Pete Dye lets protégé shine at Eagle Eye
BATH, Mich. - Pete Dye slipped in the side door of the brand new, million-dollar clubhouse and banquet facility at the Eagle Eye Golf Club at Hawk Hollow and took a seat at a table with a bunch of stunned golfers.
Dye, one of golf's biggest names, had a seat reserved for him at the VIP table at the front of the banquet hall, but he tried his hardest to stay anonymous. He sat down near the balcony to keep an eye on his dog, a scraggly-haired black-and-white German shepherd named "60," which travels with him wherever he goes these days.
Dye didn't stay hidden for long. Although the 78-year-old architect was at the grand opening ceremony to support his long-time protégé, Chris Lutzke, and his first design, the spotlight eventually found him.
At one point during the ceremony, Dye stood up and said a few glowing words about the Eagle Eye, a 7,318-yard blockbuster that opened in August 2003. It is the second top course on the property owned by Darryl Kesler. The property also features 27-hole Hawk Hollow and an 18-hole executive course, the Falcon.
"He did a hell of a lot better than I ever thought he would," Dye said. "This course would be good in any area, not just this one. You look at this and you've got a winner."
The speech opened the floodgates -- a steady flow of autograph-seeking golf fans and question-asking journalists soon followed.
Dye's celebrity borders on the ridiculous for a guy who moves dirt for a living. Possibly no other architect in the world (who aren't named Nicklaus, Palmer or Player) demands such attention. From his first gem at the Harbour Town Golf Links at the Sea Pines Resort in Hilton Head, S.C., to the widely celebrated TPC of Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and the revolutionary Whistling Straits in Haven, Wisc., home to this year's PGA Championship, Dye always seems to be at the forefront of golf.
His appearance at Eagle Eye solidified the course's reputation as an up-and-comer on the Michigan golf scene.
"The project has turned out amazing," said Lutzke, who worked for Dye for 18 years before Dye recommended he get a degree in landscape architecture at Michigan State University. "I worked late every night, but it has been worth it."
Alex Coss, general manager at Hawk's Hollow, told the audience of 500 people, including current MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo, that Dye's influence on Lutzke greatly affected the look of Eagle Eye.
"Chris did work at Crooked Stick (site of the 1991 PGA Championship) and the Ocean course at Kiawah Island (site of the 1991 Ryder Cup). He's seen a lot," Coss said. "He's done a lot under Dye's guidance."
Eagle Eye can only be described as the stepbrother of the now-famous Straits course at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. The courses are in the same family but not totally related. Lutzke spent days on his bulldozer, crafting flat farmland into a pseudo-links, much like Dye did on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Eagle Eye doesn't have the massive dunes, or the constant lake view, but it does boast a similar ambiance. If you get off line, you'll lose your nugget or have a gnarly stance in the thick, hip-high fescue grasses.
The tees are balanced, from the blacks (6,908 yards) to the blues (6,444) and the whites (5,928), and fair. Thirteen holes feature water, adding up to 41 acres of liquid trouble.
Lutzke, who recently teamed with Michigan architect Paul Albanese to form a young, talented duo, will be hard-pressed to top this project. But even the course couldn't overshadow Dye's appearance.
When the cameras turned off Dye, TravelGolf gave him a chance to sound off on some of golf's biggest issues. Dye pointed out he still likes to play. With only a hint of pride, he recalled a recent round where he shot the course record, a 74, at his newest design, the TPC of Louisiana in New Orleans.
On his start in architecture: "I was always interested in golf maintenance. Out of the blue, I built a nine-hole course (El Dorado) south of Indianapolis. It was a little extreme. There was one creek that crossed the course 13 times in nine holes. Dr. (Harlan) Hatcher (then the president at the University of Michigan) must have played well, because he asked me to do Radrick Farms Golf Course (a private club in Ann Arbor). Being a golfer, I've always had some wild ideas."
On his style: "I never draw any plans. I've just been a dirt digger all my life. Hopefully, my results (and courses) speak for themselves. … Most of my courses are different. The style has changed so much since I started. The balls and clubs are different. It's such a different world. When I started, there was only a five or six on the stimpmeter on greens."
On the distance pros are hitting it these days: "If I ran city hall, I would not allow the ball to go farther."
On the popularity of the 17th hole at Sawgrass, the island hole that is replicated at Eagle Eye: "That hole came from Alice (my wife). I had no idea that it would be so popular. (The 17th hole at Eagle Eye) is a dead ringer right now."
On comparing Eagle Eye to his designs: "Some of mine (courses) are pretty bad. This one is good. It's got a lot of ambiance. It has a great look. This course is good enough for a major championship."
On what projects he likes to choose: "People always ask me why I don't build in remote places (like other architects such as Tom Doak). I always build where people can play."
On why he's only built 80-some courses in his career: "I'm pretty busy. Now more than ever… I like to go back to my old courses and redo them. I do that more than most architects."
September 8, 2004