French Lick Resorts: Golden Era Donald Ross

The “Hill Course”

I will forever remember the Donald Ross Course at French Lick Resort as the Hill Course. Thankfully Mr. Cook came in and renovated and rebuilt the entire town of French Lick including the Donald Ross designed “Hill Course” in the early 2000’s. What stands with me to this day is how the Ross course was transformed from this great almost forgotten golden era golf course back to its former glory that Mr. Ross would be ecstatic about I would hope. There are two golf courses that I played the most when I was growing up, one was Otis Park in Bedford, Indiana and the other was the “Hill Course.”

The Hill Course was commissioned by politician and owner of the French Lick Springs Hotel and the Tom Bendelow, Valley Course, Thomas Taggert. Without Mr. Taggert there would not be this wonderful golf in such a remote portion of Indiana. Donald Ross the architect of the famed Pinhurst #2, built in 1907, was commissioned by Thomas Taggert. In 1917 the Hill Course opened with great fanfare. This small town with two absolutely world class hotels and the Hill Course hosted the 1924 PGA Championship, where history was made by Walter Hagen with a four-peat. This small town was rocking with many celebrities and politicians making French Lick their play ground.

The depression ended all of the fun for most in the country especially places like French Lick, where the extra money was no longer flowing. When I first visited French Lick in 1999 I was 12. The West Baden hotel was closed and had been for safety reasons since 1989. The French Lick Spring hotel was in operation but it needed some serious work.

The Hill Course, in my 12 year old eyes was perfect. What I remember the most was that the greens were tough as nails, the par 3’s were extremely long, and #8 had the meanest back to front slope on a green I had ever seen. Fast track to a newly renovated, absolutely stunning facility and the greens are tough as nails, the par 3’s are extremely long, and #8 still has the meanest back to front slope on a green I have ever seen. If Mr. Cook, who bankrolled almost all if not all of this work done in French Lick, were still around I would want to find him and give him a big hug. This place is absolutely amazing, ALL OF IT.


Your first look from the practice green towards the first hole you will start to wonder why this golf course is host for a few professional events, the Symetra Tour for instance is currently playing there from 7/11 to 7/13. The fairways are quite large and the first hole is a very inviting tee shot with little trouble in play. However, have you ever heard someone say that they parked a VW Bug under that green. Well, you are going to encounter a lot of VW Bugs on the Donald Ross course and the greens are going to play very fast. The point is you better be in that large fairway so that you can take aim at the proper location on these massive greens.

There is not another green on the golf course that is harder then the 8th green. The hole itself is only 393 yards from the tips with a severe dogleg to the left. A line of trees, massive


bunker, and the fairway ending all make this a placement tee shot. Once you reach your ball, if you put it in the fairway you will get to see the green. If the flag is sitting on the bottom right then be happy because that is the only reprieve on this green; however, if the flag is in the back left you are in for some fun. You want to be in line with this flag not long nor short but in line. Short means you are going to be either chipping/ pitching back up the hill or putting straight up hoping you have the distance control dialed in so it doesn’t come back to your feet. Is it the fairest green, no its not, but it sure is a memorable one.

There are four par 3’s on this 7,000 yard, par 70 golf course and all but one of them are over 200 yards. The fourth, sixth and thirteenth holes play 240, 249, and 252 yards respectfully while the sixteenth hole plays 151 yards. The picture below is not a par 4 it is the 240 yard uphill par 3, 4th. Probably one of the most picturesque holes on the golf course with a great visual of the deep bunkers that are just to the left of the green and in the middle of the fairway.


The 16th is the easiest hole on the course, thank goodness after you just got killed on the 665 yard par 5 15th, the green is still well protected and one of the smallest on the property.

Your final hole at the Donald Ross Course is an uphill 420 yard par 4 featuring four fairway bunkers and two greenside bunkers protecting the front right and right side of this plateau green. Strategically placed so that when you get done with your final putt you can run inside the Hagen House and take care of yourself while looking out over the beautiful view of the course.



Like everything else at French Lick the old Hill Course is a wonderful step back in time. The views are amazing, the hotels are world class, and the people are absolutely amazing. Yes I am probably partial because I have lived near French Lick for a good portion of my life, but it has got to be one of the best golfing ventures in the country.

We will not slow down this French Lick Resort train as next week we will be taking a look at the Valley Course. While there are only 9 holes at this facility now it was originally designed by Tom Bendelow and absolutely deserves to be talked about more then it is. All of this is working up to talking about the new kid on the block: The Pete Dye Course at French Lick.

Learn more about French Lick Resorts.

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Published by Bryan Montgomery

Marketing is My Game | Golf is My Passion | Family is My Life I enjoy reading and writing when I am not doing any of my other many activities of life. This is my outlet to talk about the game I care for so much, golf has been with me since I was a young child. And yet I continue to learn new things everyday. Hopefully I can entertain and bring some of my passion for the game for others. - Bryan -

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