French Lick Resort (The Pete Dye Course)
Indiana, United States of America

Tenth hole, 390/350 yards; During the second half of the last century, returning nines to the clubhouse was commonplace. This contraint often hamstrung Dye and resulted in some indifferent tenth holes (e.g. The Golf Club, Casa de Campo). His penchant to move more earth later in his design career allowed him to force his will onto the property and create (rather than find) some very good tenth holes (e.g.  Kiawah, Whistling Straits). The one common denominator? He built medium length par fours the vast majority of the time. This is no exception. Who wouldn’t agree that such holes help enable a smooth start on the second nine?

The preferred approach angle is afforded the golfer who drives near this bunker located on the left edge of the fairway some 100 yards from the 4,300 square foot green.

Eleventh hole, 455/395 yards; Some architects comfort the golfer by placing everything in plain view believing that it makes their courses more strategic because the player can readily understand how to tackle the hole. Ultimately, such design tactics rob these courses of any mystery. The player often becomes bored after just two or three rounds as he discovers all that is required to play the course well. Since his 1963 trip to Scotland, Dye has espoused an alternate perspective, one in which the occasional blind drive or blind approach is something to be desired. Dye appreciates that these creations help keep the element of chance in the game and serve to confuse the golfer and get him out of his comfort zone. In this case, the fairway is blind from most of the tees – and well right of where you might expect it to be.

This view is a fooler. It is taken from a rarely used tee position high on a hill whereby the eleventh becomes a drivable 330 par four. What a wonderful tee to use should they ever host an event like the Shell's Wonderful World of Golf. The regular tees are lower, back and to the left. This view also highlights another design concept favored by Dye, which is a switchback hole. Here, a draw from the tee fits nicely into the curving fairway followed by the need to play a fade approach shot.

Twelfth hole, 530/390 yards; The favorite hole of many, the twelfth also possesses the fewest bunkers of any hole with ‘just’ four. Still it captures the spirit of the design and demonstrates the pains that Dye took to angle his holes to maximize the long views. Dye contends that the ambience of any course is what defines it, be it the coast at Pebble Beach or the rustic qualities of the foothills of the Tennessee mountains at The Honors Course. Unlike so many courses where homes or other man-made features stunt the views, this course will maintain an uncommon majesty until the end of time because of its forty mile views. Interestingly, this is the section of the course where the Bendelow holes existed. The difference? Dye’s hole is forty feet on top of Bendelow’s! One can only imagine what the Johnny Appleseed of Golf would have thought about man’s ability to move so much dirt.

What's not to love?! Dye's early opinions were shaped by some of the courses where he competed in the midwest including Seth Raynor's Camargo outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. The influence of Raynor's hard lines and engineered look is evident in Dye's work above.

Played to one of the larger targets on the course, the approach to the twelfth with its wrap around bunker and clean horizon would make Raynor proud. Though the twelfth occupies one of the lowest parts of the property, it still affords one of the best views of the Indiana countryside.

Thirteenth hole, 210/160 yards; Dye famously became a fan of Raynor and his work after playing Camargo in the 1950s. Other particular favorite Raynor designs of Pete & Alice include Fisher’s Island and Yeamans Hall. Many point to Raynor’s steep and deep bunker style and angled greens as a major influence. One of Raynor’s template holes was the Redan and it too is a favorite of Dye’s. Two of his best interpretations are found here and at Kiawah.

The thirteenth green is the second biggest green on the course at nearly 9,400 square feet. Not so large for a Redan, Dye needed that much room to to build the kick slope and make the green function properly. Today's hole location just beyond the kick slope is especially difficult. The green's high front right to lower back left slope invariably sends many balls well past.

Fourteenth hole, 575/505 yards; As a set, the par fives offer the most options. Among them, this one plays the best. All golfers hit to the same fairway from their respective tee but then each is faced with a proverbial fork in the road. Does he play safely and bumble one down the right or take on the added challenge of finding the higher fairway to the left? The reward is ample for going high left as it provides the only view of the putting surface.

