Image courtesty Rick Dees, owner and entertainer of Sweetbrier Farm and Rick.com
for Golf Club World, Behind the Gates, 2013
GK; How did you find Sweetbrier Farm?
For years and years, my wife, Julie (McWhirter), and I had a dream of owning a farm. Julie started looking at historic houses. As a hobby, we went to different states to see if any were available.
Julie grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana, and I grew up in North Carolina. Our friend, Linda Bruckheimer, who grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, said “Why don’t you look in Kentucky? I bet you’ll love it as much as Jerry and I love this beautiful part of America.”
We’ve been friends with Jerry and Linda for years, and we had seen a few farms together. One of them was called Happy Valley Farm. We heard that it may be for sale, and we eventually purchased this lovely and historic farm. Our project was to bring the farm back to its original state.
GK: How did you come up with the name Sweetbrier Farm?
Happy Valley is a good name, but we wanted to create a feeling of beautiful Kentucky. There’s a little rose called the Sweetbrier Rose that grows wild in the woods of Kentucky, and we thought the name had a wonderful fresh sound – therefore, Sweetbrier Farm.
#2 tee, looking across the pond at a 245 yard par 3
Image by Diana DeLucia for Golf Club World, Behind the Gates
GK: When did you decide to build a golf course on the property?
Whenever I looked at this one area - it was about 100 acres - it just looked like a golf course and just had the natural flow. I was in Las Vegas launching a marketing campaign for a hotel and a friend of mine named Randy Morton said to talk to the man who built the Royal Links Golf Club. His name: Matt Dye, Pete Dye’s extremely gifted nephew, and one of the nicest guys ever.
I called Matt and he told me that he had some business in the East and offered to come to the farm. We met here in March 1997.
It was “instant chemistry” when Matt and I shook hands. As he gazed out over the rolling green hills of central Kentucky, Matt enthused, “Rick, this is a golf course already. All you have to do is move just a little bit of dirt.” I asked him about the cost. He said, “I love to design golf courses,” as he proposed the financial deal. “Let my family and I move into this guest cottage,” Matt said, “...and I’ll build golf holes for you until it rains and I have to move to the next course.”
When Matt and I met up again three weeks later in Los Angeles at Lakeside Golf Club, he brought a computer printout of nine championship holes that were basically inspired by some of the classic holes of our time. I said, “Oh, my gosh, this is amazing. Do you really think we can pull this off?” In typical Dye fashion, Matt laughed and said, “Just rent that bulldozer and turn me loose!”
Matt started building. We had one of the worst droughts ever that year starting in May, but Matt and his tiny staff fashioned the most amazing inland links course I have ever seen. Then we sought the advice of the famous agronomist and friend, Dick Psola, who recommended the fairways be seeded with Midnight Kentucky Bluegrass. When this beautiful grass matures, it looks like a deep dark green carpet with a slight bluish reflection. It’s absolutely gorgeous.
Matt Dye over-delivered on his pledge to me. It’s the finest championship 9-hole course one could imagine. While he was seeding and contouring with the hardest working team, managed by Luke Chillick, his family lived here with him and they enjoyed the lifestyle of Danville, Kentucky. Karen and Matt Dye fell in love with the people of Kentucky, just like Julie and I did, and we loved watching his golf design and artistry in action. Matt Dye - truly an amazing architect.
I often wish that I could go back in time to the first time Matt and I met and looked out together over the gently rolling hills of Kentucky.
I was also able to see, as I shook his hand, that he had the beginnings of a health problem. I dream of saying, “‘Matt, go over to the University of Kentucky Medical Center and have a colonoscopy.’ And he’d say, ‘What?’ And I’d say, ‘Yes, go,’ and the doctors will find your colon cancer early.’”
Matthew Dye passed away of colon cancer in 2008 at age 48. But through that experience, from 1997 until his death, he became one of my best friends ever. He had a great sense of humor and was always in a good mood. Matt was a wonderful father and husband, and a very loyal friend. He just loved designing golf courses and paying attention to the little nuances that matter. And he loved life.
GK: How many years did it take to build the course?
It took 18 months, but the maturation progress of a golf course is just like wine. It has to mature, and I would rate this particular vintage golf course right up there with the best. I always say that the greatest golf courses are the ones where you remember every hole, and this is the golf course where you remember every golf hole that Matt Dye designed.
Matt designed a second nine, but God called him to build the back nine in heaven.
The Matt Dye Oak Tree on the right side of the #1 fairway
Image by Diana DeLucia for Golf Club World, Behind the Gates
GK: GK: How would you describe golf to someone who is just beginning or has never played?
