Although The Golf Club represents the seminal course design in his iconoclastic career, Pete Dye hasn’t visited the private club northeast of Columbus, Ohio, since it opened in 1967. That changes in July when Dye, who recently turned 87, plans to tweak the unpolished gem.
“Mostly we’re talking about the greens, softening some of the contours because of today’s speeds,” says Dye, noting that the installation of a new irrigation system affords him an opportunity to give the layout a going-over. “Nothing has been done there since I left. But we’re not about to change things a whole lot. I’d be crazy to do that.”
Not that he hasn’t been accused of craziness before. But he’s right; he’d be crazy to mess with his own early success.
Although he was simultaneously working on Crooked Stick Golf Club, near his home in Indianapolis, Dye produced a layout at The Golf Club that not only achieved critical acclaim, but also, more importantly, fulfilled the wish of owner Fred Jones, who wanted the new course “to look like it had been there for decades.” Dye might have been a fledgling designer, but he possessed ample practical and topical knowledge. He drew inspiration from two 1920s-era courses, Seminole and Camargo, and from the links courses he’d seen on a trip to Scotland in 1963, to build an “Old English” golf course on 440 acres of flat, wooded terrain.
To achieve this desired affectation, Dye used a variety of grass mixes, including fescues in the rough to provide contrast with the bentgrass fairways, and long fescue around bunkers. Other novel ideas, which never had been seen on a Midwest golf course, included the use of railroad ties, sawed off telephone poles, and pot bunkers. An ardent fan of Donald Ross, who created optical illusions with bunker placement and land shapes, Dye excavated the front of carefully selected natural green sites to make them appear elevated.
The short par-four 13th is noteworthy: It’s the first hole in his career where Dye installed railroad ties. But it’s at the 185-yard par-three 3rd where he used them most distinctly. Dye had asked Columbus native Jack Nicklaus for a critical review of the golf course in the early phases, and the Golden Bear, just 27, didn’t hold back. Nicklaus found the original 3rd hole dull, so Dye replaced the four bunkers surrounding the green with an enormous three-tiered sand complex that required the use of 450 railroad ties.
These elements forged character, but the par-72 course that debuted at a formidable 7,263 yards exhibits classic strategic elements to which Dye has been zealously faithful. Primary to his philosophy is the incorporation of hazards—in this case large cross-bunkers, lakes, and Blacklick Creek—to create angles and dictate strategy. He also used bunkers, trees, and grasses to frame or define generous fairway areas.
Dye had less disdain for forced carries than he does now, so three of the four par-three holes are particularly challenging. One of them, the 200-yard 16th, so bedeviled Mr. Jones that he adorned a 270-year-old white oak that sits near the green with a hangman’s noose.