As my buddies and I were driving up the tree-lined road leading to The Pete Dye Course at French Lick, I had a feeling I was entering a special place. Like every course I play, I researched the hell out of it. The pictures I found were amazing and downright intimidating. The views looked beautiful. I concluded that there was no way that reality could live up to the hype I created. I was happily wrong. The Pete Dye Course at French Lick is everything that it is built up to be, and a ‘Must Play’ for any golfer residing in the Midwest, or anywhere for that matter.
Before I continue gushing over Pete Dye and his beautiful course, I find it necessary to spend some time on the French Lick Resort itself, because the resort as a whole is top notch. It is comprised of The Pete Dye Course (#19 on Golf Digest’s 2017-2018 America’s Top 100 Greatest Public Courses), The Donald Ross Course (#87), The Valley Links Course, and Sultan’s Run.
During my visit, I played the Pete Dye, Donald Ross, and Sultan’s Run courses as part of a golf package offered by the resort. I personally thought that The Pete Dye Course blew the others out of the water, but that is more of a salute to The Pete Dye Course than it is a knock on the other courses. The Pete Dye Course (built in 2009) and The Donald Ross Course (1917!!) are polar opposites, which is great for a golf trip. As you can imagine, The Donald Ross Course is a true classic: long par 4s and multiple-tiered, predominantly back-to-front sloped greens. The resort even keeps an old set of wooden hickory sticks on the first tee for you to use. My buddy smacked one 275+!
After 72 holes in two days at the Pete Dye and Donald Ross courses, in addition to some long nights at the resort’s casino, we were a bit wiped out when we strolled onto Sultan’s Run for our last round. However, we were immediately rejuvenated by the natural beauty and challenge that the course had to offer. It was also well maintained. All in all, there were no slouches out of the three courses we experienced.
There are two hotels on the property – The French Lick Springs Hotel and the West Baden Springs Hotel. The West Baden Springs Hotel is historic, and was once known as the 8th Wonder of the World. It is a massive dome, and the atrium spans 200 feet. Despite a $500 million renovation in 2015, the overall vibe maintains an old, Victorian-like prestige. It was certainly one of the best hotels I have ever stayed at.
The Pete Dye Course at French Lick
Alright, let’s talk some golf. As I mentioned before, The Pete Dye Course is extremely pleasant to the eye, and like most famous Pete Dye designs, is visually intimidating. Pete Dye calls it his best inland site. I call it Pete Dye’s playground. The course features pot bunkers, volcano bunkers, church pew bunkers, and a par 3 that stretches over 300 yards from the tips. The best way I’ve been able to describe it to someone who hasn’t played it is that it is like a fantasy course on an old Tiger Woods video game. It’s that awesome.
The course has five sets of tees: Gold (8102 yds(!!); 80.0/148), Black (7254 yds; 76.2/139), Blue (6701 yds; 73.3/135), White (6115 yds; 70.6/130 – Men; 76.9/130 – Ladies), and Red (5151 yds; 65.4/118 – Men; 70.5/120 – Ladies).
The overall design tends to favor players who draw the ball off of the tee, as 10 of the 14 par 4s and par 5s are shaped from right to left. However, as a player who favors a draw, I will say that the remaining four that are shaped from left to right (holes #5, #9, #10, and #17) were very very tough for me and resulted in some bad scores. The greens are relatively flat, especially compared to The Donald Ross Course, but we had trouble reading the subtle breaks that each putting surface seemed to possess. Oftentimes we were faced with double breakers, especially on our long putts. As expected, the course was in immaculate condition. The practice facility offered plenty of targets, a large putting green, a chipping/bunker area, and was also very well maintained.
The course doesn’t really have a signature hole per se. In fact, my buddies and I concluded that each hole was memorable in its own way. They’re all great. No hole was similar to another, mostly due to unique bunkering and outstanding views that the particular hole had to offer. If I was forced to pick a signature hole myself, I would say the par 5 18th due to the high risk/reward it presents. You can make eagle just as easily as you can make a triple bogey.
Mr. Dye starts you off with a tee shot that will test your nerves, with a bunker-lined lake along the left side of the entire opening hole. Fescue grass guards the adjacent third hole on the right. There are also three “standard” fairway bunkers along the right side of the fairway. As a result, the trouble demands a perfect shot down the middle. Find the fairway and you’ll have a mid to short iron into the green depending on your distance off the tee. For your second shot, finding the small bunker on the left side of the green isn’t a bad miss, as there is more fescue grass and a fairway chipping area that sits below the green to the right.
The fun continues on the second hole, where a litter of nine volcano bunkers line the right side of the fairway. The shape of the hole encourages a draw off the tee, but you are in for a world of hurt if you plan for a draw and hit the dreaded straight ball or just flat out miss it right. Doing so will leave you in one of the volcano bunkers, or even worse, on one of their steep inclines/declines. Missing right will also leave you with a blind shot to the green due to the insane height of the volcanos. If you can’t tell, we all missed right off the tee each time!
The par 4 11th hole offers an outstanding view of the the surrounding forest. Once again, the tee shot is very demanding. Missing right is not an option, as there is a steep hill covered in fescue grass in that direction. Hit a good drive and you’ll have a mid to short iron into the green, all dependent on which tees you’re playing from. The green has a pretty good slope to it from back to front and right to left.
I love finishing on a par 5, and as I mentioned above, this was probably my favorite hole. As you can see from the picture above, which was taken from above the green looking back towards the tee box, there is a massive slope from right to left. The proper aiming point from the tee box is the flag pole (not pictured) or just to the right of the cart path. Everything bounces to the left. My buddy split the fairway with his drive and was one foot away from losing it into the fescue. The slope is that severe. If you can manage to stay near the cart path off the tee, you will have a great angle to reach in two from the blue tees.
All in all, the course demands accuracy off the tee. Stay out of trouble and you should score well. Distance helps, as always, especially if you are brave enough to play the tips. Speaking of the course’s 8102 yd badge, we asked one of the rangers the obligatory ‘Why isn’t a PGA Tour Major Played Here’ question. His response was that Patrick Rodgers asked the same question a week before, and in fact demanded that they make it happen. Unfortunately, for now, there is not enough parking space to host one.
Oh, and before I forget, it’s true – the staff will greet you with a fifth of Woodford Reserve, four shot glasses, and four cigars at the end of your round.
Choosing a golf trip destination is hard, but you can’t go wrong with the French Lick Resort. I’ve been lucky enough to play some great courses, and I will say that from top to bottom, this Pete Dye gem ranks right up there with the best of them. It checks all of the boxes – it’s extremely challenging, each hole is memorable, and it’s naturally beautiful. The Donald Ross Course and Sultan’s Run are nice compliments as well. Do yourself a favor and pay a visit to French Lick, Indiana. You won’t regret it.
Nearest Airports: Louisville (57 miles, 1 hour 15 minute drive); Indianapolis (96 miles, 2 hour drive)
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