Crooked Stick Golf Club John Daly and Rory Mcilroy are both household names in the golf community. Both having multiple majors wins and long bombers of the golf ball. Although they’re complete opposites in the way, they approach the game of golf in every aspect known to man they share one similarity. They have both won at Crooked Stick Golf Course in Carmel Indiana.
Carmel Indiana is a suburb on the East side of Indianapolis, and it is the home to not only a Pete Dye Golf Course, but it is where Pete Dye himself resides. The design, layout and the overall facility is nothing shy of pure class.
Here’s a sample of my day trying to bring Crooked Stick to its knees, in the same manner, Daly and Mcilroy were able to.
Driving into the Crooked Stick neighborhood was a weird moment because a year earlier I was shuttled by bus through the same entrance to watch the PGA Tour Players play. Now here I am making my way down the same roads the greats of the game that play today drove down before their rounds. I’m thinking about if I have enough golf balls while they were probably thinking of which bank account their check should go in. I’m worried about if the first tee is visible from the pro shop in hopes the workers don’t judge my sleeve off the first rule. The Tour Players are worried about cell phones going off distracting their concentration and costing them 10s of thousands of dollars.
I quickly stop the daydreaming about what goes through their minds on the drive in because I remember this round is for dinner and I have to buckle down! We finally arrive in the parking lot and start to cut the dead weight from our golf bags because we are on foot this round.
Walking towards the pro shop the practice greens and driving range is in sight, and it’s packed with Country Club money fixing their block slices. We proceed into the pro shop to check-in and let them know we are ready to go whenever they want us to tee off. Pointing out where the first tee is and letting us know we are good to go with the group ahead being 3 holes in already I walked out without asking about the course record that may be in danger.
Walking up to the first tee, after rolling a few putts well outside of the lag putt range, it’s time. With the driving range right next to the tee box it was inevitable the home versions of Michael Breed would tune into watch what these two young bucks had in store. Making sure to speak loudly about wind direction and what is the best club choice on this short par four allowed us to hide our true feelings. The sense of don’t toe hook it left, right has a ton of trees and didn’t work on punches on the range and lastly let’s get this bad boy in the air.
After reaching out and poking a 3-wood down the middle of this short and intimidating hole, it was evident no one was raining on my parade. A close wedge shot from about 100 yards and a solid 3-foot knee knocker later I’m -1 and hunting. That’s the pinnacle of this entire day as after hope one I learned a valuable lesson. One that the golf channel can’t provide me, a lesson that can only be summed up by knowing, I should not have quit tennis.
By hole four that is a long par 5, quietly dog-legging to the left, I am begging the golf gods for a birdie. Coming up short on my birdie try by a toe hook too many things quickly became worse and there was plenty to play. With a bogey here and a quad there we are indeed showing this course that it is, in fact, a championship style layout. And, it was being played at a low level by two fellows from the wrong tees.
We eventually find ourselves on the tee box of the 9th hole after playing eight of the most beautiful scorecard ruining holes Indiana offers you. Starring down the 9th hole, you gaze into beautifully mown fairways, thick heavy rough and a lot of places you want your ball to avoid. A tee shot and a layup later I find myself standing over a 120-yard approach shot into my nightmare zone. A zone in which the green is just shy of the parking lot, and I’m one thin shot away from sending a Titleist, with initials, straight through a lawyers window. I overcame my fears and pulled the shot off, almost. I pulled it alright, dead left, pin high and left myself an up and down which I obtained.
As you look down the 10th hole, there is water right with what looks to be a little fairway leading up to an undulating green. A tee ball to the right side of the short grass and an 8-iron pin high a birdie start and the back is underway. With the 11th being a par 5 and a short par 4, on the 12th hole, I’m going along nicely.
Walking up to hole 13 all I can remember was the high draw Rickie Fowler hit over the front right tree to a tucked pin was on my mind. After my GPS calculation and my knowledge on hitting a high draw, I went with a 6-iron cut. After failing to cut, I found myself on the far left side putting through hills and a clown mouth it seemed I vividly remember saying a four-putt is acceptable. Being the over-achiever I am, I walk off with a three-putt and a smile. I find myself right next to next to my buddy Drew, in the right rough battling for last. Both squeezing out questionable up and downs for par on the par 5. The 15th hole is up next.
The match is tied, and both in the fairway the green light for going for it is shining bright! The placement of the bunkers left of the green and the thick rough to the right yield low scores so if anything you need to be short. What makes this course, so fun to play is the importance of being in the short grass off the tee and around the greens. The rough is thick and taxing all the way around, and it will bring down to reality quickly.
