Designing Women Only a special few female course architects have broken through the craft's grass ceiling

April 26, 2004
April 26, 2004

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April 26, 2004


Designing Women Only a special few female course architects have broken through the craft's grass ceiling

Blame Alice. That's what Pete Dye did last month during the
Players Championship at the TPC at Sawgrass, last week at the MCI
Heritage at Harbour Town and will do again in August at the PGA
Championship at Whistling Straits. It's not Pete's fault that
there's no place to bail out on the island-green 17th at
Sawgrass, that the 13th green at Har-bour Town looks as if it's
wearing a wooden collar, or that a slightly off-line tee shot at
the 17th at Whistling Straits could wind up in Lake Michigan.
"That's all Alice," Pete says, proclaiming his innocence with
spousal affection. "I like to give her the credit for those holes
because I sure do take hell for them."

This is an article from the April 26, 2004 issue

Alice and Pete Dye have been married for 54 years, and for more
than 40 of them they have reigned as the first couple of
golf-course architecture, with Pete the principal author and
Alice his challenging editor. Their design of the exasperating
13th at Harbour Town, a little (373 yards) par-4 that gives
players big headaches, is typical of their collaboration.

During construction of the course in 1969 Pete was behind
schedule and asked Alice to finish the hole, which had already
been routed. An excellent player, Alice instinctively knew that a
par-4 of this type called for an assortment of hole locations
(hence the heart-shaped green) accessible only by deft shotmaking
(hence the front bunker with its steep face of cypress planking).
"Had it been a sod bank, nobody would've given the bunker a
thought," Alice says, "but the pros hated the planks. They made
the hole more intimidating and, I think, very aesthetic. I
thought the hole was absolutely perfect."

So did Pete. On the morning of the first round of the inaugural
Heritage Classic, in the fall of '69, he was still smoothing the
planked bunker when the first group of pros came into view.
Slipping behind the gallery ropes, he heard a couple of guys say
what a lovely hole Jack Nicklaus--a consultant on the
project--had created. Indignant, Dye says he stepped forward and
"told them that not only had Jack never seen this hole, but that
a lovely young lady designed it. As I walked away, I heard one
guy say, 'There goes an early-morning drunk for you.'"

Seventy-five years ago Marion Hollins--also a superb
player--showed Alister MacKenzie where to build the most
beautiful par-3 hole in golf, the cliff-hanging 16th at Cypress
Point. Yet today, when Annika Sorenstam can hold her own with the
men and Michelle Wie can outdrive many of them, rarely is a woman
allowed to design a course. Of the 158 members of the American
Society of Golf Course Architects, only three--Alice Dye; Jan
Beljan, who works for Tom Fazio; and Victoria Martz, an associate
of Arnold Palmer's--are women. Just four others--Lisa Maki,
Bettina Schrickel and Lorrie Viola in the U.S. and Line Mortenson
in Denmark--operate their own design companies.

"It's not that women don't want to come into this profession,"
says Martz, 56, whose courses include the TPC of the Twin Cities,
in Blaine, Minn., and Bay Creek, in Cape Charles, Va. "They
aren't really exposed to it, so they don't even know they can."

The problem, says Geoffrey Cornish, the 90-year-old dean of
American course designers, "has so much to do with our male
egos." Cornish is not referring to the egos of his fellow
architects, outsized as they can be. He's talking about the egos
of the men who hire designers. Men hire men to build and renovate
their courses because men have always hired men for such work.

"That is the hardest part of the job, just getting the job," says
Maki, 43, who designed the award-winning Stoneleigh Golf Club in
Round Hill, Va., and Willow Run outside Seattle. "It's especially
hard for a woman on her own to get a break."

"It's a macho thing, no doubt," says Ed Seay, Palmer's design
partner and Martz's mentor. "I'd like to see this change, but
it's going to take time. This part of golf has always been a
man's game."

The first woman to design courses was May Dunn, the daughter of
prolific 19th-century British golf architect Tom Dunn and the
niece of Willie Dunn, who drew the original routing of Shinnecock
Hills. When she married in 1920, her husband, Adolf Hupfel, asked
her to quit because he thought work was unseemly for a woman. She
gave up her career, and more than 80 years later the demands of
family and relationships continue to work against women.

"This isn't simply a job," says Beljan, 50, who has courses such
as the Old Collier Club in Naples, Fla., on her resume and has
spent half her life working with Fazio. "This is a lifestyle. I
can be away for six months at a time. That's not appealing to
many women. It's not conducive to a family situation." Mortenson,
32, kids her boyfriend--on the rare occasions when they're
together--that, because of the long hours and tiresome travel,
what she really needs is a wife.

What makes matters even more difficult is that the profession has
few access ramps--for anyone. "I never gave it a thought until
Pete asked me to join him," says Alice Dye. "It wouldn't have
occurred to me to do it on my own. There weren't any role

Nor are there are any professional schools or degree programs, at
least in the U.S. The European Institute of Golf Course
Architects, however, sponsors a one-year diploma course taught in
Edinburgh, Scotland. Mortenson was the first woman to go through
the program--Schrickel, a German, is also a graduate--and now
helps administer it.

For most designers, though, the only way to get into the business
is by serving an apprenticeship, a long and dusty path that
usually begins with an internship. "There's no established
pipeline," says Tom Doak, who apprenticed with the Dyes in the
'80s. Doak, who is now an established architect, had 77 people
apply for internships with him this year, and he'll take on three
this summer--including his first woman.

"He told me I'd need an iron bra." That was the counsel Martz
says Seay gave her when she joined the Palmer company in 1985.
"He told me, 'You have to be tough. You can't have thin skin.
You're going to get darts thrown at you.'"

