Seemingly trumping many marriages nowadays, the relationship between the Sea Pines Resort and famed golf architect Pete Dye has spanned more than 40 years and created a pair of golf courses that continue in good stead under the watchful eye of both "partners."
Dye crafted Harbour Town Golf Links in the late 1960s and several years ago so significantly redesigned Sea Marsh that the resort renamed the course Heron Point by Pete Dye. Unlike some other designers, however, Dye has continued the work on his popular Sea Pines creations, returning to Harbour Town 11 years ago for a major, multi-million-dollar renovation and is keeping a watchful eye on the maturation of his Heron Point re-creation.
This past summer, the Indiana native was back at it again, doing some minor Lowcountry retooling at both Harbour Town and Heron Point. It's just another chapter in a relationship that has been equally beneficial to the architectural reputation of the designer and the worldwide popularity of the resort and its golf courses he helped create. Dye has also crafted three other layouts in southern Beaufort County -- Long Cove Club, the Dye Course at Colleton River Plantation and Hampton Hall Club, solidifying a connection to the Lowcountry that began at Sea Pines.
"Pete Dye is a great friend of the resort and of mine," said Cary Corbitt, who oversees golf operations as the Sea Pines Resort's director of sports division. "We talk almost on a weekly basis."
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It might seem an unusually close operator-architect relationship, but it's clear that Corbitt and the other Sea Pines leaders completely trust Dye to make the correct changes to two of the resort's three signature courses when they are needed. Whether it's a major renovation, which Dye has done at both layouts, or minor tweaking, the resort has always turned to Dye, and in return he has always answered the call.
"We wouldn't make any changes to these courses without Pete's input and involvement," Corbitt said.
While the 2000 renovation to Harbour Town, the annual host to the PGA Tour's RBC Heritage, was to ensure the long-term future of the prized layout, this summer's work was essentially focused on making subtle changes to the layout that fortunately will be hosting the tournament for at least the next five years. The work, which included oversight and input from the PGA Tour, added some 150 yards to the course, with the biggest changes coming from additional or extended tees on several prominent holes.
Tees were either added or existing ones extended on the par-4 third, par-5 fifth, par-4 eighth, par-5 15th, par-4 16th and the par-4 18th, the course's signature hole and one of the most recognized on the PGA Tour with Calibogue Sound and the Harbour Town lighthouse framing the finishing hole. Fret not, though, amateurs who struggle enough with the challenging layout -- those changes will only be felt by the PGA Tour stars who visit one week out of the year each spring.
The added teeing areas will be most noticeable on the 16th hole, where a new tee was added across the street that separates 15 from 16, similar to what Dye did with the par-3 14th hole many years ago. Additionally, the 18th, already one of the toughest finishing holes on the PGA Tour, has been lengthened by 30 yards with the addition of the new back tee.
"Everyone knows what Harbour Town is; it's not a bomber's course, but if we could put driver back in the hands of some (PGA Tour) players on certain holes then we wanted to do that," Corbitt said. "For our average resort player and our membership, the course will play as it did before."
Additional changes include three fairway bunkers being added at 270 and 300 yards from the tee on the fifth hole creating a larger demand for accuracy off the tee, the shifting of the tee box on the par-4 sixth and the addition of a deep bunker behind the second hole that can catch long approach shots.
At Heron Point, the idea of the changes was to make some subtle changes to the layout to increase playability for resort players. There were some reconfigurations of greens, including the third and seventh holes and changes to mounding on several holes with the idea of opening up visual approach lines.
Impressively, the work at both layouts required no play interruption and resulted in only one temporary green on Heron Point for a short period of time. Most of the work was done in the afternoon when play was light or took place at the back end of tee boxes where most members and resort players merely drive by on the way to more appropriate teeing areas.
"There really was never much of an inconvenience for our members or our resort guests," Corbitt said of the summer-long project that saw Dye make as many as five trips to Hilton Head Island between May and August.
I suppose efficiency and near-perfection should be expected from a relationship that has spanned more than four decades. Not only has Dye and Sea Pines benefited from that lasting marriage, but so has Hilton Head Island, which is guaranteed two gems on the south end to brag about for years to come, in large part due to that very relationship.