Excerpt taken from Michigan Golf Journal. Exact publish date unknown.
The late Pete Dye’s impact on golf course design is well documented worldwide.
Dye, who passed away in January at age 94, also impacted golf in Michigan in a handful of ways, but probably not more than his influence on his disciple Chris Lutzke, a graduate of Michigan State University.
Lutzke is a rural, small-town Wisconsin native that first met Dye in the 1980s as a teenager working a bulldozer at Blackwolf Run (host of U.S. Women’s Open, 1998 and 2012) for his family’s landscape construction company. Lutzke never stopped working for Dye, and to this day is finishing a handful of projects Dye started, including adjustments to Whistling Straights for the upcoming Ryder Cup in September (we all hope).
Within the first few years, Dye told Lutzke he should figure out where he was going to college.
“Of course, I wanted to go somewhere warm, and I got into Lake City College in Florida,” Lutzke said during a conversation with me in February. “And I told him. And Pete just looked down at the ground and shook his head, and he said, ‘Chris, if you’re going to school for agronomy, you’ve got to go to Michigan State.’”
Lutzke told Dye he looked at MSU but couldn’t get in because there was a two-year waiting list.
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“But low and behold,” Lutzke said with a chuckle, “my phone rings about two weeks later and it’s Trey Rogers (at MSU) telling me that if I can get there in the next week or so, I could be in his very first class at MSU. So, I went there and found 40,000 students and about 6,000 faculty and I about came out of my shoes, I was so scared to death. But it all worked out.”
Dye’s designs have hosted numerous PGA Tour events – the most notably at TPC Sawgrass in Florida, home of THE PLAYERS Championship. There’s also the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island (1991 Ryder Cup), Whistling Straits, and Harbour Town Links at Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island, which has hosted the PGA Tour event the week following The Masters for several decades.
Dye first came to Michigan to finish off the design of Radrick Farms in Ann Arbor. He also collaborated in the early 2000’s with Jack Nicklaus to design Wabeek Country Club in West Bloomfield (Dye and the Golden Bear also paired to create Harbour Town at Sea Pines in Hilton Head, SC) – and Dye helped guide Lutzke on his first solo project – Eagle Eye Golf Club near Lansing.
When Lutzke came to MSU he hooked up with local design legend Jerry Matthews – and the pair worked on Hawk Hollow – whose owner soon after asked Lutzke to create Eagle Eye. Both are near Lansing and frequently host major tournaments. Eagle Eye was to host the NCAA Men’s Golf Regional this year before the NCAA canceled all spring sports.
As a new Lansing area resident, Lutzke got a cell phone with the 517-area code, which he still has today.
“It was the only phone number Pete Dye had for me – I was never going to change that number,” Lutzke chuckled.
At Eagle Eye, Lutzke said Dye reviewed the routing, and he made Hole 13 a little longer and made a few other recommendations on routing – as well as granting permission to make the 17th hole an exact replica of the Par 3 island green 17th at TCP Sawgrass. The entire experience truly impacted Lutzke during the work from 2001-03.
“When you put as much contour in the greens like I did at that time, you couldn’t make them 5,000 square feet; they had to be 8,000,” he said about Eagle Eye.
“Years after I did Eagle Eye, if I was with Pete at any of the courses we were working on, if I ever made a green too big or designed something too big in the field, he’d put his hands on my shoulders and say, ‘Lutzke, you’re building another Eagle Eye green.’
“I made his greens a lot smaller later in his design career, because he didn’t know how else to stop those good players who are hitting the ball so far. I’ll never forget how he’d say it all the time, that I built another Eagle Eye green,” Lutzke said with a laugh. “It was all good stuff; we had a lot of laughs over all the years.”
Dye was an accomplished golfer and competed in the U.S. Amateur several times. While in the Army and stationed at nearby Ft. Bragg, Dye would often make the 30-mile trek to Pinehurst and came to know Donald Ross.
“Pete’s relationship with Mr. Ross was one of the things of which he was most proud,” Lutzke said.
Plymouth resident Paul Albanese, also a former apprentice of Matthews, teamed up with Lutzke in recent years to form a golf design and construction business that created several award-winning courses and has kept Dye’s latest projects going the past decade or so.
“Really, it was the mark for an end of an era, a great era that Pete brought us into,” Albanese said about first hearing of Dye’s death. “Pete was a great influence on my life even though it wasn’t as direct as it was for Chris.”
The first official Albanese & Lutzke construction project for Dye was in 2004. The duo did Virginia Tech, the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort, Keswick Club and Purdue University. They have also worked on the courses at Kohler, Wis. on and off as needed – in fact Lutzke is there right now making preparations for the 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straights.
Albanese noted that Radrick Farms came before Dye traveled to Scotland to observe older designs.
“Radrick has a much different look than a typical Pete Dye golf course,” Albanese said. “Before the 1980s, Pete’s courses look a lot like Radrick, and it’s a beautiful golf course, but with a much different aesthetic than what people think of as a Dye course.”
Designed by Dye in 1962 and opened in ‘65, Radrick Farms will celebrate its 55th anniversary. Five years ago, it was ranked by Golfweek as the 17th best college campus course in the U.S.
Getting the Call:
Lutzke was driving to his home near Whistling Straights (he also has a home in French Lick, Ind.) when Dye’s son, PD, called with the news of his father’s death.
“As much as you think you’re ready for that call, there just weren’t too many people that spent as much time with him as I did the last few years,” Lutzke said. “So, it was just a lot of overwhelming emotions of memories, that really, really touched me.”
Lutzke said that together, “we’d try to make sense of a routing and make some plans from his napkin drawings so we could go get the (construction) permits. Then what I always called the Pete Dye process would begin.”
That process included walking through the woods and mud and open land dragging along an 800-foot rope – the equivalent of 267 yards to measure to most landing areas in the 1980s and 90s.
“It seemed like it was always on a Sunday he’d want to meet at the course and come up with new ideas and explain to me what he wanted to do. Those are the best memories ever, the weekends. And he never knew what day it was. He just knew that the sun was shining, and we should be working.”
A never-ending story:
“It was always fun how we’d be close to finishing a big job and the owner might ask if we think we’ll be done in a couple months – and Pete would never say that any of his courses were ever done,” Lutzke said. “Even on the Grand Opening, he would say it’s not done. There was always something that we can do to make it better. He was always very honest, and I think that’s why he kept going back to all his courses, to do something more.
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