TGJ No. 22 What I Stole From Pete Dye Lipping Out

What I Stole from Pete Dye

How a few pilfered books gave a life new direction

My final pro event was in Indiana, my forever home state—a poetic ending to a career that never was. I couldn’t help but get a lump in my throat when I saw my mom standing behind the ninth green at the Kampen Course in West Lafayette. She stuck out a two-hour rain delay and watched me finish in the dark. I cried. She didn’t. I remember her saying, “It’s going to be better.” I knew she was right, in large part because of what I had taken from Pete Dye’s house.

A few weeks prior, I’d been playing alone at Crooked Stick Golf Club and searching for a new direction. I had one hand on the wheel with professional golf, a career that requires both hands, a full tank of gas and a spare tire in the trunk. The other hand was on this idea of golf architecture and design. I was looking to be pushed over the edge, and a phone call from my friend Tom Sachs did it.

Tom’s a contemporary sculpture artist of the highest order, and we had met through our mutual sports psychologist. I’d texted him, “Hey, brother, I’m at a weird crossroads in life where I could use some advice.”

He’d replied immediately: “Take a quiet moment. Flip a coin and listen to your heart. Talk later today.”

I was on the sixth green when Tom called. I explained to him my dilemma and he guided me with the eloquence and conviction of a great artist. Further into the conversation, I explained that Dye’s house was not 500 yards from where I was standing. He stopped me right there.

“Go to his house now,” he said. “Ask for all the books that he is willing to give you. Books are how I got started in art, and 30 years later I am still doing it.”

“Tom,” I explained, “Pete is dead.”

No matter, he replied. However I found them, Dye’s books were the key to the next steps of my new life path.

Copy that. 

I finished the front with an extra bounce in my step, then bounded into the clubhouse looking for the head pro. To my dismay, I found he had already left for the day. The summer intern behind the counter asked how he could help. I told him I was looking for Dye’s book collection, not expecting to get anywhere.

“Nice,” he said. “I live at his house now.”

I stood there stunned while he explained that when the Dyes passed, the club acquired their home and had all the summer interns stay there. 

“The code on the garage is 777,” he said. “Take all the books you want.”

I did exactly that. I went to the house, found his library in the basement and grabbed 15 books. They are still with me a year later as I work through the opening stages of a new life in golf course architecture. I recently finished working on my first build with Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner.

I look at things differently now, eyes going more down than up. I played Crooked Stick a few days ago and found that I noticed the plants, the trees and the grasses, meticulously manicured by the superintendent and his grounds crew. I appreciate the game even more as I understand the enormous effort it takes to create such an enjoyable walk.

As I made my way down the 18th fairway, I looked to my left and saw a vacant lot. The Dye house had been torn down. All that remained was a graded-out plot of dirt and an excavator that looked a lot like the ones I’ve been sitting on lately.