Culver Academies Golf Course
Indiana, United States of America

Fifth hole, 490 yards (1st); A half par hole made intriguing in part by the second shot which for all but the longest hitters is blind over the shoulder of a hill. One has a reasonable hope of getting near the massive green complex in two but getting up and in is another matter. At 7,125 square feet, this is the largest green on the course and the golfer marvels as to how something so pronounced can lay so peacefully upon the ground. Part of Langford & Moreau’s success in achieving designs like Lawsonia and here that are so pleasing to the eye lies in how often they start the putting surface at grade from the fairway, with this green being a prime example. Weed expanded the green by 65%, a staggering amount but the putting surface – and its bewitching hole locations – allows the hole hold its head up high with the other eight holes. When asked if he has a favorite hole or two, Weed remarks, ‘Actually, I don’t. Every single green is so good that each hole has its own strong character, I couldn’t just pick one or two. In fact, when you consider all nine putting surfaces, and the variety found within them, they might be my favorite set of greens I have ever seen.’

A reachable three shotter, par is defended at the immense green which rises nearly 7 feet (!) from front to back.

Sixth hole, 440 yards (2nd); A spacious hole that sweeps to the right makes one wonder why more holes aren’t found like this across the Midwest. There is nothing particularly compelling or unique about the property that the hole occupies and yet there’s great beauty in how gracefully Langford draped the hole over it. For many, it’s their favorite hole on the course.

As seen in the morning and …

… in the afternoon, the large scale bunkers and their tall walls punctuate the terrain. There is nothing petite about this nine holer or its features.

Yet, interestingly enough, no bunker is within 40 yards of the rolling putting surface. Today’s top right hole location on a small shelf is a prime example of how a large scale course can still put a premium on accuracy.

Seventh hole, 420 yards (16th); Certainly the hardest hole on the course today, just imagine what it played like in the 1920s with hickories! Architects in the Golden Age of golf design wanted to challenge the golfer by requiring him to hit every shot during a round, including sometimes a wood into a green. As usual on such holes, the green was left open in front and while uphill, the unwatered fairways gave the golfer a chance to run one on. Bryon Nelson considered this to be the best hole when he played here in July, 1943. The consummate shot-maker, Nelson also would have appreciated how a fade off the sixth tee was optimal while the architects ask for a draw here.

As seen in the 2006 and …

… the much improved version today. With the two trees removed from the inside of the dogleg, the golfer is sorely tempted to hit the required draw off the tee to bring the green within reach. Additionally, the promotion of fescue grasses completes the handsome picture, and stands in sharp contrast to the sea of green in the photograph one above.

Those that play tentatively to the right face this daunting uphill second shot. Culver has come to the realization that a golf course is a living, breathing thing; it is not static. In particular, trees and underbrush will forever intrude and compromise playing lines if not properly managed. The dead ash tree above was being removed shortly after this photograph was taken. As vigilant practices are reestablished and clearing occurs, the hearty fescue grasses long dormant are flourishing.

Eighth hole, 170 yards (17th); A highly original one shotter, the downhill eighth features the course’s deepest green, which is narrow in front before broadening toward the back with bunkers on either side. The front third of the green slopes away from the golfer, consistent with the fall of the land on this downhill hole and of course that’s where the most exasperating hole locations are found. Yet, such hole locations didn’t exist just three years ago, as can be discerned below. Trying to drop one’s tee ball onto the front (narrow) part of the green is tantalizing, though a slight pull or push results in a deep bunker shot that can be easily ping-ponged back and forth across the green.

Note the kick slope built up at the front of the green complex.

The morning dew helps capture the size of the green, which is 42 yards deep. Though all the par 3s measure between 170 and 180 yards, changes in elevation, hole direction and the varied possibilities for hole locations help make them play far different than the yardages suggest.

It is amazing how in just eighteen months Vessely has seamlessly tied in the reclaimed putting surfaces with the original bent greens. Weed deems Vessely’s work ‘phenomenal.’ Looking back toward the tee, this golfer would have been ~ 10 paces off the green based on …

… this 2006 photograph taken in the other direction!

Ninth hole, 480 yards (18th); For a course built more than ninety years ago and considering that the Langford tee boxes have never been stretched, the Culver course retains an amazingly high degree of ‘pleasurable difficulty’ to this very day, thanks to the bold characteristics of the property and the stout-hearted features that Langford built. More than any other hole, the ninth had lost much of its teeth with the removal of several dominate central bunkers. No longer! Big hitters must now contend with their tee balls running into a pair of bunkers – pits really – that likely preclude reaching the green in two.

The nine holes that were built effortlessly bounce in and out of different environments. Above, the ninth tee shot plays out of the 5 acres of dense trees that the golfer enters into with his approach to the 7th.

In the fairway in 2006, today this golfer would be in the middle of …

… this bunker, which is located some 180 yards up the hill from the tee.

Once the golfer crests the hill from the tee, this thrilling view opens up. The new, well proportioned Golf House in the background is entering the final stages of construction.

Only after the round does the golfer appreciate that he has just played three one shot holes, three two shot holes, and three three shot holes. More importantly, there isn’t an indifferent hole in the bunch. Every club will be tested, including the tiger’s long irons when he attempts to reach the par 5s in two after good drives. To the author, it is literally a perfect nine holes. The only comparable nine would be The Sacred Nine at Royal Worlington & Newmarket in England. Coincidentally, that course is also tied to academic excellence, given its relationship with Cambridge University.

Yet, to merely describe this course in the context of other nine holers is an injustice. Indeed, perhaps only thirty or forty eighteen hole courses in North America have as many inspired holes as the nine at Culver Academies Golf Course. Think about that. The statement is not as outrageous as it seems when one considers that the initial opportunity here was truly of exception. A supremely talented architecture team was given 250 acres with which to work. The nine holes that were built occupy the most exhilarating portion of that land. Its location by Lake Maxinkuckee means that the crucial element of wind is always present. Throw in Langford’s routing and the unshrinking features that they built, and golfer will conclude like the author that this is one of the finest collection of golf holes that he has had the pleasure to play.

Importantly, the school is once again fully committed to the course. This is as it should be for Culver Academies stands for excellence in all pursuits, all the time. It wholeheartedly offers crew, equestrian pursuits, hockey and tennis. How can you attract the best without offering the best?

The crew building is some eight hundred yards from the course on the shore of the Maxinkuckee.

The crew building is some eight hundred yards from the course on the shore of the Maxinkuckee.

A girl’s crew team heads out.

The parade ground in front with the equestrian center behind, which features one of the world’s largest indoor riding arenas and 80 stalls for the school’s horses.

Rounding out the golf facility is a putting/chipping green that was installed between holes four and nine, along one of the high points on the property. Beyond that is a full scale practice field and Culver has programs designed to interest novices in the game. Golf is again on equal footing with the school’s other top-draw offerings, all of which was made possible by the support from its alumni who paid for the restoration.

Best yet, the school’s current leadership understands and respects the history of the game. No golf cart paths mar the tumbling terrain. What a delightful place for the students to learn our cherished sport, with a bags slung over their shoulders. It is certainly one of the quietest courses in the world upon which to enjoy a game. Wildlife roam and the silence is broken only by the church bells on the hour or the sounds of students enjoying other outdoor pursuits.

If a student doesn’t fall in love with the game here, then golf is not meant for him or her. The rest of the students and alumni can content themselves with playing golf on the finest course in the Hoosier state.

Jim Henderson and the entire school family have every reason to be thrilled and proud of their golf course once again.

Jim Henderson and the entire school family have every reason to be thrilled and proud of their golf course once again.

The End