The Itinerant Golfer

The Itinerant Golfer's Take on Donald Ross Course at French Lick


French Lick, Indiana | Donald Ross Course at French Lick

Architect: Donald Ross
Year: 1917

8670 West State Road 56, French Lick, Indiana 47432
(888) 936-9360

driving range nearby
motorized golf carts and caddies available
affiliated resort accommodations


The Donald Ross Course at French Lick is the original course associated with the French Lick Resort and opened in 1917. In 1924 the course played host to the PGA Championship and was won by the infamous golden era professional Walter Hagen. As often happens, changes were made to the course over the years and eventually many of the Donald Ross features had been removed.

Fortunately in 2006 the course underwent a large scale restoration at the hands of Lee Schmidt that returned the golf course to its original glory. The primary changes included the restoration of the bunkers, the re-implementation of bunkers that had been grassed over and the planting of native fescue grasses in the corridors between the primary areas of play. When the project was finished it was considered a huge success.

After we finished our morning game at the Pete Dye Course Corey, Keith and I packed up and made the 10 minute drive over to the Donald Ross Course for our afternoon game. After a quick sandwich at the bar we were off to the 1st tee to start.

Standing on the 1st tee I immediately noticed the wide open expansive look of the course and the lack of any significant tree encroachment. Being from the east coast I forget sometimes that the midwest is not nearly as heavily wooded as back east. The photo below was taken from the 1st tee which is a 401 yard par 4.
 
The Donald Ross Course at French Lick
 
Here we have a photo taken from the 2nd tee which we played as a 379 yard par 4 from the “Ross” tees. Prior to the restoration the bunkers in the center of the fairway had been removed which took away a lot of the holes character. The way the hole plays now the driving line is right over top of the bunkers.
 
The Donald Ross Course at French Lick
 
I loved the 8th hole which is a shortish par 4 that we played from 368 yards. I hit a hybrid off the tee and bent it from right to left just like I planned which does not happen all that often. The bunker in the crotch of the dogleg is another one of the newly re-implemented bunkers.
 
The Donald Ross Course at French Lick
 
It’s not wise to hit too much club off the 8th tee as the fairways runs out and the green is situated as an island of putting surface surrounded by thick rough. The 8th green which is pictured below has a very severe tilt from the back to the front.
 
The Donald Ross Course at French Lick
 
Here we have the 13th hole which is a one shot hole we played from 228 yards. There are four par 3s on this course and three of them are over 200 yards. Looking at the course as a collection of par 3s, 4s and 5s I would have to say that the par 3s play the toughest. I made bogey on all three that played over 200 yards and I was grateful for it!
 
The Donald Ross Course at French Lick
 
Don’t despair over the tough par 3s because there are plenty of other scoring opportunities on the course. One of the par 5s is reachable in two for many players and there are quite a few par 4s that are shorter than 375 and will be some good birdie opportunities. Below is a photo of the short approach into the 362 yard 17th hole.
 
The Donald Ross Course at French Lick
 
The real gem of the course is the greens which is to be expected with a Donald Ross course. There are incredible undulations and all day long I found myself saying to my playing partners “I love this green!” Unfortunately I didn’t do a very good job of photographing the greens, but below is a shot of the 13th which shows some of the type of undulation that is found at this course.
 
The Donald Ross Course at French Lick
 
I was expecting to like the Donald Ross Course at French Lick, but I wasn’t really expecting to like it as much as I did. The enjoyed the wide open playing corridors and when they are framed with native fescue grass the result is an aesthetic that I absolutely love. The greens were definitely the surprise of the day. I thought they had a ton of movement in them and they were really what gave the course its character. This is a course that is great fun to play and a perfect compliment to the more difficult and demanding Pete Dye course.