When Pete Dye first gazed on the swamp here, the only eyes that looked back at him were those of deer, wild boar, alligators and "every damn type of snake in the world."
So impenetrable was this hideous Florida jungle that Dye, machete in hand, followed deer and small animal trails to find the lowest land in the swamps. Once, while whacking a rattlesnake as it dived into its hole, Dye forgot that "those things always run in pairs," and the "momma" rattler nearly got him when he was bending down to finish off poppa. "Musta killed 50 or 60 of those rattlers, all of 'em four-to-five inches in diameter," said Dye, who, hopefully, meant to say circumference.
As far as many a pro golfer is concerned, they wish the rattlers had won the day. Instead, Dye lived to build the most wonderfully ugly golf course on earth. His surrealistic new Tournament Players Club here, where the $500,000 TPC begins Thursday, is a perverse peon to life's vengeful, capricious dark side. The TPC program ought to have a Durer print for a cover--a demented, emaciated knight on a starving horse followed by a carcass-gnawing mongrel.
"Welcome to Pete Dye's Paradise," said fiendish Deane Beman, the TPA tour commissioner, today, brimming with pride at what was his genuinely radical brainchild.
Perhaps no course has ever opened surrounded by such anticipation and controversy.
For instance, leading money winner Tom Kite predicted that, within five years, this event--because of its field (almost certainly the strongest any time, anywhere) and its unique course--would be the biggest of all the majors.
Veteran Miller Barber cursed the joint: "It's not ready to play on. They'll need to completely tear up and rebuild about 11 greens, because they're too severely contoured to play."
"There's just too much luck involved out there," laments Craig Stadler. "You hit it one spot and it ends up a foot from the hole. Hit the same shot and land two feet from that same point, and you'll roll off the green 50 feet away."
Jack Nicklaus, by contrast, relishes the diabolical intent--what he calls "the Scottish concept" of the built-in bad bounce and the impossible lie. "Golf is not a fair game and was never meant to be," he says. "By and large, this course is finished. . . a British weekend player would enjoy it, because he's used to hitting shots (while) standing on his head."
Making the pro golf world stand on its head is just what Dye has in mind.
"Everything here," said Dye today, "is the dead opposite of Augusta. On purpose . . . Augusta is pretty pretty. This is 'mean pretty.' "
Dye's course, cut out of 415 acres of hell, is designed to intimidate the eye, tighten the guts and defeat the will before the first shot is even struck. Other courses have 80 acres of cleared ground; this has 40. It's called "target golf." Which means, you either hit it exactly were Dye says or you go commune with the flora and fauna.
Dye calls these awful regions "waste bunkers. . . you can find your ball, and you may be able to hit it. But you can't hit it right." Waste bunkers are just part of Dye's signature, along with railroad ties, greenside pot bunkers in the British style and wildly undulating greens. Add to this the vast spectator mounds that look like prehistoric burial pyres and you know why this spa is called The Dyeing Ground.
"This is the hardest-looking easy course around," protests Dye as players' demur with their moans. "Everything looks more severe than it is. . . . The key is, you must be aggressive. Cautious play is punished worst."
In Wednesday's pro-am, weather was perfect, pin positions easy and Ray Floyd, coached on almost every shot by playing partner Dye, shot a 66, a course record by three shots. With Satan's aid, Floyd had proved the course "fair."
"If nobody had broken par," said Dye, "I'd have been scared and gotten out of here."
Now, his design vindicated by a low score, Dye is willing for the bluebird weather to move on.
"For the last day," Dye says, hopefully, like a rattlesnake spying a bunny, "wind, and maybe a little rain."