The Pete Dye French Lick Course
8,102 yards of PURE fear and misery is what you find from the tips at the Pete Dye French Lick Course. Thankfully the tee boxes are spread out from 5,151 yards to 8,102 yet with each tee box there’s a daunting threat in the distance.
Carved throughout the hills of Indiana in the hometown of NBA Legend Larry Bird is where Pete Dye saw his next masterpiece. With the hilly bunker laced fairways, he provided a beautiful layout that is taxing to players of all handicaps. Offering an aesthetic beauty that is ugly only in the beholder’s eyes because he has to fire a tee ball into a tight sloping fairway or a bunker covered green. I have had the opportunity to play this course four times now, and I’m still recovering from the beating I took.
Pulling into French Lick Indiana, you are surrounded by farms and a small town with a casino in the center of it all. The home town of NBA legend Larry Bird is Small and picturesque. With a small town vibe and a casino that holds it all together, French Lick has been on the mind of the Mid West for a weekend get away for quite some time. Home to the famous West Baden hotel that was first built in 1855 and renovated by Lee W. Sinclair to bring a lavish lifestyle everyone can enough while staying.
The West Baden hotel is still a sight to see even to this day with its circular dome roofing and a 360-degree view from every room. With this high-end hotel comes with a high-end price tag for the rooms averaging around 300 per night for a room. Pictured below is the central space inside the West Baden hotel as you walk through the entrance.
As luxurious and accommodating as the West Baden hotel is, it may not be for everybody traveling to French Lick, Indiana. French Lick is also home to the French Lick Resort which is attached to the casino whereas West Baden is a mile trip down the road with tram services offered.
If you’re looking for a pleasant stay without breaking the bank, then French Lick Resort is for you! The two properties are spread out over 3,000 acres of land that include the two hotels, a casino, restaurants, and bars for all of the guests to enjoy while visiting. West Baden, French Lick Resort, and the casino have been a staple for bringing travelers to the area since the early 1900s, but golf has always been there too.
When the town of French Lick comes to mind now, most people think of the Pete Dye Course that was crafted to let weekend golfers enjoy a championship course, but at the same time, it was designed to bring taxing to even the best tour pros.
Before we dive head first into the beat of a track that is the Pete Dye, it’s hard to forget French Licks first championship course The Donald Ross Course.
The Donald Ross Course was host to the 1924 PGA Championship won by Walter Hagen. This course may be the little sister Course compared to the Pete Dye Course now, but I promise you, this course still stands as a challenge for everyone. Newly renovated to bring it back to the style it was back in 1924 the course is laced with thick rough and undulating greens. The Donald Ross golf course should be on every golfer’s bucket list for an Indiana golf trip.
Now let’s take a trip a couple of miles down the road and talk about Pete Dye and the masterpiece he blessed upon the French Lick area. Pete Dye is a household name for every golf enthusiast because of the designs he has brought to the game of golf. Railroad ties and daunting shots from tee to green is where he makes his living. Creating courses that intrigue fans to watch the PGA Tour players being brought back down to the reality that golf is not an easy sport.
From TPC Sawgrass to Kiawah Island and Crooked Stick Pete Dye has built courses that are amongst some of the best the Tour plays. With his French Lick Course now waiting for its PGA Tour debut, hopefully, in the near future, it is now the one course that even Pete himself wants to see how it holds up against the Tour.
On my first trip to the area, I was full of emotions ranging from excited to nervous and a tad bit scared. Driving up to the course you stroll through the small town that is French Lick where you find yourself behind the resort driving up a hill that seems never to end. Wondering the whole time if your GPS is taking you to the correct address. Surrounded by trees and the Indiana countryside you eventually reach the top and see a rock entrance sign for the course.
Turning onto the drive to the clubhouse you are driving through long grass and hills for the first couple hundred feet until you reach the crest of a tiny hill and a turn, and then there it lays. Your eyes adjust to the perfectly mown fairways and carefully placed bunkers that will eat you alive later on in your round. To the left, you see the driving range set on the side of a hill with greens to aim for with everything you have in the bag. Up ahead the old plantation house that serves as the restaurant and pro shop sits up above the entire course with 360 panoramic views.
As you arrive at the first tee, you’re faced with a downhill tee shot with a pond on the left and what seems to be absolutely nothing right but bad news and a tight fairway straight ahead. The theme of tee shots continues the entire way around the course making you strategize every shot you stand over. Intimidating, fun, frightened and nervous are emotions you will constantly be battling while making your way around this track.
