Long after the bagpipes were packed up, the chairs put away and the lunch dishes collected, Pete Dye had one more obligation at Long Cove Club.
The Hall of Fame architect, two months from his 90th birthday, set out Friday to tour the venerable layout one more time with Long Cove head professional Bob Patton, with an eye on what the club might do to make it just a little better.
“So the process continues,” Patton said.
For Dye, it was just a start. After a weekend back home in South Florida, it’s back on the road to check on one of the dozen projects currently in development under the Dye name.
“Still going strong,” Dye said with a wry grin.
Timeless golf course. Timeless architect.
The two came together once again as the club honored Dye and wife Alice for creating a layout that still gets high marks in course rankings and has always been a treasure for residents.
On a sun-kissed morning, the club dedicated a new tower clock that stands between Long Cove’s practice range and the 18th green. The clock has Dye’s name on it, with plaques on the ground in a half-circle adorned with significant quotes about the course.
“It may not be the toughest course in America or the most scenic,” said the late golf historian Charles Price, founder of Golf magazine and a Hilton Head Island resident. “But nobody could intelligently pick the noblest courses in America without having played Long Cove. It’s beautiful just for golf’s sake.”
Three years after the course opened, Golf Digest already had Long Cove ranked among the nation’s 20 best. More than three decades later, it’s still 139th on the magazine’s latest ranking. Golfweek has it at No. 81 on its list of best modern designs.
“Everybody talks about Pete Dye’s genius. I say Pete Dye is a genius even for non-golfers like me,” said David Ames, one of Long Cove’s founding partners.
Ames recalled how No. 7, a scenic, straightaway par-4 with an elevated tee, was a flat piece of land when Dye arrived. And how Dye set him straight when he first sketched out a rough draft of homesites on Nos. 13 and 14.
“Mea culpa,” Ames said. “I had taken the golf course off the marsh.”
Those holes, along the tidal flats of Broad Creek, are part of a three-hole stretch widely considered Long Cove’s signature.
Perhaps Long Cove would have had a gem in someone else’s hands. The routing, actually, had already been largely carved out by Arnold Palmer’s design team for a project that ran aground during economic woes of the late 1970s.
The project sat for a half-dozen years before Ames, Joe Webster and Wes Wilhelm acquired the land. They brought in Dye, who quickly labeled the landscape perfect for a golf course.
At the time, Dye was putting finishing touches on TPC Sawgrass, where he transformed Florida swampland into a bold layout full of railroad ties and an island green. Long Cove presented a much subtler challenge, with perhaps an eye to green contours.
“At Long Cove,” he once told Golf magazine, “I purposely contoured the greens with more gentle slopes to accommodate increased green speeds.”
Long Cove also was blessed by a construction crew featuring several who went on to become today’s top architectural names. Bobby Weed was project manager and stayed on to become Long Cove’s first superintendent until the PGA Tour hired him away to design TPC courses.
Ron Farris and David Savic also have created successful design careers, as has a skinny intern named Tom Doak, now renowned for such layouts as Pacific Dunes in Oregon, Sebonack on Long Island and Streamsong in Florida.
“We were all very passionate about the game,” Weed recalled. “We probably had the most low-handicappers of all time on any crew, building this golf course.”
Their skills with construction equipment, though, might be up for debate.
“Everybody talks about what great fairways are here, what great shaping,” Weed said. “It wasn’t great shaping. It was because nobody could run a bulldozer in a straight line.”
He recalled how P.B. Dye, Pete and Alice’s son, would keep pushing dirt with the bulldozer until he couldn’t get the mound to move anymore.
They eventually figured out a way to top those off, and the feature stood.
“If they only knew,” Weed said.
Alice Dye’s fingerprints are no less imprinted on Long Cove. A member of the 1970 Curtis Cup team and twice a U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur champion, she was a strong advocate for making sure everyday players could run the ball onto the greens. And for realistic yardages.
“I remember many times where Pete would place a tee somewhere,” Ames said, “and Alice would say, ‘I don’t think so.’ Pete would say, ‘You’re right,’ and the tee would be moved somewhere else.”
Of course, Dye’s handiwork can be found all over Hilton Head these days. The iconic Harbour Town preceded Long Cove; and Colleton River Plantation, Heron Point and Hampton Hall are more recent additions. Colleton River just hosted the U.S. Junior Amateur, and Heron Point was recently named South Carolina’s Golf Course of the Year.
Both Dyes are in their late 80s now, their gaits slowed by the onset of time while their golf acumen remains high.
Wisely, Long Cove saw fit to honor them before the years get any further on.
“I started a little over a year ago,” said Chuck Wallace, who spearheaded the committee that created Friday’s ceremony.
“I wanted to put in place something that would truly honor them for what they did here. It’s a truly remarkable golf course.”
Timeless. As are its creators.
Follow Jeff Shain at Twitter.com/Jeff Shain