After flying into Indianapolis from Richmond I met up with my friends Corey and Keith before making our way down to French Lick and the French Lick Resort. While we were there we had made plans to play all three of the resort affiliated courses, but obviously we were most excited about checking out the Pete Dye course which just popped onto the Top 100 list earlier this year.
Prior to the new Top 100 list coming out earlier this year French Lick Indiana meant one thing to me . . . Larry Bird. As many of you surely know, Bird is a 6’ 9” basketball player who had his heyday in the 1980s when he was one of the superstars on a fairly dominant Boston Celtics team. I’m not an NBA fan at all, but I have always loved Larry Bird’s nickname . . . “The Hick From French Lick”. It cracks me up every time I hear it.
After about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Indy down to French Lick we arrived at the West Baden Springs Hotel which is one of the two hotel properties that the resort offers. The next morning we had an early tee time at The Pete Dye Course at French Lick, so we made the short drive from the hotel over to the golf course. Prior to our tee time Keith had scheduled a breakfast with Steve Ferguson who is the Chairman of Cook Group Inc., the company that owns French Lick Resort. Steve was intimately involved with the development of The Pete Dye Golf Course and the restoration of French Lick Resort, so we had a great time at breakfast hearing first hand how the project came together.
The short version of the story is that the French Lick Resort had fallen on tough times when Bill Cook, a local Indiana resident, took an interest and decided to help. Luckily for the resort, Mr. Cook was not just a regular guy looking to help, but was the founder of Cook Medical, a self made billionaire, a guy with a keen interest in historic preservation and most importantly a man with a long track record of giving back to his community. To make a long story short, what started as an interest in helping turned into a $500 million project that produced a new golf course, a casino, nearly 1,700 jobs and effectively saved the town of French Lick. Mr. Cook passed away a few years ago, but the impact he had on French Lick will be remembered for a long time to come. It’s also worth noting that although Bill Cook was a billionaire he was still just a regular guy from Indiana. When he died he was living in the same three bedroom house that he had purchased in 1967 just three years after starting Cook Medical and long before he became wealthy. He had only recently added a garage so that he didn’t have to scrape snow and ice from his car during the winter months. He was a very modest and humble man . . . my kind of guy.
After breakfast we hit the driving range for a few warm up swings and then made our way to the 1st tee. With options ranging from an insane 8,102 yards (NOT recommended) to 5,151 yards we settled on the blue tees which are a very sensible 6,701 yard option. Once we had a good driving line from our caddie Keith teed a ball up and we were off.
Hole 1 – 420 Yards – Par 4
The course wastes no time in letting the player know that they are going to have to drive the ball well with a difficult tee shot at the 1st hole. A good line is to aim at the middle bunker of the three on the right side of the fairway.
The second shot plays just a touch uphill.
Here is a look at the 1st green with some pretty intense internal contouring.
Hole 2 – 369 Yards – Par 4
This shortish par 4 has an interesting feature that I have never seen before . . . volcano bunkers. Not along the left side of the fairway the bunkers that are situated in the tops of the mounds. The flag is visible just to the left of the last volcano bunker that appears to be in the middle of the fairway, but is not.
Here is a look at the 2nd green from about 50 yards out.
Hole 3 – 554 Yards – Par 5
We get a brutish three shot hole next that requires three good shots to reach the green. The best line is down the left side of the fairway as the hole wraps around to the left.
Below is a look from the middle of the fairway. The safe layup shot is straight ahead, but players who want to be bold and also are able to hit the ball a long way can try to cut some of the corner.
The short approach shot into the green after a layup.
Hole 4 – 191 Yards – Par 3
I love the way this little one shot hole is hanging on the edge of the hill. The topography of this site is simply amazing and not what I expected from Indiana at all.
Hole 5 – 345 Yards – Par 4
This hole is a shortish par 4 that does not necessarily require driver. As our group quickly discovered, hitting the fairway is imperative at The Pete Dye Course at French Lick. On holes that allow players to hit a shorter and straighter club than their driver they should definitely take advantage of the opportunity.
The approach shot into the 5th green.
Hole 6 – 397 Yards – Par 4
Here we have a hole that doglegs to the left. There are bunkers along the right side that need to be avoided so a drive down the left side of the fairway is ideal.
Going left is not recommended on this approach shot. The greenside bunkers on this golf course are not to be reckoned with if it can be avoided.
