When Canyata popped onto the Top 100 list a few years ago I had never heard of it. The club is located in the middle of nowhere Illinois, so I started asking around about it with people I knew in the Illinois/Indiana/Kentucky corridor. Anyone I found who had heard of it did not know a member or even anyone who had played there before. I had a feeling this was going to be a tough ticket for me so I set it on the back burner and focused on playing courses where I had better contacts.
Over the next year or so I slowly began develop a clear picture of Canyata Golf Club and what it was all about. Apparently the club is owned by a gentleman named Gerald Forsythe who is a native of Marshall, IL and has been very successful in the steam power industry as well as the auto racing world . . . specifically open wheel racing like the cars associated with the Indianapolis 500. I found a website for the club and while it does say that it is accepting membership applications, the general consensus is that Mr. Forsythe is the only member and the club is for his and his family’s use. The good news is that upon further research I learned that the club is relatively open to outside play. Requests may be made by a PGA professional and Mr. Forsythe personally reviews each request. If a request is approved players may play for the not insignificant guest fee.
Now that I knew the drill my friend Corey, who is a PGA professional, and I set the ball in motion. Last year we had a trip planned to Indiana to play the Pete Dye Course at French Lick and Crooked Stick, so Corey went about setting up a round at Canyata for the two of us plus my friend Keith from Chicago. We were very excited to see this mystery course an booked our plane tickets into Indianapolis with the plan of driving a few hours to the course. About three weeks before our trip was scheduled Corey received a phone call from the club telling him that we would not be able to play on our assigned date because they had received an inordinate amount of rain and the road into the club was not passable. It sounded a little odd to me to cancel three weeks out because of rain, but oh well. Needless to say we were greatly disappointed.
Canyata remained on my list of courses that I needed to play and hadn’t put the effort into until one day I received an email through my website from a fellow golf nut named Brad who was putting together a trip to Canyata and invited me to join. What luck! My newfound friend kept me abreast of the situation as he communicated with the club until he finally received confirmation about 10 days out from our play date. I was scheduled to be in New York for my annual event, The Fred Ridley Cup for the two days prior to the Canyata play date. My plan had been to drive to New York, but once the Canyata round was confirmed I changed my itinerary and booked a flight from Richmond to New York and then New York to Louisville Kentucky. Its about a three hour drive from Louisville to Marshall, IL so by flying in here I could ride to the course with the other guys I would be playing with.
After what turned out to be a long day of travel from White Plains, NY to Louisville I finally arrived and met Brad at the airport. From there we went straight to a restaurant where we met up with his buddy Jim and Jim’s wife MaryBeth for dinner. After dinner we went back to crash and Jim’s house and the next morning we were up early and on the road with our fourth player, Hunter, driving us in what was the nicest Hyundai I’ve ever seen. Seriously, I’m not kidding, it was an amazing vehicle and made me look at Hyundai in a whole new light.
So after our 3 hour drive from Kentucky we arrived at the club and made our way through the gate and down the very long driveway. About halfway down the driveway the cancellation from last year made complete sense to me. In order to get tot he club you have to drive across a stream that has has no bridge and if the water is high I can see where it would be impassable. When he reached the parking lot a member of the staff met us and escorted us to the locker room where we were able to change shoes and get ready for our game. From there we carted over to the driving range to hit a few warm up balls. I have been on a lot of nice driving ranges, but this one was by far the nicest. There was seriously not a divot on it. The employee that we met told us that they had had less than 10 groups on the course at that point in the season and from judging the absolute lack of divots on the range the groups that preceded us had either not warmed up or had been there so long ago that the grass had time to grow in perfectly. Unfortunately for the next group behind us there would definitely be some divots taken out of the turf when they arrive!
After a few balls on the range we headed over to the 1st tee and got ready to start our game. We decided to play from the Black tees which measure 6,797 yards and play to a par of 72. To get us started off Hunter put a peg in the ground and made a swing to begin our journey around the mysterious Canyata Golf Club.
Hole 1 – 334 Yards – Par 4
The course opens up with a nice and friendly short par 4 with a severe dogleg left. The safe play is a 200 yard shot down the middle but the bold line is over the bunkers on the left. You have to be careful here not to drive it through the fairway.
A view of the short shot into the green.
