How an early Pete Dye moment shapes Beau Welling

Course architect is establishing himself among the industry's finest with an emerging portfolio of new designs and renovations

OmniAmeliaIslandResort_OakMarsh_Hole16 — Matthew Majka
Hole No. 16, Omni Amelia Island Resort's Oak Marsh course, Amelia Island, Florida.

AMELIA ISLAND, Florida — Beau Welling experienced an impactful get-off-my-lawn moment early in his golf course architecture career.

Following his sophomore year at Brown University in 1989, Welling went home to his native Greenville, South Carolina, to intern for the then-busiest man in the golf world, Tom Fazio. On a weekend escape to the family beach house at Kiawah Island, Welling ventured over to where a golf course was taking shape from the dunes, scrub and nothingness of the coastal landscape just south of Charleston.

“One of the Kiawah sales guys asked, ‘Have you seen the Ocean Course?’” recalls Welling, who had not. “So, this young guy gets me to jump in a jeep with him. We drive down the beach, through the dunes and over the top where the course was rising up. We went over this hill and there was Pete Dye deep down working in a bunker.”

Dye’s eyes bulged at the sight of a vehicle interloping on his unique new golf course, designed for the 1991 Ryder Cup and beyond.

“Why the hell are you here with that jeep?” Dye fumed as the jeep came to a stop and he climbed out of the bunker. “You’re not supposed to be here. Leave.”

The sales associate had the guts to tell Dye that his passenger seat occupant was working for Fazio. Dye reacted quickly.

“Get out,” Dye told the driver. “If you’re working for Fazio, you need to let me drive you around.”

Dye proceeded to drive Welling around all 18 holes and showed him the thought process behind the entire course.

“That was the coolest thing in my whole life,” says the 54-year-old Welling, who was then age 20 and now runs Beau Welling Design. “From that day forward, I developed a relationship — talking with him and wife Alice. I would call and pick his brain. I never worked for him or have done work on a Dye course. Until now.”

Fields Ranch_West14.jpg
A view of the 14th hole at the Beau Welling-designed Fields Ranch West course.

That first meeting with Dye, who died in 2020, was in Welling’s head as he came to Amelia Island in late February. He was on site in far Northeast Florida to discuss the renovation of the Oak Marsh course, a 50-year-old Dye creation that needs a transformation, mainly from an irrigation and drainage perspective and to freshen up a course that fellow course architect Tom Doak, in his 1996 book The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, called “one of the narrowest golf courses I have ever played.”

Soon after building Harbour Town Golf Links in 1969 at Hilton Head, South Carolina, the site of the annual spring PGA Tour event the week following the Masters, the Sea Pines Company brought Dye south to build what was then called Amelia Island Links. Dye designed the 18-hole Oak Marsh course and nine holes that would become the front nine of the Ocean Links course. Later, Dye associate Bobby Weed built the back nine on Ocean Links, which closed in 2017. In 2021, Welling transformed Ocean Links into the Little Sandy 10-hole short course.

Omni Resorts, the parent company of the Amelia Island Resort, is saying Welling will “renovate and modernize” Oak Marsh. And in his first work on a Dye course, Welling is paying tribute to the hall of fame architect by retaining the tiny greens and narrow fairways, but also incorporating sandy areas where grass can’t grow in the shade, new chipping areas, more runup shot opportunities and restored Dye-styled bunkering. The entire property will be rebuilt with bermudagrass, with a single fairway cut in most places. Following the $7.4 million renovation, the course is scheduled to reopen in October.

“It’s not the easiest thing to do to recreate the original,” Welling says. “The game has sort of evolved since this was built. Where people hit the ball in 1972 and the matter that the trees have evolved make this a lot different than what we see today. But it will look and feel like it’s a Pete Dye golf course.

“It’s a unique thing. I haven’t really done this before. Many of the renovations we have done we weren’t as concerned about some of the historic stuff. But I personally think it’s very important on this course. We celebrate what this great person did here.”

Welling has not dug through archives to find Dye’s original plans, but instead eyeballs all the Oak Marsh course alongside right-hand man Scott Benson. They may even add a tribute or two to Dye that has either been diminished or didn’t exist previously. The property has a similar feel to Harbour Town, which Welling says might be his favorite Dye design because of its stature in his native state.

The Peninsula Club
Beau Welling's renovation of Peninsula Club in Cornelius, North Carolina, is expected to be completed in October 2024.

“We are beyond excited that one of the great golf course experiences in both Florida and the U.S. is about to become even better,” said Theo Schofield, managing director, Omni Amelia Island Resort, in a prepared release. “Beau Welling and his team are ideal to ensure that Pete Dye’s marvelous creation will be updated true to his original vision.”

The work is a continuation of Welling’s connection to Omni Resorts, which purchased the Amelia Island Resort in 2010. In addition to the Oak Marsh redo and the building of Little Sandy, Welling had a significant presence at the PGA of America’s new headquarters in Frisco, Texas. He was the master planner and course designer for Fields Ranch West at PGA Frisco and collaborated with Gil Hanse on The Swing, a lighted short course, and The Dance Floor putting course.

Welling was involved with the Frisco course project before Omni added the Omni PGA Frisco Resort centerpiece. Also, Welling is designing a new course in Mexico and assisting on tweaks to Omni’s 28 courses and 13 resorts.

“Omni somewhat inherited me at Frisco,” Welling says. “Through time working there, I think they came to appreciate our team as smart guys who were solution and client focused. It’s a great relationship for us. If it wasn’t for their passion for golf — and ours — it would probably be a different story. Omni has a real commitment to golf and that is only going to increase. They also recognize that golf is more than just greens, tees and bunkers, but a way to drive people to gather.”

As the work continues this summer, it wouldn’t be surprising that Welling will feel the presence — and maybe a throwback yell or two — of Dye.

“I better do this right, or Pete will come looking for me,” Welling jokes.