My playing partner is long of the pin with a putt for eagle as I step up to my second shot. Telling myself the match is tied and he has a putt for eagle so I should just match that. Easier said than done when you block a 4 iron 25 yards right into no man’s land. With a bogey on my end birdie on his, the odds are in Drews favor.
Heated and planning on putting a tad extra behind this blind tee shot I find the fairway. A 5-iron in downhill to a green guarded by water to the right, let’s hope he fans one right, and I stuff it. We both miss long as end up with pars going into the renovated par 3,17th.
Water right, bunkers left, and a narrow green make this hole worth playing. With the vision of watching practice rounds and the pros making this 200-yard hole seem like a chip shot, I’m Frankenstein-ing my shot in my mind. Watching drew end up long and right I had to make this shot count. A pin high 6 iron to fifteen feet and we are back in business. Walking down the mown down pathway, we are both taking this moment in because we are walking in the footsteps of greatness. We arrive at the green and Drew looks at me and asked if I envisioned fans lining the hole and imagining us in that situation. Great minds think alike because I 100% was and it’s a memory I’ll be able to hold onto for a long time!
Imagination time is over, and it’s back to business and back to digging myself out of a hole late in the game. A little flop leading to a bogey by drew made my birdie that much sweeter.
Hole 18 at Crooked Stick has seen many great moments filled with a lot more pressure than I’m experiencing but this is my day, and this is my final hole showdown. Finding yourself on the last tee box of the day tied isn’t where anyone plans on being, but it is where the men separate themselves from the boys and where dinner is ultimately won or lost.
A dogleg left with what seems to be an ocean of water to the right bringing evil thoughts into mind is not where you want to find yourself. Having birdied the last with honors on the tee, I was taking my sweet time taking in the situation. Having a 4 dollar pro v on the tee quietly whispering how good of a ball it was just in case it doesn’t carry the water is where I found myself in thoughts. I find it’s always good to go into an important shot with the right mindset. Downrange, I sent it with everything I had praying to Pete Dye himself this ball carries because it’s on a fine line between fairway and “Put this on my tab waiter.”
Fairway bound I was after clearing the water, and it wouldn’t it be fun if Drew didn’t do the same. Walking towards our tee balls already reminiscing about the day at Crooked Stick and how lucky we are to be able to play such a golf course. The famous railroad ties and strategic placement of bunkers with trouble everywhere this course was so amazing we couldn’t wait till later to analyze it. From the constant questioning of which decision to make to the lucky bounce and misread putts that went on this day was filled with excitement and appreciation. Being able to play a course of this caliber was an amazing experience but walking it let us slow down and enjoy every inch of grass it has.
Three and a half hours later and seventeen and a half holes completed we walk up to our tee shots five yards apart in the fairway on the last hole all square. The entire day comes to a close with a 120-125 yard wedge shot into a two-tiered green with you guessed it, an ocean of water to the right. After a small don’t mess this up pep talk to myself, I mastered the nervous short right in the rough swing and put myself behind the eight ball. Head down punishing my self-esteem with hateful thoughts I hear Drew make contact with his approach.
I will chalk this shot up as an Adam Scott meltdown at the 2012 Open Championship because he did the unthinkable. He boldly played the nervous block right wedge swing into the ocean, and it went silent. The ball splashed in the hazard, and a dead silence overcame to the 18 hole at Crooked Stick Golf Course. Eerie is a good description of the moment right up until I showed poor sportsmanship and laughed with a small fist pump for my victory!
Win or loss the day was a success filled with up and downs and three-putts. Swiftly walking off the green with a couple of golf balls left and a solid mid 70’s round (with a Breakfast Ball here and there). Pete Dye did not disappoint yet again! His way of mastering what makes golf hard, fun and exciting with bad shots receiving lucky bounces, when there’s no light at the end of the tunnel is what keeps us coming back! He is cruel in a generous way because he has blessed the game of golf with a needle in the haystack with every course he designs.
While they may have similar qualities, they all have their unique toughness. Crooked Stick has everything you would want and need in a golf course to make it enjoyable for all levels of golf. With pure fairways, bunkers, and greens this is a course you drop plans to play if the opportunity arrives.
Here’s a link to their website if you’re wanting some additional information.
Side Note: I had one of those moments nobody ever wants to experience. I regrettably left my phone in a golf cart after a round a few months back. It was snatched up before I had realized it was gone. Along with my phone went all the photos I had taken of Crooked Stick the day we played. Yes, that’s right, as a double whammy I hadn’t backed up my phone. The memories I have from that day are only in my head and all the photos now belong to a thieving SOB. I’m bummed not to have my own personal photos for this article and want to be sure I give proper credit to Golf Digest for three photos we used in the post.