Hole 2 – 565 Yards – Par 5
Next we have a big par 5 that is going to be a three shot hole for most amateurs. The tee shot is a little intimidating, but most players won’t have any trouble making the carry.
The approach into the green from about 120 yards out.
Hole 3 – 191 Yards – Par 3
This is a doozy of a one shot hole. The safe play is out to the left.
Hole 4 – 457 Yards – Par 4
Here we have a beast of a par 4. This hole requires a carry over the water and the further to the right the player aims the greater the carry. That said hitting too far to the right and the hole gets closed off and you have a poor angle to the green.
The uphill approach into the 4th green.
Hole 5 – 413 Yards – Par 4
This is another long par 4 but this one plays downhill which shortens it just a bit. A drive down the middle will serve the best here.
At about 200 yards out the fairway drops off even more and below is the view into the green.
Hole 6 – 494 Yards – Par 5
Here we have a shortish par 5 that is going to be reachable for many players. The bunker on the right side of the fairway is in play off the tee.
A view into the green from about 200 years out.
Hole 7 – 322 Yards – Par 4
Next we have a short par 4 that bends to the right. The bunkers on the right side are in play off the tee. A 3 wood or hybrid will do the job off the tee here. Taking dead aim at the green with driver doesn’t really pay off.
A look into the green from about 120 yards out.
Hole 8 – 207 Yards – Par 3
This one shot hole is a long one, but is helped a little bit by the downhill. I hit 1 club less than the yardage here.
Hole 9 – 401 Yards – Par 4
The front nine ends with a long par 4 that features water all down the right side. The safe line is just to the left of the fairway bunkers straight out.
Below is the approach shot into the green. There is still water on the right side so be sure to avoid missing on that side of the green.
Hole 10 – 579 Yards – Par 5
The back nine starts off with a very long par 5. Three good shots are necessary to reach this green. The hole bends to the left so a draw off the tee to set up the second shot is ideal.
The approach into the green has plenty of opportunity for disaster. Ideally after the layup shot golfers will have left themselves a comfortable distance for a short iron approach to the green.
Hole 11 – 441 Yards – Par 4
Another brute of a par 4 greets us on the next tee. Beware the fescue grass on both the left and right sides of this hole. This is featured throughout the course and balls that get too far off line will be difficult to find.
A look at the undulations in the 11th green.
Hole 12 – 213 Yards – Par 3
Here we have another long par 3 that plays downhill. Again, I opted to play 1 club less than the yardage.
Hole 13 – 322 Yards – Par 4
After a run of long, tough holes we get a respite with this short par 4. From the black tees players need to hit less than 200 yards or more than 240 to avoid the bunker in the middle.
Hole 14 – 413 Yards – Par 4
This dogleg left features water on the left side that can come into play on the drive. Below is a view of the uphill approach into the green.
Hole 15 – 556 Yards – Par 5
The view from this tee box is pretty amazing. A good tee shot is necessary to make the carry here and most players are also going to need 3 good shots to reach the green.
The approach into the green from about 100 yards out.
Here is a view from behind the green back down the hole.
Hole 16 – 297 Yards – Par 4
This fun little hole tempts players to attempt to reach the green, but beware of the natural area to the left of the stand of trees in the middle. The smart play is to hit a drive out to the left of that tree for a short shot into the green.
Here is a view from the right side of the hole that shows how the fairway disappears on the right side of the stand of trees.
Hole 17 – 174 Yards – Par 3
The last par 3 is also the shortest on the course. This is fairly straight forward and hitting the green should make for a routine par.
Hole 18 – 418 Yards – Par 4
The closing hole on the course leaves us with one last challenge. This long par 4 curves to the right and the best angle into the green is going to afforded from the left side of the fairway.
The approach shot into the green requires a carry over a little gully. It really shouldn’t be an issue for most players.
Once we holed out we headed back to the locker room and prepped for our 3 hour drive back to Kentucky. I have been to a lot of golf clubs that don’t get much play, but I’m not sure I can say that I’ve ever been somewhere that gets a little play as Canyata. The employees that we spoke with said that the course gets under 100 rounds a year and it was pretty apparent from the lack of divots on the course. It was amazing to see a fresh golf course with virtually no signs of play. I’ve simply never seen anything like it. Visiting Canyata was a unique experience and the club is a unique part of Golf Digest’s Top 100 list.