to the right set of tees (the Ocean course have five sets of tees) for their game – and that’s usually shorter than they want to admit – they can enjoy a round of golf.’’
Resort and average players can thank Alice Dye for much of that enjoyment. Alice was Pete’s wife of more 68 years and design partner on some of his more famous courses.
“Alice thought about that beginning player,’’ said Warren, a former president of The PGA of America. “She never let (Pete) forget, you had to take care of those people when they built golf courses.’’
Dye’s original design for the Ocean Course, Warren said, was for it to sit behind the sand dunes. It was Alice who convinced her husband to open up more views of the ocean.
“He was smart – like most husbands who are married for a long time. He listened to his wife and understood the thinking of that wisdom.
“Pete and Alice were two of my favorite people in golf. Every time they came here, we had such an enjoyable experience. Golf as a game is better because of the influence Pete Dye and Alice Dye had on it. We are going to miss them (Alice Dye died in 2019). But at least what we have is their legacy of great golf and love of the game.’’
And we’ll always have the Ocean Course.