The final round of my Indianapolis trip was at Crooked Stick Golf Club which is pretty well known for two things . . . 1.) being the place that introduced the world of golf to Pete Dye and 2.) being the place where the mighty “Long” John Daly first rose to prominence. Crooked Stick is one of Dye’s earliest designs and is considered the project that really put him on the map as a golf course architect. As for John Daly, Crooked Stick is where he burst onto the scene in 1991 when he won the PGA Championship after getting into the tournament as the ninth alternate when Nick Price dropped out. I think it’s pretty safe to say that golf as we know it today wouldn’t be the same without both of these characters.
Crooked Stick was founded in 1964 by Pete Dye along with the help of 60 Indianapolis areas golfers. Fresh off a 1963 field research trip to study the great golf courses of the U.K. Pete Dye created a corporation to purchase a cornfield that he intended to transform into a golf course that would combine the styles of his favorite golf course architects. The unique name for the club comes from a gnarled stick resembling a golf club that Pete found during a stroll through the back nine during the construction phase. In the end, Crooked Stick Golf Club was chosen over The Golf Club of Indianapolis which had been the proposed name for the club up until that time. My vote would have definitely been for Crooked Stick. Incidentally, if you get a chance to visit here the stick hangs just inside the main entrance to the clubhouse and its worth giving it a look when you are there.
So my friend A.C. had arranged for Corey and I to play our game at Crooked Stick through a friend of his who is a member. Unfortunately neither of them were going to be able to join us for the round, so we were going to be on our own. We were scheduled to tee off at 1 o’clock and when we arrived we were greeted by the site of a bunch of golfers milling around . . . lightning stoppage. Uh oh. After we dropped our clubs and got something to eat in the grill the rain began to come down . . . soft at first but then much heavier. Uh oh, again, this is not looking good. We stood on the porch of the clubhouse and watched one by one as people gave up and headed for home. Not to be defeated Corey and I continued to wait and got updates from an assistant pro who was watching the radar and believed the storm was going to pass relatively quickly.
Luckily, one of the many things golf professionals are really good at is reading the weather radar and the pro we had been talking to was exactly right. A short while later he gave us the green light to tee it up and we made our way to the 10th tee to start our game. The front side had another group going off that was a four ball so in the interest of not being on their tails all day we decided to start on the back nine. Interestingly, this was the first nine holes that were built so I like to think we played the course as it was built. For the purposes of the photos I’m going to start on the 1st hole because that’s the way most people would play the course. We played from the 6,647 yard tees and all the yardages in the descriptions below are from that set of tees.
Hole 1 – 321 Yards – Par 4
The course starts out with a straightforward short par 4. All that is really needed here is a 200-220 yard shot.
Long hitters who elect to hit driver here need to be aware that the fairway runs out and there is a 30-40 yard patch of rough in front of the green.
Hole 2 – 384 Yards – Par 4
Next we have a dog leg left with a bunker that is in play on the tee shot. Drives that go too far to the right will have a much longer approach shot into the green.
The right side of the green has some pretty nasty bunkers. The one closer to the front could almost be categorized as a pot bunker.
Hole 3 – 171 Yards – Par 3
The first one shot hole on the course is a mid-length hole with an interestingly shaped green that is flanked by bunkers on both sides.
Hole 4 – 408 Yards – Par 4
This lengthy par 4 is pretty unforgiving on mishit drives as there is a lot of rough between the tee and the fairway. Anything short is going to end up in rough and make for a very tough approach shot into the green.
The approach shot into the 4th green. Note the bunker on the left with its built up bank in front. This seems to be a common feature on Pete Dye’s courses.
Hole 5 – 591 Yards – Par 5
The first par 5 on the course is a LONG one. At almost 600 yards I doubt there are many amateur players who are even considering going for this one in two. The photo below was taken from the tee box and the green is not even in sight. Out there in the distance the hole makes a slight dogleg to the left.
Note the bunkers on the left side of the green. Many of the green side bunkers are very deep which often means players hitting out of the bunkers may not be able to see the flag.
Hole 6 – 183 Yards – Par 3
If this hole is not quintessential early Pete Dye, I don’t know what is. A one shot hole over water, wooden bulkheads and railroad cars are exactly what comes to mind when I think of Pete Dye’s early work.
Here is another view of the green with Corey’s tee shot snuggled up close to the hole.
Hole 7 – 372 Yards – Par 4
This mid-length par 4 is a fairly straight forward hole. Keep the drive in the fairway and hit it as far as you can.
Note the ball hanging on the front of the green in the photo below. I’m not sure if it hadn’t been raining earlier in the day if this ball would have even stayed on the putting surface.
