This story, published on Feb. 3, 2019, is reprised to honor the passing of Pete Dye.
With the passing of Alice Dye at the age of 91 on Friday, Feb. 1, the day before the 69th anniversary of her wedding to Hall of Fame course designer Pete Dye, golf lost a giant of the game and a gem of a person.
A native of Indianapolis, Alice won some 50 amateur tournaments in her life, including the 1978 and 1979 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateurs. She also amassed 11 Indianapolis city women’s titles, captured the Indiana State Women’s Amateur nine times and was a key member of the victorious U.S. Curtis Cup squad in 1970.
Simply put, she could play.
Dye also knew and understood course design and was a major influence on her husband’s much-heralded work. “With her intellect and her knowledge of golf, Alice gave Pete someone he could always talk to about design strategy and layouts,” said Tim Liddy, who worked as a design associate for the Dyes for more than two decades before starting his own architecture firm. “They were equals in every sense of the word, and she helped him develop thoughts for his work.”
Bobby Weed also cut his teeth as a course designer as part of Pete’s crew before hanging out his own shingle, and he sees much the same thing. “Alice was a critic, a partner and a sidekick,” he said. “And she had a way of getting Pete to succumb to her suggestions.”
Dye collaborated with her husband on several of his best creations, among them Crooked Stick in Indiana, Harbour Town on Hilton Head Island, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island on the South Carolina coast and the courses at Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits at Kohler in Wisconsin. In addition, Pete credited her for being the inspiration for the iconic island green on the par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass. Alice often accompanied him on site visits and was never afraid to voice her opinions.
“Alice would come to the site on occasion, in her Lilly Pulitzers, wearing perfume, while we were all dirty and sweaty. She would look at what we were doing and then start talking to Pete.” – Bobby Weed
Invariably, her biggest concerns were that his courses be playable for recreational players, male and female alike. The young and elderly, too. She was a huge advocate of forward tees, and of having two sets of markers from which women could play, to accommodate both low and high handicappers.
Her deep involvement and sensible thinking in the architectural realm were big reasons why the American Society of Golf Course Architects made Alice its first female member in 1983. Fourteen years later, the group named her its first and to date only female president. Then two years ago, the ASGCA bestowed upon her its prestigious Donald Ross Award, which is given annually to the person who has made a significant contribution to the game and also to the golf course architecture profession.
And it was not just the architects who recognized Alice’s talents, as she also sat on the board of the PGA of America for a spell, the first independent female director in the history of that organization.
Alice also had tremendous impact and influence on people, both in and out of the game. The mother of two sons, Perry and P.B. (for Paul Burke), who are also noted course designers, she was a surrogate parent to dozens of young men who worked for the Dyes in the design business over the years before striking out on their own, including Tom Doak, Bill Coore and Rod Whitman. Weed and Liddy, too. More than mere employees, they were regarded as members of the Dye family and were treated that way. Journalists as well, and Alice was sure to make them all feel welcome whenever they called on the telephone or stopped by one of their homes, whether in Indianapolis or at the Gulfstream Golf Club in Florida.
The Dyes’ hospitality was often times extended to perfect strangers. Like Andy Coogan, who remembers caddying for the Dyes at Carnoustie in Scotland when he was just 14 years old – and then being invited by Pete and Alice to come live with them in the States in the mid-1960s. “We talked during the round about how I wanted to come to America one day,” he said. “Knowing that, and hoping I would be good company to Perry and P.B., they then invited me to come back with them. Which I did, and I stayed for two years.”
Born in 1927, Alice Holliday O’Neal was the daughter of a prominent Indianapolis attorney and a mother who came from steel industry money. Alice took up golf as a young girl and became good enough to play on the golf team at Rollins College in Florida. It was there that she started dating an Ohioan named Pete Dye, who was equally skilled at golf – and who was also studying at Rollins, having just been discharged from the U.S. Army.
Alice graduated in 1948 with a B.S. degree in zoology, and she moved with Pete to Indianapolis, where they both started selling insurance. Two years later, they wed in a ceremony at her parents’ home, and in 1952 she gave birth to their first child, Perry O’Neal, whom they named after Alice’s father. By that time, she had given up the insurance business to focus on her family. As for Pete, he was prospering as an agent for Connecticut Mutual Life and had become one of its top producers as well as a member of its esteemed Million Dollar Roundtable.
The company was so pleased with his work that its leaders were prepared to give him an entire agency to run. But he and Alice, who had been dabbling in golf course design, had other ideas. And that was to make a career out of what heretofore had been a part-time endeavor. Pete once told me that the people at Connecticut Mutual were so distraught at that decision that they sent a psychologist to speak with him about his move and try to get him to change his mind.
The insurance company may have thought that Dye was crazy, but he and Alice were quite content with the move they had just made. The first course they designed was the El Dorado Golf Club, a nine-hole track just north of Indianapolis. It opened in 1961, and a year later they constructed their first 18-hole facility, called Heather Hills. Things took off from there, with their body of work around the country, and the world, eventually exceeding 100 courses.
As involved as Alice was in their growing course design business, she did not get into the dirt in the ways that her husband famously did. In fact, sons Perry and P.B. like to joke that she “never lifted a shovel … never climbed aboard an earth mover or bulldozer of any kind.” But she made her presence felt in other ways.
“I remember when we were building Long Cove in Hilton Head the early 1980s,” said Weed, who served as construction supervisor for that project. “Alice would come to the site on occasion, in her Lilly Pulitzers, wearing perfume, while we were all dirty and sweaty. She would look at what we were doing and then start talking to Pete. ‘Most women golfers can’t play this hole,’ she would say. ‘You have to give them a way to the green.’ ”
Herb Kohler, the plumbing magnate and developer of Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits, well remembers sitting down for lunch with Alice and Pete shortly after work on the initial Blackwolf Run course had been completed. “Suddenly, she looked at me and said, ‘Mr. Kohler, my husband built 17 world-class holes here and one hole that does not belong,’ ” he recalled. “ ‘Look at that first hole,’ she said. ‘It’s barely playable for a man, and impossible for a woman. In my opinion, you had better talk to your course designer and get him to change it.’
“Well, Pete listened to what Alice had to say,” Kohler added. “And then that afternoon, out he went, to start fixing that hole.”
Of course, Alice was as loving as she was direct, and that was never more apparent than in the ways she took care of Pete after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago.
There can be nothing harder for a person than watching a spouse slip into the darkness that is dementia. True to form, she handled it with grace and aplomb, even as her own health failed.
She will be deeply missed.
Alice Dye in 1998. Photo: USGA
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