When I first got a glimpse of the tracks on the Pete Dye Golf Trail there was one I was both surprised and excited to see. The Pete Dye Course at French Lick had not only received national acclaim, it also carried superalitves from my local golf friends that I hadn’t heard used when talking about an Indiana golf course.
Awesome. Beautiful. Amazing. Hardest course I’ve played. The below description sums it up best;
Surely a course this highly revered didnt need the added publicity of the Pete Dye Golf Trail (or so my thought process went).
I’ve had the pleasure of playing many high end resort, public and private courses. The nice, expensive, nationally ranked courses tend to make you feel like you either don’t belong or you get scared to hurt their grass; I tend to feel like I have to tiptoe around.
Even though they did have a gated entrance I never felt any of the above at the Pete Dye Course.
Every person we came across made us feel at home. The professional staff, led by PGA Head Golf Professional Jan Tellstrom, had every single detail nailed. You even get a nice gift for playing the course. I’ve never seen a course do that in my life. I was surprised how excited they were to see us. Everyone thought it was cool that I was there taking pictures, videos and writing about the course. If they only knew how excited I was to be there.
While the setting was magnificent (my wife rode in the cart in 50 degree weather for 4 hours & had a blast) the course didnt dissapoint either.
I’ve played many Pete Dye courses and the front nine skews heavy toward his newer designs. Push up “pot” bunkers, long holes, target golf and flat greens. I stood on a few tees and wondered aloud “Where do I hit it?” Every shot felt like a par 3. The par 5 3rd hole was a perfect example. With 610 yards to go from the black tees I had to hit a drive into a spot in the fairway the size of a green. My layup (a 4 iron) is into another pinched in par 3-sized landing area. My 9 iron approach was to a green built up on all sides. The 3rd shot hit on the fringe, kicked down 10 feet into a collection area and only a good chip netted me a par. Par 5’s aren’t usually this hard but every hole was like this.
The back nine was a little shorter and had a better flow to it. It felt more like an older Pete Dye design, albeit not that much older. Fewer push-up bunkers and fewer blind shots made the back nine feel more playable. My forecaddie said he felt it played 2 shots easier at least and he was right. Most of that changed when I got to #16 however.
Pete Dye is famous in golf circles for closing his course with three phenomal holes. TPC Sawgrass and Crooked Stick are two whose final three holes instantly come to mind. Add this place to the list. 16 was a par 3 with a lake along the entire right side. Huge rocks seperated the green from the lake. My 220 yard shot into a 20 mph wind from the right felt and looked perfect until it caught the edge a huge rock and kicked back into the lake. If I hit it 10 feet to the left the ball wouldve bounced off a slope and into a big bunker. A Pete Dye par 3 at its best. 17 was a tight hole with a great green site but 18 was the hole. A grand sweeping finishing par 5 up to a green situated below the hill where the even grander clubhouse sat made you feel like this was the last hole of a major. I can still easily picture that hill filled with fans cheering on the next US Open champion. I even played the hole from the gold tees (657 yards, 8102 yards for all 18) to see what it felt like to play the hole like a pro would.
Outside of the target nature of the front nine and those ridiculous push up bunkers I was impressed with the course. Sometimes a setting as grand as a hilltop site high above the Hoosier National Forest leads to holes designed to only take advantage of the scenery but Pete Dye made sure the golf matched the quality of the surroundings. My biggest kudos go to the playability. Even with tight fairways (grow the rough and the US Open could be held in a month) big bunkers and dropoffs galore there was plenty of playable course, if you missed on the proper side of the hole. The only course I can compare it to in difficulty is Victoria National outside of Evansville, IN. The biggest difference between the two? When you miss at Victoria your ball swims in a water filled depression left from the sites days as a rock quarry. When you miss (on the proper side) at the Pete Dye Course the worst you find is rough or a flat bottomed bunker. As evidenced by the below quote on prominent display when you pull in, Pete doesn’t seem to agree with me on my playability kudos.
The best way I can sum up my experience at the Pete Dye Course at French Lick is with an exchange I had as I got out of the car. We were greeted in the parking lot by a young employee as I started taking pictures like a tourist.
“Have you been here before?” he asked. “This is our first time” I stated.
“Enjoy, this is a special place” he commented.
Visit my Pete Dye Golf Course at French Lick photoset on Flickr or click play on the slideshow below.