Going down the hill into French Lick, Indiana is a surreal experience. Like most towns in Southern Indiana there are many routes to get here but none of them are easy nor flat. Unlike most towns in Southern Indiana there are many reasons to visit this small quiet town which has some of the best golf in the Midwest and two of the best resort hotels that you will ever lay your eyes on.
During our series of French Lick Resort Golf we have been to Jasper and visited the great Sultan at Sultan’s Run, took a close look at history restored at the Donald Ross Course, and last week we walked on hallowed grounds at the first course built at this historic resort the Valley Links. To cap off our French Lick series one more historical architect put his name on this ground, Pete Dye.
Over the decades the Valley and the Ross course were part of the decaying ruins that French Lick had become when the area was abandoned after the Great Depression. When Mr. Cook took over his grand plan of bringing French Lick back to the golden years, he also wanted the area to be known for golf. The group approached many well known architects but wanted Pete Dye to be the one to design their new world class venue at French Lick. Their proposed site was Mt. Airie, which is the second highest point in the state of Indiana and sits 500 feet above the West Baden – French Lick valley.
At first Pete Dye refused saying that the land was impossible for a golf course. “Dye, not being one to give up easily, soon returned to the resort with a topographical map of the area and preliminary drawings on a napkin. He said he intended to “build the course whether they want me to or not.”” French Lick History In 2009 the impossible was made possible and the Pete Dye Golf Course at French Lick Resort was opened. It did not take long for the facility to gain attention as the PNC PGA Professional National Championship was held at the Pete Dye in 2010. The Pete Dye has hosted:
- 2012-2014 Big Ten Men’s Championship
- 2013-2016 The Legends Tour Championship
- 2015 Senior PGA Championship
- 2016 Indiana Open
- 2017, 2018 Senior LPGA Championship
Ranked No. 57 of the 75 hardest golf courses in America in 2014 by Golf Digest will come at no surprise that this beast of a course tips out at 8,102 yards with a rating of 80/ 148. In total there are five tee boxes to choose from:
Red Tees 5151
White Tees 6115
Blue Tees 6701
Black Tees 7254
Gold Tees 8102
From the black tees your day starts off on a 465 yard par 4 with an elevated tee. I will be honest this tee is the hardest for me to get use to and it is the first one you see. While the tees are elevated so that you can see the fairway below you they are built in such a way that the front tees are blocking your view of where your actual landing area is going to be. Right from the beginning Pete Dye designed a visual challenge and it is brilliantly difficult to get use to. Once you find the fairway you will have a long to mid iron into an elevated green that is protected on the left side by a bunker.
WARNING: You must keep from hitting to the left of these fairways. Otherwise you are going to find yourself with the ball above your belt to chest high (for a right hander) all day long.
This is extremely true on your first par 5 of the day. The 3rd hole is a dogleg left around a steep drop off that measures out to 610 yards from the black tees. Again do not miss left, which means you will have to take on the bunkers on the right side of this fairway. If you find the fairway on this hole and you are a fairly long hitter here is some advice that I learned on my second trip here. GO FOR THE GREEN. Yes this is a very long hole; however, with the way the fairway sweeps around almost like a horseshoe around the drop off you will actually find out that your layup shot is about as far as your distance from the green. Is this aggressive, well to a point, yes this is an aggressive move ;however, I have had more luck playing the hole this way then I ever did trying to layup around the fairway bunkers and steep side hill lies.
The photo above is from the black tees on the 3rd hole. On almost every hole especially on the front nine you are going to be able to see the clubhouse sitting on top of Mt. Airie. If you are able to find the fairways most of the day you will have a great chance at scoring, it is when you are not finding the fairway that the teeth of this golf course really show. There are drop offs everywhere you look and then there are rises which some are capped off with “volcano” bunkers. These bunkers are cool to look at but ending up in one makes for an interesting shot as normally the ball is way above your feet while you are trying to get a ball out of the sand.
You will finish your day off with #16, par 3; #17, par 4; 18, par 5. Like most of the golf course the views are spectacular on these three holes. The 220 yard 16th which can be stretched to a ridiculous 301 yards has a pond protecting the right side of the green and the run-up area, while two greenside bunkers protect the left side. Like most everything else on this golf course, you must be accurate to score. The 17th has a bunker complex running down the entirety of the right side on this slight dogleg right hole. Staying left is a great option here and will actually give you the best shot into this green.
The 18th has you hitting back up the hill towards the clubhouse and swings around a very steep drop off to the left. Right is your best play here, but is not a bargain either as there is a bunker complex that resembles the church pew bunker at Oakmont Country Club on the right side of the fairway. This 626 yard par 5 is best attacked in three shots where if you play your shots correctly you will have an easy third shot into a green that favors coming from the right side.
THE PETE DYE
The Cook family brought life to a town that had the structure and history behind it to really make it something special. As a golf fan I feel that they hit a grand slam putting the group of courses that they have together. The Pete Dye was designed to challenge the best in the game, and that it does. You can score on this golf course but you must hit these narrow fairways all day and stay out of trouble, if you do that I have seen under par posted on this course. The greens are not overly difficult, with some subtle movements, they can be tricky but are not designed to be the teeth of this golf course.
What is so neat about this golf course is that when you are on top of this hill you get forget that you are in Southern Indiana. It is not like any course in the surrounding area. My hope is that you will get a chance to play this beautiful and challenging golf course at least once in your golfing career.
That concludes our French Lick Resort series here on Form Golf. I am sure we will revisit this place, as it is close to home for me. Look for French Lick to be a topic on our podcast, Talk to Me Birdie down the road as well. If you ever find yourself going to French Lick and want some tips on where to eat or things to do outside of these wonderful golf courses please feel free to contact me.
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Until Next Time, Enjoy!