Says Mortenson, "I don't know how many male architects have to be
as aware of their appearance as I've found I have to be. I've
been in meetings where clients have let slip, 'Oh, we thought
you'd be butch.' That wouldn't happen to a man. If that's the
first comment you get, there's a long way to go to get them from
thinking about my femininity to the job that needs to be done."

All of the women designers have been challenged by crews in the
field. "You show them you can work with them," says Beljan, "and
they come around."

Alice Dye felt the burn of bias when she applied for membership
in the ASGCA in 1982. Pete had been a member for a decade and she
figured that she was equally qualified. In addition, she says, "I
thought I needed to do this because it might open the door for
other women in the profession."

When she applied, "there was a great deal of discussion about
whether they would take a woman," she says. At the time the Dyes
were building Long Cove, on Hilton Head Island, so the president
of the society called the Long Cove developer and asked what
would happen if Pete became incapacitated and couldn't complete
the project. "Alice would finish it faster, cheaper and better,"
the developer replied, and Alice's application was accepted. In
the mid-'90s she rose to the association's presidency, though at
first she was hesitant to take the position. "It was an all-male
organization, and that concerned me," says Alice, who actively
encouraged Beljan and Martz to join as well, "but I thought this
would give me exposure, and more women could see that they could
do this."

Nancy Lopez's name is attached to a course in Florida, as is Jan
Stephenson's. Sorenstam's name is about to join the marquee at
Mission Hills, the 10-course resort in Shenzhen, China. But what
about Beth Daniel, Carol Mann, Patty Sheehan and Kathy Whitworth,
who have all expressed interest in at least partnering with an
established designer but have never been given the opportunity?
"If a club is going to put a name on a course, they'd rather it
be one of the guys," says architect Richard Mandell, who has been
approached about teaming with a prominent LPGA player. "It's
still that sexist."

There's also a flip side. Says Beljan, "There is an allure to
designing a course, but you have to have the desire to match
that." Not everybody who dreams of cajoling the next Pine Valley
from the earth really wants to play in the dirt.

Beljan remembers working on a project in Florida several years
ago when an LPGA player asked to come on-site and learn about the
business. "'Put on your boots,' I told her," says Beljan. "After
four hours in the dust she decided that she didn't want to design
courses anymore. It had lost its glamour. But for me, I was
simply doing my job. Too many people--men and women--think that
designing a course is simply standing in one place, pointing and
saying, 'Oh, let's put a bunker there.'"

Tom Fazio says the job is "all about being creative, and neither
sex has a corner on that." But there are certain sensitivities,
aesthetic as well as strategic, that each designer has. As
creative as Pete Dye is--and Alice is the first to affirm that
he's the one with the imagination in their partnership--he missed
the key aesthetic, the ocean, in his original plan for the Ocean
course on Kiawah Island. She was walking the site one morning
during construction and wondered why the only place the Atlantic
came into view was from the elevated tees. She proposed that the
fairways be raised. "How could I argue with her logic?" says
Pete. "I couldn't say, 'Who wants to look at the ocean?' Who

Alice has also been credited with turning forward tees from
afterthought into an integral part of a course's design. Pete
also believes she's more attuned to the problems facing women and
high-handicap golfers because she has played with them.

"I've never teed it up with three ladies who couldn't break 130,
and neither has Jack Nicklaus," says Pete, "but Alice has. She
has a great eye for where they wind up on the course. She has a
broader view of what's happening out there."

Martz says that there is no gender signature to her work, but she
admits that she's easier than most on forced carries, and she
believes there's a different balance and harmony in her layouts.
"I'm not saying men don't have it too," she says, "but I think
it's the left brain-right brain thing, and that men come at it
less from the direction of harmony and art than from
competitively challenging golfers."

But at Whistling Straits, where the 17th will undoubtedly command
the most attention during this year's PGA, it was Alice who
wanted to stiffen the challenge to the players on the
psychosis-inducing par-3. She thought that Pete, the guy, was too
forgiving in his design of the 223-yard hole, so cavernous
bunkers were added between the green, which sits on a cliff, and
Lake Michigan. If a players hits anything left, he'll either be
in bunker hell or worse. "The hole didn't have that fear factor,"
says Alice. "Now it does."

If only the bigger problem of ensuring equal opportunity in her
profession were so easily fixed. "Discrimination in golf isn't
going to be broken down by women," Alice says. "It's going to be
broken down by the fathers of daughters who see that their female
child doesn't have the same opportunity as their son."

If Pete and Alice had had a daughter, would she have been a
course designer, like their sons, Perry and P.D.? "She would have
had the opportunity to join us and we'd have encouraged her,"
says Alice. "It's so rewarding to be part of creating something
and leaving a mark. This is a wonderful career. A dirty and hard
career, but a satisfying and wonderful one too."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRIAN SMITH/CORBIS-OUTLINE DYE CAST Pete (opposite right) left it to his wife, Alice, to create the unique bunker that the pros loathe at the 13th hole at Harbour Town (above).COLOR PHOTO: @PDI: CHRIS JOHN [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRIAN SMITH/CORBIS-OUTLINE DIRTY WORK Beljan gave an LPGA player the chance to work with her, but after four hours the pro had had enough.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRIAN SMITH/CORBIS-OUTLINE TOUGH SELL Maki, one of only four women with their own design firms, says the hardest part of the job is getting the job.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRIAN SMITH/CORBIS-OUTLINE DISCOURAGING WORDS A longtime member of the Palmer team, Martz nonetheless expects to be routinely challenged.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRIAN SMITH/CORBIS-OUTLINE LOOKS CAN KILL Mortenson learned early that, unlike a man, she would be judged on her appearance by potential clients.
"If a club is going to put a name on a course, they'd rather it
be one of the guys," says Mandell. "IT'S STILL THAT SEXIST."