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Dynasty by design

Roy DyeThe Dyes are a collection of All-American characters whose idiosyncrasies have transformed course architecture in our time

By Mark Seal

The following is excerpted from a story that first appeared in the March 1995 issue of Golf Digest

“People would call me and I’d say, ‘I can’t do this, but I’d like to give my son a shot at it ” says Pete. “Sometimes, they’d say, ‘We don’t mind your son doing the work but we need your name to promote this project.’ So we’d set up a joint deal where it was supposed to be designed by Pete and P.B. Dye or Pete and Perry Dye and we’d make very clear to the owner that the predominant amount of work would be done by them. Or Roy.”

The name floats into the room like a summer squall. Roy. Pete’s younger brother, Roy Anderson Dye. At 39, Roy, a graduate of Yale, a hard-driving chemical engineer who previously worked on a team that invented a washing-machine agitator, was diagnosed with colon cancer and told that his days were numbered. But Roy didn’t die; he merely agitated. For 26 manic years, golf-course development kept him alive.

“My brother got sick with cancer,” says Pete, “and I just gave him a job working for me.”

So Roy was a big help? Pete whistles like a teapot. “God-almighty, we never agreed on anything. Just different ways, different philosophies. He always wanted to be a developer, owner, operator. And I’ve always felt my niche was to design and build golf courses,” says Pete.

Warrior Roy, rising and falling
When Perry arrives at Colorado College, a slew of Dyes await him. Chief among them is Ann Dye, a stately blonde whose husband, Roy, finally lost his 2-year battle with cancer last April 18. “He was a warrior,” their daughter Mary says at the graduation ceremony.

There is a recurring scene in the family’s collective memory. Roy Dye lies in one of the dozens of hospitals and experimental treatment clinics that became his temporary home, clinging precariously to life after another major operation. Sometime during the night, the hospital room door opens and, dressed in shorts, tennis shoes and golf shirt, Pete Dye enters. He turns on the TV to “Matlock” or “Andy Griffith,” flashes a grin and drawls, “Get well, Roy, and let’s go build some golf courses.”

And Roy would rise like the phoenix.

“Pete’s a better salesman than anybody in the world,” says Roy’s oldest son, Andy. “They talk about the great golf courses and all that bull, but when Dad got cancer he was selling chain-link fences and didn’t have any health insurance, and Pete came in. He’d spend the night with Dad. And the next morning, he’d leave a check to pay the hospital bill, and he’d say, ‘I got this job at TRW. Gets well and let’s go build a golf course.’ This would repeat itself a hundred times. Pete gave Dad a future.”

Next to his wife and eight kids, Pete Dye meant everything to his younger brother. But when he rose from his hospital bed, Roy wasn’t seeking low-key projects. Whether fighting cancer or building golf courses, Roy’s philosophy was thumbs-up, go for it, the bigger the better. His dream? To create not merely a golf course, but a total community, a master plan anchored by a Dye course, owned by Dye interests. It almost broke him.

If Perry is the lion tamer in the Dye Circus, then Roy was the high wire act. “Roy would say, ‘Pull the net away. What am I afraid of?’ ” says Perry. “And then he’d start doing flips on the high wire. And everybody underneath would be going, ‘Oh, my God!’ And he’d just keep doing more and more.”

Says Roy’s son Matt, “The deals kept him alive.”

After the doctor told Roy his days were numbered in 1969, he began excruciating weekly chemotherapy treatments. But when he stepped onto a construction site with his brother he felt no pain. He sold his chain-link fence business and went to work with Pete full time. It was Roy and Pete at TRW’s course in Chesterland, Ohio, Little Turtle Club at Columbus, Wabeek Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. “They worked as brothers,” says Andy Dye. “Dad was one of the engineers; Pete was the artist.” When the phone began ringing with calls from developers in Mexico, Pete sent his brother, and Roy invaded the badlands with both barrels blazing. For Roy, the cancer was an enemy to fight, not to debate. For a while, he won. But in 1980, the cancer reappeared, and Roy checked in for experimental treatment at M. D. Anderson in Houston. Blasted with 5,000 rads of radiation, the maximum allowed, he awoke from radical surgery to find Pete at his bedside.