It’s so many experiences all wrapped up in a brisk walk in fresh air. I always recommend a series of lessons with a professional teacher, followed with the final lesson which is “How to enjoy golf to the fullest”. To achieve the most enjoyment, realize that you never master this game, but at least once during your round, you’ll hit a shot like a professional - a putt, a chip, a bunker shot... and that is what brings us back to the course. You learn all about others when you play golf together. Short tempers, patience, good manners, and honesty - they are all left bare in full view.
GK: What do you do in your down time?
In my quiet time, I love performing on radio and TV, and on the exciting digital world on the internet and all hand-held devices. Being an entertainer and producer is the most fun I have ever had. I started performing professionally at age 17 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
GK: How do wish your guests to remember their Sweetbrier golf experience?
There are very few places left in America, even the world, where you can walk out at night and see the stars so vividly, or walk out in the daytime and hear the sounds of nature and feel the peace and quiet, and fill your lungs with fresh oxygen. What a feeling!
GK: How do you feel about the farm element of Sweetbrier Farm?
Above all, Sweetbrier Farm is a working farm. Our hard-working team produces many acres of corn, wheat, soybeans and hay. We are proud of our Angus cattle and our organic approach to farming.
Everything on the golf course, for example, is organic. All of the crops, all the cattle, and all the nutrients we use are the most natural ones we can find. Rather than pour a bunch of chemicals into our lake to kill the algae, we have a device connected to a compressor that shoots oxygen throughout the lake and turns it over all the time so the algae can’t grow. There are many huge - REALLY huge - fish in there, and the lake is fresh.
GK: Any Sweetbrier Golf highlights?
The sand in the bunkers is called, “Short Mountain Sand.” It’s all natural and pure white like Augusta National’s sand. It’s mined from a natural supply inside a mountain in Tennessee. It is absolutely the purest sand you can imagine. It’s a perfect sand for bunkers.
You can see the Dye family influence in little elements at Sweetbrier. Instead of using railroad tires as the signature, Matt was inspired by the old Irish stone fences found in this region of the U.S. They were stacked stone fences. Matt decided that the stacked stone fences would be the theme of the golf course, so he constructed “mortarless stone” tee boxes. It’s an amazing look, and adds a flavor and uniqueness to the course. These gorgeous limestones are a beautiful tribute to the genius of Matt Dye.
GK: You are quite a cook and love baking pies. Could you say a few words about pie crust?
A great pie crust is really very simple. Its butter and lard - not Crisco, LARD! Crisco doesn’t taste like anything. Lard has more fat and flavor. You shouldn’t work the crust, the flour mixture, very much at all. You let the gluten do what it’s supposed to do in the cold refrigerator; then you roll it out, put it in the pie pan, and you have the flaky best-tasting pie crust ever.
Use only the finest ingredients. If you can get fresh eggs from the farm, do it. If you need chocolate, make sure you get the best chocolate. For example, I think the best chocolate in the world comes right from a talented world-famous chocolatier named Julia Baker [Julia Baker Confections, Scottsdale, Arizona]. She, in my opinion, creates the world’s finest chocolate. That’s where I get our chocolate. Our philosophy is simple: “How you do one thing is how you do everything.”
GK: How did you get an interest in baking?
As a kid, my mom would cook, but too often it was like a “burnt offering”. Ann Dees tried her best. I will give her credit for her tasty southern fried chicken. She would very rarely make a dessert that was as elaborate as my grandmother’s, who was a classic dessert baker from Goldsboro, North Carolina. May S. Dees’ applesauce cakes and fruitcakes are legendary!
Based on that motivation from my grandmother and her applesauce cake, I decided to test my skills at baking. Pies and cobblers were my first stop on the way to becoming “Chef Boy R. Dees.” [Laughs] Baking is fun, rewarding and makes others feel good. Everybody wins. Why eat a supermarket cake full of shortening and sugar and doesn’t taste like anything; it just tastes sweet. Bake something fabulous with your own talent. I believe that the human body really craves fat, so if you put butter and lard in your pie crust, you’re home free. I also love seeing the chemical change that occurs in cakes and pies. If you bake a potato, it goes into and out of the oven looking like a potato. But when you put a yellowish mass into a pan, and it comes out of the oven a cake, it’s exhilarating! There are very few people who don’t love dessert so I’ve been lucky that many people have heard of “Chef Roy R. Dees.” Feel free to download my favorite recipes and try them yourself. Just click www.rick.com.
Many of you may not know by Golf Kitchen's Diana DeLucia, shot the food photography for Rick Dees cookbook, in 2015 in Burbank, California, Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, NY and, Madison Beach Hotel and Resort, Madison, CT! To buy The Top 40 Greatest Desserts of All Time click here https://www.amazon.com/Rick-Dees-All-Time-Greatest-Desserts/dp/0692495010