David Lauderdale

The angel who brought the devil to Hilton Head’s Harbour Town, Alice Dye, dies

Golf icon Pete Dye and wife Alice honored at Long Cove Club on Hilton Head

Mr. Dye, considered by many one of the great golf course architects ever, designed the Long Cove course 33 years ago. Last year, Golfweek ranked it the 15th best residential course in the U.S.
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Mr. Dye, considered by many one of the great golf course architects ever, designed the Long Cove course 33 years ago. Last year, Golfweek ranked it the 15th best residential course in the U.S.

Alice Dye was an angel.

She was always smiling. She was a delightful person to be around, smart and pretty.

But if you found yourself in one particular sand trap on the Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, you might have never guessed it, but that devil was brought to Sea Pines by sweet Alice.

It helped make Hilton Head rich and famous, and we owe her a lot.

Her famous husband, Pete Dye, who designed the course along with Jack Nicklaus, credits the demonic 13th hole to his wife. It’s the one with a gigantic sand trip around all sides as you face the green. More than one PGA Tour player has been humbled by the steep boards that hold up the raised green.

“She took a bulldozer operator over there and just disappeared,” Pete Dye said of the frantic course construction in 1969. “So when I came back to look at it, she had put boards around the front of the green, bunkered it and so forth, (but) the sand had not been put in the bunker.”

Pete Dye was still putzing around with the sand when the first players came through in the first RBC Heritage tournament, and a chapter of island lore was born when a gaggle of golf fans, of all people, questioned his sobriety.

Alice also is credited with designing the greatest demon on the PGA Tour — the 17th island green at The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Florida.

Pete Dye, without fail, credited Alice’s guidance in the 145 courses that made him a hall of fame designer and historic figure in golf.

She helped make Hilton Head famous with its Harbour Town and Long Cove Club courses, and the Dye Course at Colleton River in Bluffton.

Alice Holliday O’Neal Dye died Feb. 1 at home in Florida, where she was caring for Pete, now lost to the confusing world of dementia. Everybody assumed Pete would go first. But it was Alice, who passed away two weeks short of her 92nd birthday, and one day short of their 69th wedding anniversary.

Alice Dye was a tremendous golfer. In her home state, she won nine Indiana Women’s Golf Association Amateur Championships. And that’s only a smidgeon of her claims to fame.

She also was a glass-ceiling smasher in the stubbornly old-boy sport. She was the first female member of the American Society of Golf Architects, and its first female president. She was the first female on the PGA of America board of directors.

But Alice’s gift to us transcended all of that.

She opened the game to the masses. She could take home all the trophies, but she knew that the only place the vast majority of golfers will get a trophy is in the second-hand shop.

She was way ahead of the curve on this, and it became crucial to the economy of Beaufort County.

Alice came to be called “The Patron Saint of the Forward Tee.”

“She wanted to get it to where ladies played holes the same way the men could play them,” said Jim Ferrree, the first director of golf at Long Cove. “She wanted ladies to be able to hit into the green with a 7-iron or an 8-iron. She was very good at that. She kept all the numbers. That was a big deal.”

It was a big deal because it led to the “Tee it Forward” movement that has made the game more fun for a larger number of people by encouraging them to tee off closer to the hole rather than pretend they have the skills of Tiger Woods.

Bill Carson of Hilton Head, who helped build the Harbour Town course, said it was built in a hurry, with little consideration for anything other than the touring pros who christened it minutes after it was completed in November 1969.

Later, Alice Dye joined Carson and club pro Billy Palmer’s wife, Em Palmer, in placing forward tees on the course that launched the design careers of Pete and Alice Dye.

And so it was that when members of the Long Cove Club wanted to thank the designer of their nationally-acclaimed private golf course, they did not honor Pete Dye, but Pete and Alice Dye.

Too few people know it — particularly those hacking around in the sand on No. 13 at Harbour Town— but Alice Dye was an angel to the game of golf.

And to Hilton Head.

Senior editor David Lauderdale has been a Lowcountry journalist for more than 40 years. He oversees the editorial page and tells the stories of our community. He grew up in Atlanta, graduated from Erskine College, reared two children on Hilton Head Island, and is a popular public speaker.