Dye disciple Lutzke achieves long-term goal

Take a quick glance at the resume of golf course architect Chris Lutzke and it looks as if he started his career at the top of the industry. 

His first boss: the legendary Pete Dye. The first project he ever worked on: Blackwolf Run, a perennial top-100 course in Kohler, Wis. 

In reality, however, Lutzke started his career at the most basic level of golf course construction. He was a just-out-of-high-school kid hired to work at Blackwolf Run as an unskilled laborer performing such unglamorous tasks as digging trenches and installing drainage pipes.

But Dye obviously saw potential in the hard-working youngster, so when Dye moved south to work on Old Marsh Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., he invited Lutzke to join his team. That started a relationship that has lasted more than 30 years, with the two working together on some of Dye’s best-known designs, ranging from the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island and Whistling Straits to the Dye Course at French Lick Resort, where Lutzke served as the lead designer. 

And Dye and his wife Alice also were central to Lutzke’s latest achievement, earning membership in the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA). 

“It was a long-term goal and it was important to Pete,” said Lutzke, now a principal in the Albanese-Lutzke Golf Course Design firm. “But it was Alice Dye who kept on me and had me get the applications in, do interviews and go in front of the board. Pete and Alice were the driving force and it has been a great long journey.”

What is his favorite memory of Pete during his long career with the Dyes? 

“We were building the Ocean Course at Kiawah,” said Lutzke, who was working as a shaper at the time. “I remember Pete getting down on his hands and knees and building little models of the holes in the sand to show us exactly what he wanted.” 

During his tenure with Dye, Lutzke earned degrees in both agronomy and landscape architecture from Michigan State University. 

Along the way, Lutzke left his mark on some other of Dye’s top 100-ranked designs, including The Honors Course in Tennessee, Mystic Rock at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Pennsylvania and Colleton River Plantation on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. He also was a key contributor on Dye projects such as Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, Brickyard Crossing in Indiana and Barefoot Landing in South Carolina.   

The first solo design for Lutzke was the highly regarded Eagle Eye, which opened in 2003 and is part of the Hawk Hollow golf complex in Bath, Mich. He transformed the former sod farm and cornfield into a links-style layout that is regarded as one of the top courses in the state. 

Over the years, the way he approaches a project has evolved – for example, more preliminary work on routing is done in the office – but Lutzke still makes the most critical design decisions in the field. And he sees his biggest strength as being able to identify the most striking natural resource on a project site and showcasing that element. 

His design philosophy is simple: Make the course challenging but fair so that both skilled golfers and high-handicappers can enjoy their round. 

“Anyone can build a hard golf course,” he said. “But I want to make it playable and fun for all levels of players.” 

And in an example of how careers can come full circle, Lutzke, 50, this year was back at Whistling Straits – which will host the 2020 Ryder Cup – making changes to improve the gallery movement and spectator viewing areas, but taking care to avoid altering the character of the course.    

“Our objective was to do the work and put it back the way it was,” he said. 

He and business partner Paul Albanese work individually on their own course design projects, though they jointly operate a construction firm to handle their architectural projects. 

And through the years, the key lesson he learned from Dye is still what drives his work today. 

“I don’t care how good the course design is,” he said. “The final product is only as good as the people putting it together.”

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