It has taken a few weeks to process my experience at French Lick Resort’s Pete Dye Course. I was also slightly sidetracked by a little trip to Scotland in that timeframe. The dust in my golf cranium has settled. I’m ready to try and tackle this big review of a big golf course.
French Lick Location
First off, let’s get the location figured out. French Lick Resort is in Larry Bird country, the towns of French Lick and West Baden Springs in southern Indiana. The closest major city and airport is Louisville, Kentucky. Next would be Cincinnati and Indianapolis. The resort sits on a large and historic estate which dates back to 1845.
The Dye Course is a 5-10 minute drive from the West Baden Springs Hotel and the French Lick Hotel and Casino. The course lies on one of the highest points of elevation in Indiana, producing a 40 mile panoramic view.
Pete Dye Course Key Facts
First off, one must know who Pete Dye is. Pete Dye is a Hall of Fame golf course architect who has built some of the most famous courses in the world. Some of Pete Dye’s most notable courses include Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Harbour Town Golf Links, TPC Sawgrass Stadium (home of THE PLAYERS), Whistling Straits, and PGA West.
Pete Dye and me
The Pete Dye Course at French Lick is certainly one of the most difficult courses in the USA, if not the world. The course rating from the tips is an unheard of 80.0. The slope is a massive 148. It’s hard to translate those numbers for those who don’t understand rating and slope. A skilled professional on average would shoot an 80 on this course, on a good day.
The course plays to a par value of 72. The total yardage is 8,102. Amongst that hefty yardage is par-3 16th hole which measures 305 yards. If the length isn’t tough enough, there’s water down the entire right side.
The views presented to the golfer from the tees are tremendous, challenging, and worthy of not only a solid tee shot, but a solid shutter release of a nice DSLR camera.
1st Tee – The sliver of fairway in line with the cart path is the target
Where to aim from the tee on the Pete Dye course is a tough call on nearly every hole. Visually the landing areas look extremely narrow and seem like they’re miles away. Wait a sec… that’s because they are extremely narrow and miles away. One must know how far they hit their drives or layup shots, exactly. Then execute a near perfect shot to hit that precise spot to keep a ball in the fairway. And I’m talking about the par-3’s! I kid. I kid. Sort of.
As mentioned, the fairways are extremely narrow on the Dye course. There are a few which give the player a bit of relief, but for the most part the narrow fairways can be as little as a few yards wide. Couple this with the fairway’s extreme slopes and the effective landing areas are often half the size. The fairways are protected by a lot of bunkers and extreme mounding and slopes.
There’s not a lot of room for error outside the fairways either. Bunkers are strategically placed (trust me, I know). The elevation of many of the holes can mean death to errant shots that miss the fairway by too much.
If there’s any part of the Dye course that gives the golfer a little bit of a break it’s the greens. Sure they’re tough, but they’re not insane. For the insane putting experience, head down the road to the French Lick Donald Ross Course. If the golfer has control over speed it isn’t unreasonable to expect to be able to two-putt from most positions on the putting surfaces. That said, there are some spots one must simply avoid. Also, missing the greens or hitting certain edges can bring into play false fronts or shaved roll-off areas like the back of the par-5 3rd green below.
Every Pete Dye course seems to have a few quirky features, wether it be railroad ties or island greens. One of the signature features at the Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort are “Volcano bunkers.” Yes, just as you might imagine, these are grass cylinder cones. At the top opening of the bunkers there is no magma, but there are sand traps. Check them out:
Volcano bunkers line the right side of the 2nd hole
Below I’m standing atop a lone volcano bunker behind the par-5 7th green. This gives some perspective as to the size of them:
Another quirky Dye feature on the course were some church pew grass areas in the 18th fairway bunker. They looked sort of like coffins, presumably the final resting place for golfers who didn’t make it to the 19th hole.
18th fairway bunker coffins
The Dye Course has tremendous practice facilities. There’s a full driving range with all sorts of great targets to work on the long game. The practice putting green is very large and can comfortably host dozens of players practicing their putting and chipping.
The clubhouse is an old mansion which is very nice. I snuck upstairs to find some actual rooms up there. Golfers can stay right on the course in those rooms, but the pricing is a little higher than the Motel 6 at about $10K/night.
In the lower floor of the mansion are the dining areas and a great patio (below) with fantastic views. The patio was a great spot to enjoy a frosty post-round beverage and Pete Dye branded cigar. Yes, they have those.
The pro shop is in a smaller building a few feet away from the clubhouse. Inside the golfer will find everything he or she needs from balls to apparel to all sorts of great Pete Dye Course logo merchandise.
I struggled during my round on the Pete Dye course. It’s a very difficult course. I also had just gotten my golf clubs back after American Airlines lost them. As a result, I had to use some other sunscreen provided by the course instead of my own spray-on. The sunscreen made my hands slick, and the high humidity made my hands sweaty. That combination was a very frustrating recipe for not being able to hold onto my golf clubs!
Somehow I knocked it around in a respectable 85, barely being able to keep two hands on my driver. Remember, the course rating is 80.0! I’d love to take another shot at the course with dry hands!
From the fantastic service of the staff to the incredible amenities to this great, tough golf course, the experience at the Pete Dye Course at French Lick is a sure golf bucket list item. The Dye Course and Ross Course, along with the great resort experience of the hotels and casino would make a great golf buddy trip.
Yum! Haggis Flavored Crisps (Chips for Us in the USA)