I’m thrilled to report I’m officially on hog-cation. For the next five days I will be enjoying the luxurious Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort in Los Cabos, Mexico. My family arrived in time to spend some time at the pool. Here’s the view tonight.
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.
Day five of the HOG World Tour trip to Scotland had two courses on the menu. We called to find a slot on the Jubilee Course and the only available one was in 15 minutes. What to do when you’re a 20 minute walk to the course? Book the time and walk fast! We made it.
The Jubilee Course (first photo below) is right next to the Old Course and New Course. It was designed by Old Tom Morris in 1897. Many say it is the toughest course of the three. We had a fabulous time on this great links course. I had some serious pressure to overcome as I had forgotten to reload my bag with golf balls. After losing a coupe of balls to the gorse monster, I found myself with one remaining ball on the 9th tee. I’m proud to say I managed to finish the round despite a 3-club wind.
The afternoon round was at the newest course in town, the Castle Course (photo below). Not a local favorite probably due to cost and it not being a “natural” design, we have never found the Castle to be overly crowded. The incredible dunes, elevation changes, and views of the north sea make it one of the funnest rounds of golf one could have in St Andrews.
At the end of the day, the 5th day mind you, we had walked over 18.4 miles, the equivalent of 89 flights of stairs in elevation change, and 43,319 steps!
In the evening our group stayed in our rented flat (more later on that) and cooked up a carb-rich spaghetti dinner and enjoyed some wee glasses of red while conteplating the day’s golf.
Dornoch, Scotland born Donald Ross began his golf career as an apprentice to Old Tom Morris at the Old Course in St Andrews. Old Tom was the greenskeeper for the Old Course in St Andrews and had designed many of the most famous courses in Scotland and the UK including Carnoustie, Prestwick, Muirfield, Machrihanish, Jubilee, and Balcomie Links. I’ve played a few of those.
Ross moved to the United States in 1899 where he began arguably the most successful architectural career in the history of golf. Ross is credited for designing 600 golf courses. Amongst those 600 are some of the world’s most famous and respected courses, which still stand the test of time. A few of Ross’s most notable courses include Pinehurst No. 2, Seminole, Oak Hill and Oakland Hills. A couple of others I like to add to the list are ones I’ve had the pleasure of playing, Burning Tree and Aronimink Golf Club. Ross’s courses are known for being natural and taking advantage of the lay of the land, not the “earth mover” type of golf architecture.
The Ross Course at French Lick opened for play in 1917 and has recently undergone a $5 million renovation to bring it back to Ross’s original design. Golf courses, like living beings, grow and change over time. In the renovation, bunkers which lost their nearly 100 year battle with the elements and nature were restored to their original specifications.
The Donald Ross course at French Lick is a par-70. Don’t let that fool you into thinking it is short or easy. In fact, the course clocks in at 7,030 yards which is long even for a par-72 course. The rating from the tips (the Gold Tees) is a strong 72.3 with a slope of 135. A solid test of golf. To accommodate players of all abilities and ages, there are four total sets of tees, the shortest measuring 5,050 yards.
The way each hole presents itself from the tee of the Ross course is so visually appealing. The landscape is hilly and features some very large elevation changes. The tees challenge the golfer to execute an accurate shot or find strategically placed penal areas including bunkers, hazards, long native grassy areas, and trees. Some tee shots are blind and the help of some course knowledge or at the least, a local caddy is a great thing to have.
The numerous sets of tees are not boringly arranged on one flat piece of ground a few yards apart. Rather, each tee set offers the golfer different yardages, elevations, and angles to the target. Regular golfers could create a very different playing experience by simply changing tees from round to round, or even making up their own combo set.
The fairways at the Ross course are welcomingly wide. That said, there are very few flat areas on the property. The golfer will be challenged to hit a straight from the fairway due to the undulations and uneven lies.
Strategically placed bunkers can and will penalize shots which are not placed in the fairway.
Donald Ross is well known for his amazing greens at courses like Pinehurst, Oakland Hills, Aronimink. Ross’s greens at French Lick are truly amazing; the prime feature of the golf course. Many of the greens feature the Ross trademark “upside down soup bowl” design, where any shot or even putts too close to the edge are rejected and end up rolling off into collection areas or false fronts. Those upside down bowl greens (photo below) present some very difficult challenges in the short game. The player can try hitting a high soft shot, bumping a low shot into the hill and onto the green, or my default choice which is putting. Getting up and down from greenside at the Ross Course is an accomplishment.
In fact, getting in the hole in two putts is an accomplishment. Due to the undulations, slopes, tiers and bowl edges, putting the Ross greens is the biggest challenge of the entire golf course. A two-putt on any green feels like a birdie. 3-putts can actually be a solid play.
Stay below the hole at all costs. Because of the speed of the greens and the incredible slopes and undulations, shots which end up above the hole are most often dead. Stay below the hole, even if that means missing the green short.
The clubhouse at the Ross Course oozes history and class. The pro-shop is full of great equipment and apparel and a great staff who are extremely helpful and pleasant to interact with.
Hagen’s Restaurant has a large indoor and outdoor seating area (right side of above photo). I enjoyed great food and great service between rounds on a 36-hole day. Hagen’s is named after Walter Hagen, who won the PGA Championship there in 1924.
The Ross course has an adequate putting/chipping area with a fantastic view (first photo), and very close to Hagen’s to insure the frosty beverages are topped off.
One drawback to the Ross and my only critique: there is no driving range.
The Ross Course is a pristine gem, full of history and personality. It will challenge golfers of all abilities and especially those like me, who consider themselves good putters. Be sure to plan a trip to French Lick to experience this historic golf course. The French Lick Pete Dye course (review coming soon), the Ross Course, and the French Lick Resort and Casino make for a tremendous golf buddy trip.
The Hooked on Golf Blog World Tour was in French Lick, Indiana last week to experience golf and the French Lick Resort. In addition to the fabulous Donald Ross course, I had the opportunity to play the Pete Dye course at French Lick. Wowsies.
On a difficulty scale from 1-10, the Dye Course is a 12.3. With a course rating of 80.0 and a slope of 148, I’ve not played a more difficult course. And I’ve played some of the world’s most difficult courses like TPC Sawgrass, Wolf Creek, and Carnoustie.
I will be posting my full review of the French Lick Pete Dye course as soon as I’ve recovered from the beatdown it gave me. Stay tuned.