Hole 7 – 500 Yards – Par 5
This par 5 will actually be reachable in two for some players. The drive allows longer hitters to bite off a bigger chuck of the hole by aiming further to the left which will yield a shorter second shot to reach the green.
The green sits high atop the hill, which makes reaching the green in two a tough shot and for those of us playing three shots to the green it make the approach play an extra 20+ yards.
Hole 8 – 170 Yards – Par 3
A tricky mid-length par 3 with a collection of nasty bunkers on the right. Not an easy par for players who miss the green.
Hole 9 – 410 Yards – Par 4
A tough par 4 to finish the front nine. The best driving line is to aim directly at the flagpole with the American flag.
The approach shot into the 9th green.
Note the drop from the left side to the right side of this green. Our caddie told us that it was originally not that significant, but over time the front right quadrant of the green had dropped a little bit. I thought it was pretty cool and don’t see any reason to change it back.
Hole 10 – 350 Yards – Par 4
Here we have a short par 4 to start off the back nine. Note the way that the rough to the right of the fairway is sloped downward. Most of the fairways on this course are “tabletops” where missing them leaves the player with a sidehill lie hitting out of deep rough. It is virtually impossible to score well here without consistently hitting fairways.
The second shot into the 10th green.
Hole 11 – 394 Yards – Par 4
We played this hole from the white tees because our caddie though that it was a more interesting hole from up top. The yardage we played was 378 from up here. It’s certainly a much prettier shot from here than it is from the blue tees which are located to the left and are not perched up on a hill.
Hole 12 – 388 Yards – Par 4
Below is a view from the tee of the dogleg left 12th hole. Drives that go down the left side of the fairway will leave a shorter approach shot into the green.
Hole 13 – 162 Yards – Par 3
Here we have another mid-length one shot hole. It’s tough to see in this photo, but there is a ridge that fed our shots to the back left hole location and left us with some pretty short birdie putts.
Hole 14 – 504 Yards – Par 5
This hole doesn’t look all that long on the scorecard, but it plays straight up hill which makes is significantly longer. The line is take aim at, or just right of, the cart path high on the hill running through the fescue grass.
The right part of the fairway is a bit of a bowl and laying up into it will leave the below view for the third shot into the green.
Here is a look from behind the green back down the hole.
Hole 15 – 344 Yards – Par 4
I found there to be a surprising number of short par 4s on this course for a Pete Dye design which was really nice. With a driver off the tee on this hole there was just a short 100 yard wedge shot left into the green.
Hole 16 – 183 Yards – Par 3
I actually considered laying up on this hole. It was a 200 yard shot all the way to the back of the green and I had a good round going with a chance to break 80 on a tough course. Corey and Keith were having none of this layup nonsense and talked me into hitting my 200 yard club at the green. I hit it in the water and made double. Ouch.
Hole 17 – 431 Yards – Par 4
Here we have a stout par 4 that doglegs to the right. Again, note that the fairways are pushed up and any shots that do not hit the short grass will be kicked down into the rough or in the case, maybe a bunker.
The view of the approach shot into the green.
Hole 18 – 589 Yards – Par 5
The closing hole is a lengthy par 5 that moves to the left. The flag is just barely visible between the two bunkers on the left side of the photo below. A drive that favors the left side of the fairway will make the hole play at its shortest.
Here is a view of where I hit my third shot from. It was not the ideal way to play the hole but it worked out well enough!
I had no idea what to expect when I set out for Indiana and The Pete Dye Course at French Lick. In my mind Indiana consists mostly of flat terrain best suited for growing crops, so I was pleasantly surprised to find the course laid out among topography that at times almost gave the course a mountainous feel. This is definitely not your typical midwest golf! I was expecting to find a tough course and Pete Dye certainly delivered in that regard. As I stated a few times above, it is absolutely necessary to hit fairways here. Most of the short grass is perched on tabletops and shots that land anywhere near the edge are going to be kicked down into the rough and will leave the player with a sidehill lie out of thick rough. That said, the fairways are plenty generous which makes the course play very fair and gives players an opportunity to score. I choked coming down the stretch and finished with a double and two bogeys to derail my sub 80 round, but the good news is that the green fee at The Pete Dye course is an all day fee which means that you can go right back out and get another bite of the apple . . . or revenge if that’s the way you want to look at it.