One of my favorite holes on the front nine is the par four 6th hole. It is a 513 yard bear from the back tees, but if you find yourself at the right tee box, it is still a 450-yard bogey machine. Looking down, off the tee, you see a tiny dog leg left with hills on the right and to the left is a disaster for many reasons. Once you hopefully reach the fairway, you see an elevated green with what is my favorite view of the course.
The green complex on this hole looks very tiny with a bunker on the left side and what seems to be nothing if you go long. The landscape of Indiana is laid out in the background, and it is incredibly impressive to see in person.
Believe me, the picture above does not do the approach shot into six justice.
The good news though is that you get to go to 7, 8 and 9 after this hole which is great if you like making the turn in a bad mood. Once you get off hole 9 and are heading to the 10th tee box just remind yourself it’s a new nine holes and it will get better from here on out.
Now before we get to the back nine let me tell you a secret..it won’t get better from here on out as far as score is concerned. Keep your head up anyway because you’re playing probably one of the toughest courses in the U.S.
Rolling into the back nine with false hope and another six pack to stop the bleeding from the front nine you quickly realize things may get better. A par 4 that is not too long with water on the right but playable.
You start off the back with high hopes and who knows maybe a par! I know I did at least right before we played hole 11 and I got smacked in the face by the fact that I’m not as good as I thought.
We did not have a caddy because my old roommate is one of the Golf Professionals there so we have VIP treatment and that comes with his knowledge of the course. So on hole 11 he takes us to the white tees because you’re 100 feet above the fairway and can get to the green off the tee if you hit it straight.
I rip the head cover off the big dog expecting to take this shot to Butterville but before I asked if the left is okay, and Ben fires back with the left is just fine. Tee in the ground and putting for eagle in sight I put the hammer down on it…And it’s a 15-yard draw. Immediately I am told that it is no good and I won’t find it, so I tee another up and proceed to hit an identical shot to the first. At this point, I’m doing math like Rain Man and debating if my driver shaft would look better in one or two pieces. I finally chalk those two shots up as the wind’s fault because like every golfer I rarely miss a green from 320 off the tee.
Walking off 11 green I was fuming, and there’s no denying that but I’m a +1 handicap golfer, and I told myself I was going to finish strong! Spoiler alert I did everything but finish strong. Coming down the stretch I’m trying to tip-toe my way around and squeeze some pars out, and then I saw the 16th. Hole 16 that day was playing 270 with a left to right wind helping the ball go towards the water that lines the right side of the hole.
A Little bit of information about myself; when I get nervous over a tee shot I like to squeeze a cut down there to ensure safety. So back to the shot that is 270 with the wind helping the ball go right, towards the water and my go to in this situation is to hit a cut. What makes this an unfortunate situation is that it’s a par 3 and laying up would keep me up at night because of the shame and embarrassment. I took a deep breath and smoked my tee ball with a perfect five-yard cut, and it was beautiful!
With all the pressure I put on myself I was overjoyed that I hit the shot I envisioned right before hitting the ball. Only there was one problem, and that is I’m not great at aiming myself up under pressure because the ball started about 10 yards right of where it was supposed to and perfectly cut 5 yards into the water. It was at that point when I realized Pete Dye owned myself and the rights to every shot I hit that day so I made an executive decision to play the last two holes from the tips.
Here is a look at the par 3, 16th hole and all of the awfulness that comes with it.
The Pete Dye golf course in French Lick is an absolute reality check of a golf course. The way Pete Dye layer this golf course out is just fantastic. How someone can go in and see a piece of land and have the imagination and guts to even think about pulling off a course design like this is crazy. He did more than just imagine this course he built it and he built a masterpiece.
He created a course that should be on every golfer’s bucket list to play at least once. Not for the golf alone but playing this course lets you inside the mind of one of golfs greatest golf course architects, and you can appreciate first hand his vision and his legacy. One of the most impressive views of this course is the last you will see, and that is on hole 18. A par 5 that is full of carefully calculated shots to bring your round to a close.
Playing this golf course once will give you the experience of a lifetime as well as stories that will stick with you for even longer. It is the Los Angeles of golf courses because when you first arrive, you are full of hopes and dreams, but you find out it is filled with rejection and the constant reminder of why you’re not on TV doing this for a living.
I’ve been honored that I’ve been able to play this track 10+ times and I’ll tell you now that every time I drive up the entrance, I get the same feeling. When I arrive on the first tee box and send one straight down Broadway or when I putt one off the green of hole 3 into a bunker and take a double the feeling is still there.
The entire day, good or bad, a sense of being one of the luckiest guys alive that day because I’m playing a real life fantasy course that chews people up and spits them back out. The Pete Dye Course is everything you can imagine and more!
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