Roy Dye checked out of M.D. Anderson and finagled a way to buy the 9,600-acre Carefree Ranch in Arizona. He held the rights to the ranch for three years, building nine holes, until the debt nearly crushed him. Lyle Anderson in partnership with Mobil Oil bailed him out and together they created the Desert Mountain development with three Jack Nicklaus courses, following most of Roy’s master plan.

In 1988, Roy wasn’t expected to live through radical surgery at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. “The pro forma said you needed to raise about $25 million to put in the infrastructure for a potential project in Ramona, Calif.,” says Perry. “Unbeknownst to anybody, Roy took $200,000 to California and put the property in escrow, knowing that the next day he was going in for major, major surgery.”

When Roy awoke from a near-coma two weeks later, his first words were “Do you have the maps done for Ramona?”

“What maps?” asked his bewildered family.

When conventional medicine wrote him off he turned to unconventional cures. He ingested gallons of shark cartilage, nests from cave birds in Southeast Asia, Matsu pine nuts from Japan. When the cancer metastasized to his spine, he had an alcohol wash injected into his back to kill the nerves and cut the pain, and rolled onto golf courses in his wheelchair.

His eight kids served as his legs. Grabbing him by the belt, they marched him into offices to sign 36 hole development deals. Wheeling him into waiting rooms straight from intensive-care units, they’d prop him on a sofa, hide the IV tubes and scram just before the developers came for the meeting.

“The developer would say, ‘Are you sure you’re all right?’ ” remembers Matt Dye. “Aw, yeah,” replied Roy, “just a case of appendicitis.”

By 1990, when no conventional surgeon would touch him, Roy sought a cure from a pair of Rhode Island surgeons who actually severed the spinal cord. “It’s a 2thour operation,” says Andy. “He acted like he was going in to get a flu shot.”

He survived the operation, but his white count plummeted. The family got word: Roy Dye is dead. “We get there, he is on breathing machines; he’d come back to life,” says Andy. “And, of course, Pete comes by.”

One more deal
As soon as he could fly back to Phoenix, Roy was on the horn with some Japanese developers seeking to build a golf course in Simi Valley, Calif. This time, the medical bills were too high for even Pete to pay. “And the last thing Dad wants to do is ask his brother for money,” says Andy. “So he meets these Japanese developers in his office. My brothers had to prop him up in the chair. The developers had no idea if this guy was among the living or the dead. They thought he was the greatest thing in the world. They paid him $400,000 to design the course and do the land plan.”

Almost in the black again, except for his medical bills, it was time for Roy Dye to go home. Not to the grandstands, but to the lowlands, the wellspring of Dye golf. His kids had to carry him onto the airplane, then stretch him across three seats, constantly reassuring the stewardess that Roy wasn’t dead. He cut the ribbon at the family reunion commemorating P.B. Dye’s completion of the second nine of their ancestral Urbana Country Club. Then, Roy returned to Phoenix, planning a trip to Cabo San Lucas. He was starting work on Cabo San Lucas Country Club, where, he said, “The sandy loam is like butter to contour” but “the course will bite you if you give it a chance.”

“Come out and see me ‘ he said to his sister Anne while eating lunch with his family on April 17.

He was dead the next morning. Beside his bed, his wife found a paper napkin. The ink marks may have been shaky, but its message was clear: On his final day, Roy Dye had designed a final hole at Cabo San Lucas.

“He fought it like a mule:’ said Pete Dye. Roy had asked to be buried next to his Ma and Pa in the little cemetery in Urbana. So on June 14, Pete and his clan returned to the Andy of Mayberry town, where sidewinder developers have yet to spoil the fields and the home folks can still keep their doors unlocked, for a memorial service for Roy.

So many Dyes had to fly from so many foreign golf courses that the service had to be planned two months after Roy’s death. But before the speeches and the prayers there was one urgent question—that Dyes debated for weeks with the fervor of a benediction: “Will we play golf before, or after, the service?”

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