Hole 8 – 395 Yards – Par 4
Here we have a lengthy par 4 with a risk/reward option off the tee. Tee shots aimed to the right will safely find land but have a much longer approach into the green than the more aggressive tee shots aimed further to the left. Playing it too far to the right can mean driving the ball through the fairway and into the trees.
The tricky approach shot into the green.
Hole 9 – 491 Yards – Par 5
In contrast to the first par 5 that we played this one is much shorter and reachable in two shots for many players. Players aiming down the left side of the fairway will need to hit their tee shot further than those who play it safer out to the right.
Players going for this green in two need to take stock of the deep bunkers that surround the putting surface. Those who wish to layup for their second shot need to decide if they are going to carry the creek that crosses the fairway (not visible in the photo, but just below the railroad ties) or layup short.
Hole 10 – 370 Yards – Par 4
The back side starts with a mid-length par 4 with water all down the right side. Although the left side of the fairway is safer, the right side provides a much better angle for the approach shot into the green.
A view of the green from about 100 yards out.
Hole 11 – 502 Yards – Par 5
Here we have a shortish par 5 with a blind landing zone for the drive. With native grass down the right side slicers need to be careful not to let their drive get away from them.
Like the 1st hole, the fairway does not run up to the green, so players who go for this in two will wind up in the rough if they come up short.
Hole 12 – 407 Yards – Par 4
A dogleg left, this lengthy par 4 requires a drive to a blind landing zone. There is quite a bit more room on the left side of the landing zone than there appears to be from the tee.
The approach shot into the green. The right side is the place to miss here.
Hole 13 – 152 Yards – Par 3
I liked this nifty little par 3 that was tucked back into a corner of the property. I had a tough time getting comfortable on my set up with the angle of this tee box.
Here is another view of the green.
Hole 14 – 421 Yards – Par 4
Here we have another long par 4 with a risk/reward option off the tee. Those who wish to play it safe can hit a tee shot down the right and have a long approach into the green. Players who want to be a little more aggressive can challenge the creek on the left and leave a much shorter shot into the green.
The approach shot into the green.
Hole 15 – 484 Yards – Par 5
This may have been my favorite hole on the course. A short par 5 that provides an eagle opportunity for everyone is always nice. The bunker on the left is in play from the tee.
Getting home in two on this hole seems very likely from the tee box, but once the green is visible it becomes clear that it is not as easy as it sounds. When the hole is in the front reaching in two is certainly possible, but in the middle or back it becomes quite a bit more difficult as there are bunkers to be carried and not a whole lot of room to stop the ball once it hits. I guess that is why it is rated as the toughest hole on the back nine. I love the shape of this green. It reminds me of the 7th at Crystal Downs.
Hole 16 – 407 Yards – Par 4
This hole doglegs to the right so playing a fade off the tee is an ideal way to start this hole. The bunker in the distance on this hole is definitely in play from the tee, so keeping your drive away from that area is highly recommended.
The approach shot into the green. Since the back nine holes were built before the front nine I couldn’t help but wonder if this was Pete Dye’s first ever use of railroad ties on a golf course.
Here is a view of the green from behind.
Hole 17 – 180 Yards – Par 3
This one shot hole is going to be a mid-iron to a hybrid for most players. The best miss is short as there are bunkers on both the left and right sides of this green.
Some interesting movement on the putting surface.
Here we have another railroad car used as a bridge. I like the additional foot bridge next to it for the claustrophobic members to use.
Hole 18 – 408 Yards – Par 4
The closing hole is a long par 4 that has water in play on both shots. The ideal line is up the right side of the fairway, but those who tend to slice the ball may want to be a little careful with their aiming line on this shot.
The approach shot into the green which severely punishes misses on the right hand side.
Despite being pulled off the course for a couple of lightning delays and playing through some sprinkles, we managed to get the round in. I had been really looking forward to seeing this course for some time, so I was relieved that we didn’t get rained out. I really liked The Golf Club in Columbus Ohio when I played there, so I was expecting to find a similar style of course at Crooked Stick and I was not disappointed.
Over the course of a 40 year career like Pete Dye has had there is bound to be some evolution when it comes to the way one approaches their job. While Dye’s overall style has remained very similar through the years I do think that his earlier work has a vastly different flavor than his more recent work. Specifically, I have found his early courses to be more playable and not quite as penal as some of his more modern courses. Being an 8-10 handicap I definitely tend to prefer the courses that are more playable. I’m not saying that Crooked Stick is easy, it is definitely not, but it is not hard just for the sake of being hard. It provides a good solid challenge but still keeps things fun. In my opinion that is what every golf course architect should strive for and Dye hit the nail on the head at Crooked Stick.