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It's Never too Late to be Who You Might have Been - George Eliot

By: Joel Zuckerman


Editor's Note: Since this is the week of the Players Championship, the PGA Tour's so-called "fifth major" that starts Thursday at TPC Sawgrass, it's appropriate that we get a glimpse of Pete Dye and his family, the folks responsible for this cutting-edge course that set the world of golf architecture on its ear. Writer Joel Zuckerman, an expert on the Dyes after writing "Pete Dye: Golf Courses - 50 Years of Visionary Design," gives us some perspective on the amazingly productive family.

English was my preferred subject as a college freshman, 30 years ago this autumn. But thankfully, no Rhetoric or Comparative Lit professor ever insisted I muddle my way through George Eliot's best-known 18th century novels, such as "Silas Marner" or "Middlemarch." I can also guarantee that the subject of my latest book, legendary golf course architect Pete Dye, notorious for attending, but never graduating, from high school, college or law school, hasn't read Eliot, either.

But thankfully Pete and I share her sentiments. We've both veered from what was a preordained path, and pursued a golf-oriented passion. The end result of our dual mid-career shifts has been international acclaim, financial independence, the respectful admiration of our peers, and an everlasting legacy. Well, at least for Pete, anyway.

It was my great good fortune to be chosen by the Dye family to write the authorized celebration of Pete's remarkable half-century career. My fifth and latest book is called "Pete Dye: Golf Courses - 50 Years of Visionary Design." A former insurance agent, Pete was well into his 30s when he decided to chuck his membership in the Million Dollar Roundtable and opt for membership in the American Society of Golf Course Architects, instead. Good move. There are more than 300,000 insurance agents in the nation, and about 200 members of the architects' society. But there is only one Pete Dye.

The courses that Pete, often in concert with his wife, Alice, has created are a de facto honor roll of the most celebrated venues in the modern game. A "Who's Who" list includes Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, TPC Sawgrass near Jacksonville, Fla., Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, and Teeth of the Dog in the Dominican Republic. There are a hundred more. Add in the work of his two sons, Perry and P.B., and his nephews and niece, and the list of Dye designs swells to more than 250 courses, in all corners of the globe.

I covered as much ground as possible during my grueling, year-long "Dye-tinerary," though I eschewed last-minute entreaties to wander off to China and Guatemala, among other exotic locales. The peripatetic Dye family visits other continents like the rest of us visit the grocery store - casually, and with little forethought, though I'm not wired the same way.

Being chosen by the Dyes themselves from among nearly a thousand potential candidates (the total membership of the Golf Writers Association of America) to conceive and execute this 300-plus-page, full-color celebration of Pete's career is the unquestioned highlight of my 10-year writing career. It can best be described as a metallurgical medley - a golden opportunity, platinum frequent flyer status, and an iron game that disappointed me from coast to coast and beyond.

For me, 2007 was all Dye, all day, and has been the culmination, at least to this point, of a writing career that began when I answered a classified ad in the Savannah Morning News in the autumn of 1997. The seven words that pin-balled me in a different direction: "Wanted - Golf writer for Hilton Head newspaper."

I was never a staffer at the University of Massachusetts' Daily Collegian back in the late '70s and '80s, though I did contribute the occasional Ultimate Frisbee story to the sports page, freelancing even then. For some 15 post-college years I tried and ultimately rejected various careers like so many ill-fitting suits in a men's store.

First it was selling office machinery, then magazine advertising. I spent a number of years in the commodities markets, located in the shadow of the twin towers in lower Manhattan. Eventually I returned to western Massachusetts and started a small vending company, dispensing junk food for coinage in blue-collar outposts from greater Hartford, Conn., towards the Vermont border. Like the aforementioned suits, it wasn't that these occupational gambits weren't comfortable. But they just didn't feel quite right.

My regular newspaper column eventually led to a few regional magazine pieces. Then I got a toehold in the door at Sports Illustrated, which led to assignments in many major golf and airline publications. The first book came out in 2003, on the golf-rich Carolina Lowcountry. The second book arrived in 2005 (Charleston-area golf) and two more books (humorous in nature) in 2005 and '06. Like an acting hopeful who begins in regional theater, my publishing houses went successively from the sticks of South Carolina, then to Kansas City, Ann Arbor, and finally, with this latest effort, New York.

Pete Dye is a genius, a workaholic, a visionary, an octogenarian giant in the game of golf. It was a shockingly fortuitous happenstance to be given the opportunity to chronicle his collected body of work. A decade ago I spent my days visiting Jiffy-Lubes and tire joints, dumping quarters into burlap sacks, and buying Pepsi, potato chips and peanut M&M's by the caseload.

If someone had predicted that in relative short order I'd be wing man to Pete Dye, chronicling his life ala Boswell, I'd have laughed in incredulity. I owe plenty to Pete and the Dye family. And Pete and I both owe a debt to George Eliot, lucky to be living her creed from long ago.

Joel Zuckerman, called "One of the Southeast's most respected and sought-after golf writers" by Golfer's Guide Magazine, is an award-winning travel writer based in Savannah, Ga., and Park City, Utah. He has written five books, and his course reviews, player profiles, essays and features have appeared in more that 100 publications internationally, including Sports Illustrated, GOLF, Continental Magazine, Travel & Leisure Golf, SKY Magazine, Golf Connoisseur, Golfweek, Estates West, Millionaire and Golf International. For more of Joel, visit www.vagabondgolfer.com.