The Pete Dye golf course is located in Bridgeport, West Virginia and is a private golf club which opened in 1994. Not surprisingly, the course was originally going to be called Coal Ridge as it is built within 500 acres of what was a former coal mine in the hill country of Harrison County but it ended up being named after its illustrious architect instead.
The site is owned by the LaRosa family and it is rumoured that their “over involvement” in the construction of the golf course was the main reason why it took so long to get the project from drawing board to opening day some 16 years later. Greens were moved, lakes relocated and fairways repositioned - then sometimes put back in their original position!
In fairness, there was a fair amount of debris to be removed from the site and coal was still being extracted from seams during the development but Dye made more than 150 site visits over the years and no doubt his golfing philosophy evolved during that time so design changes were bound to have been made all along the way, costing more time and money.
Water, in the shape of ponds, creeks or streams, comes into play at nearly half the holes at the Pete Dye course. Wide landing areas and multileveled, bent grass putting surfaces are much in evidence throughout the course which enjoys such a wonderful mountain backdrop.
Several holes stick in the memory. The 435- yard par four 2nd is played from an elevated tee over Simpsons Creek to a fairway that looks a very long way away. The 196-yard par three 7th plays downhill to a large green protected by no fewer than ten bunkers. There’s the par five 504-yard 8th with a sixty feet high rock face to the right of the green. And the 18th, a par four at 500 yards from the championship tee where the drive is played over a stream which then runs down the left side of the fairway to the hole.
Some consider novelty features like the walk-through mineshaft behind the 6th green to the 7th tee and old coal wagons to the left of the fairway at the 10th hole to be in keeping with this golfing equivalent of Disney’s “Big Thunder Mountain” – others might be less charitable and whisper “only in America”.
Over the course of time and many courses played globally I've come to the conclusion that the best work you often see from architects is usually towards the front portion of their careers. Why? In their earliest efforts they are not hamstrung in placating developers or those fronting the money to continue to replicate past successes over and over again.
Pete Dye was a monumental figure in golf course architecture. Such early gems as Harbour Town, The Golf Club and Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo, Crooked Stick, are all rightly celebrated. Over the course of Dye's career he stayed relevant with a number of follow-up courses that generated much attention and rightful praise. The Ocean Course at Kiawah, TPC Sawgrass, The Honors Course, Whistling Straits all come to mind.
One of Pete's most compelling courses that often received scant attention is aptly named for him. Located in West Virginia -- Pete Dye GC is situated on a 1,000+ acre property. Unfortunately, the initial story of the course was about the inordinate amount of time it took to complete as Dye and the owner had some serious disagreements.
My first visit to PDGC came towards its earliest days when it opened. It was a pleasure to finally get to the course and to also make contact with the head professional at the time Jim Jamieson. Jim was a standout player at Oklahoma State and had some success when competing on the PGA Tour -- winning the Western Open and being in contention during both the Masters and PGA Championship in the early 70s. With his competitive years behind him, Jim went into the club side and having the pleasure in meeting him during my first visit was a real treat.
PDGC is a superb course. There is no clutter -- the naturalness of the property and the way the holes merge within the landscape is done with the utmost care. Sad to say, during the final portion of Pete's career -- there were layouts that were overly manufactured and included an array of silly moundings that overwhelmed the land. That's not the case here.
The key in enjoying the round rests with a golfer's clear understanding of what level of play they can successfully deliver. This is a layout that never suffers fools gladly. To be fair -- there's suffcient landing area but the line of attack one opts to follow needs to be well thought otu and properly executed. After a mild opening hole things ramp up considerly at the tremendous par-4 2nd hole. Here you have a jdeep creek that runs on a slight angle on the left side. Players have to decide how close a line of attack they wish to take. Unlike, the harshness of the closing hole at TPC Sawgrass, the 2nd at PDGC is simply quintessential Dye.
As I mentioned earlier, the most disconcerting aspect with Dye's later efforts was a tendency to add MORE -- when less works more effectively. See Pete's effort at French Lick to showcase the preceding sentence.
A great example at PDGC in following a more subdued effort comes with the par-3 4th. One must be ever cognizant of the water penality area and how the reverse "C" green wraps around it. When the pin is cut in the far left corner -- you'd best be utterly sure of your talent level otherwise the famed Bobby Darin song will be quickly playing -- "splish splash!" Dye does give a bailout area for those weak kneed souls so the mandate is not simply "sink or swim."
The par-5 5th is golf's version of poker. Do you wish to raise the stakes in going for the green in two blows following a quality tee shot. You can see the green tucked alongside a lurking creek. Dye foes give other options for those not so inclined in living on the edge. The best part of the hole is the lack of overkill -- you don't see endless array of inane bunkers being plopped all over the place. The naturalness of the hole says it clearly and distinctly.
The remaining holes on the outward half are also good -- pay particular attention to the par-5 8th with its long quarry bunker and the way the hole just sits comfortably in the setting. The long par-4 9th ends the side in fine fashion. Two bunkers are int he drive zone but the one that is more visible has a center placement and one has to decide how to avoid it -- either by going over or around it.
The inward half keeps the momentum going. The long par-4 10th must be played with real caution. Dye excels in tempting players -- to attempt shots that may doable but the proability of the payoff being positive can be a stretch. The hole moves gently to the right and those who opt to play the aggressive line to shorten one's approach had best execute with no hesitation. Some will quibble about the waterfall feature to the right of the green but in this case it provides a natural connection and fits.
Another example of not overcooking the outcome comes with the par-3 13th. The green works on a diagonal and when the pin is cut to the far left you have to have sufficient club to pull it off. There'splenty of room to the right but Dye cleverly baits players.
The remaining holes for the back nine are a quality combination. My main concern comes with the long par-4 18th. It's reminiscent of the finalze at TPC Sawgrass -- although the water penalty area is not as abrasive as the one in Florida. The approach is of high order with a green providing sufficient movement and protected by artful moudning on the right and a deep bunkers lurking front left and one on the right.
PDGC works extremely well because Pete himself did not opt to throw everything -- short of the kitchen sink -- into the mix. West Virginia carries the State slogan of "Wild Wonderful" -- that's entirely appropriate for this engaging and memorable layout.
M. James Ward
A great course with outstanding scenery. There are a few unique holes shaped through this mountainous terrain. While not a big fan of the forced carries on 2, 10,and 18, there is plenty to love about the course, especially the par 5 5th.