Few golf course design firms working today are better known and more influential than that of the Dye clan, headed by 86-year-old legend Pete Dye. Along with Pete’s wife Alice, various sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and grandkids have been beavering away at the family firm, Denver-based Dye Designs, whose signature style favors elements drawn from the traditional Scottish courses such as St. Andrews and the Royal Dornoch. These elements include deep pot bunkers, rolling fairways, and undersized greens to provide ample strategy, yet the firm hasn’t been afraid to innovate. It’s a winning combination that has firmly ensconced the Dyes as the “first family” of golf course design.
One of Pete’s sons, 56-year-old P.B. Dye, is a key figure in the family firm, with more than 80 courses under his belt, and it’s he who has spearheaded the collaboration with Iberostar on several golf resort greens that have become must-stops on the international golfing circuit.
Exhibit A is Iberostar’s Playa Paraíso complex on Mexico’s Riviera Maya between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, which I last visited just last month as part of Iberostar’s #Startrip. Built in 2007, it’s a masterpiece with lots of elevation changes, expert contouring, and a real sense of place, thanks to the low Yucatan jungle that surrounds it, the impressive faux-Maya pyramid in the distance, and several natural cenotes (sinkholes). As he always does, P.B. poured a lot of sweat and love into this course, spending more than 100 days living on site.
His other work for Iberostar includes the five-year-old, par-72 18-holer at Iberostar Praia do Forte, north of Salvador, Brazil. A gorgeous seaside course with challenging breezes and spectacular vistas (especially along the last three holes), it also boasts lots of tricky sand bunkers. Also 18 holes and par 72, the Iberostar Bávaro Golf Course in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, dating from 2009, is chock-full of Dye’s signature pot bunkers, rolling fairways, and water hazards.
I asked P.B. earlier this month about his work with Iberostar:
What’s it been like to work with Iberostar on these courses ?
Top-notch. In particular, I must say that Don Miguel [Fluxá, CEO of Iberostar] is world-class, absolutely at ease and at peace with himself; with me, he was just like a laid-back guy on vacation. That may not sound exceptional, but believe me, it is.
Since you’ve designed so many courses around the world, it must be challenging to come up with different designs each time. What were the particular challenges on these three projects?
The way Dad taught me to build a golf course means working not from a cookie-cutter set of plans but from a concept, and especially when you’ve got a piece of land that has character, you’ve got to work with the land. In Mexico we were working with calcium material nine meters (30 feet) above the ocean with some solid trees around, and we could excavate a bit. In Brazil it was sand dunes – didn’t have a tree in the whole place. In the Dominican Republic, it was scrub jungle and the ground was two-thirds caliche [sedimentary calcium carbonate], which you can excavate, but the western third was solid rock, so I had to pile on top of that. In all cases, the secret to utilizing a piece of property is to be there as much as possible, and listening to and learning from the local people.
What’s the trickiest feature of the Playa Paraíso course? And the most interesting?
We built in optical illusions on every green with different lines and approaches. If I create an inch of fall every ten feet and a half inch in the opposite direction, you can’t see that with the human eye but it definitely affects the way balls break and play – often it looks like the ball’s breaking uphill. We also used bunkers to create opposing lines, which feel uncomfortable to good golfers. You’ve got to get these golfers mentally, because you can’t get them physically, they’re that good; some practice eight hours a day.
How would you compare your Iberostar Bávaro course with your father’s work on Teeth of the Dog and other famous links at Casa de Campo resort?
I’ve been working in the DR for 40 years, and as a course, I’d say Bávaro is as good as any out there. The main difference is probably that it’s not on the ocean and is part of a real-estate development, with condominiums on both sides of the fairway, whereas the Teeth of the Dog’s last seven holes are right on the ocean, and golfers will travel a long ways for that.
Has your design approach and philosophy evolved over the years?
My concept for each course is still pretty much the same: I want a golf course that’s fun, otherwise you won’t want to come back to play a second time.
Photos | Iberostar, Dye Designs