Earlier this year, Kiawah Island lost one of the architects of its story.
Pete Dye, perhaps golf’s most revered course designer, passed away peacefully in January after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Often working side-by-side with his beloved wife Alice, another master of design, he fashioned some of the most beautiful courses around world and played a vital role in shaping the path of this place, crafting a seaside jewel beloved by countless fans of the game.
To understand the artistry behind Dye’s transformation of rolling hills and open fields into grand cathedrals of golf, think of William Faulkner exploring Southern Gothic storytelling or Bob Dylan using folk music to weave tales of justice and hope. He was a maestro, his mind and hands tasked with gently molding the earth into some of the most renowned courses in the world.
Crooked Stick in Indiana. The Stadium Course in Florida. Austin Country Club in Texas.
And, yes, The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.
It was perhaps this narrow stretch of sand and marsh that presented him with his greatest challenge. Not only did Dye have a mere fifty-five acres to work with, in 1989 he also was tasked with creating a venue fit for the game’s most prestigious international showcase—the Ryder Cup.
He only had two years to do so, a timeline almost unheard of in the industry. But that wasn’t the only obstacle Dye faced. During the build, Hurricane Hugo crashed over the Lowcountry, punishing the site with destructive winds, torrential rainfall, and relentless surges from the sea.
Dye wasn’t deterred. In the wake of the storm, he bypassed closed roads by taking a boat to oversee work. “When I first walked the land, I fell in love with the site,” he once said (dyedesigns.com). “This narrow, two-and-a-half mile beachfront had beautiful ocean views on one side and vast saltwater marshes on the other. I would have bent down on my knees and begged for the opportunity to build there.”
The Ocean Course would not only open on time but also play host to three of the most thrilling days of golf in the storied game’s history. “The War On The Shore” captivated the world, going down to the final putt as the U.S. team brought home the Ryder Cup for the first time in six years.
Crafting that rugged oceanfront landscape into The Ocean Course is a testament to Dye’s vision. Today, the course welcomes everyday golfers who seek to walk in the footsteps of the game’s legends. “In his genius, Pete Dye had the foresight to build enough tees where the course could accommodate the length we need for major championships without having to make major changes at all,” said Stephen Younger, head professional at The Ocean Course.
Kiawah Island’s destiny is forever intertwined with Dye’s legacy. The Ocean Course stands as a living monument to his brilliance, testing and rewarding all drawn to its grandeur.
By Johnathan McGinty