From all of the five tees golfers play to the portion of the fairway seen in the middle right above. From there, ...

... the choice of where to go becomes less obvious.

Go right and lay up too close to the green and you have done yourself no favor. The approach shot is blind without even the tip of the flag in view.

A view from behind the green illustrates the advantage gained by playing your second shot onto the higher, left fairway.

Fifteenth hole, 385/345 yards; Bill Coore joined Pete Dye & Associates in 1972 where he learned the importance of working in the field and being hands on. Coore stated his own firm in 1982 before partnering with Ben Crenshaw in 1988. Ever since, Coore has preached the need to have a quiet moment or two in each round. Otherwise, he contends that the golfer eventually becomes numb if the architect throws one heroic shot after another at him. One such quiet moment occurs here and the hole and the course are the better for it.

Though not as visually arresting, the fifteenth nonetheless possesses fine golf qualities. Remember that the course is 900 feet above sea level and totally exposed. Finding this 3,750 square foot green is no mean task in any wind blowing in from the Kansas prairies.

 

Sixteenth hole, 300/185 yards; A real kick in the teeth from the back markers, this hole summarizes Dye’s dim view on the direction of technology. For the good player capable of creating 115 mph swing speeds, a driver might not even be required. Nonetheless, how depressing to see a 300 yard plus par three that is level from tee to green. For the golfers down below on the Ross Course who think they have their hands full with a trio of par threes in the 240 to 252 yard range, wait til they see this monster! Of course, it’s important not to overstate things based on one set of tees from which less than 5% of guests will ever play. From the forward tees, this turns into a more conventional mid-iron hole of the sort that the player has seen at a host of other Dye courses including The River Course at Blackwolf Run and Bulle Rock.

The key features that allow the sixteenth to play well are lots of teeing areas, plenty of fairway and a green that is open in front. Still, the perceived need to construct a 300 yard par three should cause trepidation in Far Hills, New Jersey.

 

Eighteenth hole, 655/590 yards; How can such a course end memorably? That very question puzzled Dye but after a few iterations, he came up with this swinging fairway that wraps around a ravine and feeds onto the course’s largest green at 9,610 square feet. Dye intends that you play from the set of tees that allows you to have a go at the green in two as the downhill approach shot is certainly one of the most heroic on the course. As with many of his best works (e.g. The Golf Club, Kiawah), Dye is pleased that the last three holes on each nine are different pars as it guarantees variety.

A drive pushed into this rendition of the Church Pew bunkers makes for a poor start to the eighteenth.

A good drive leaves the player with a variety of options how to play his second. As a frame of reference, the bunker at the right edge of the photograph is 100 yards from the green.

One other design aspect deserves to be mentioned and that is the cart paths. Sadly, they are part of golf in America even on a walking friendly course like this one. Dye worked hard to minimize their presence by using gravel tractor ruts with grass strips between them as cart paths. This approach reduces their artificial look from the many elevated vantage points.

Another thing about the Pete Dye Course is, well, it is a Pete Dye course! Pete made over 150 trips to the course and Alice about 30 during construction, so thoroughly energized were they by the scope of this project in their home state. Later in their careers, they let their name be used at projects done by their sons P.B. and Perry. Though some of those courses have merit, they aren’t truly representative of Pete’s own work.

Dye’s career started in Indiana but he soon gained renown and became such a force in architecture that he was awarded many plum venues for golf including miles of coastline in the Dominican Republic and the sand dunes of Kiawah Island. He also produced some of his most famous work on disadvantaged properties that required major enginnering/construction like the swampland outside of Jacksonville, Florida and an abandoned air strip near Kohler, Wisconsin. The portfolio of nearly one hundred courses that bear his name is remarkable for the gamut it runs.

The Pete Dye Course at French Lick essentially bridges those two categories. On one hand, its location on Mount Airie is dramatic and provides long views that are unmatched at any course that Dye designed. On the other, it was a major engineering accomplishment requiring both imagination and massive earth-moving. Decades of true in the field work have cultivated his unique abilities to tackle such a project and yield another sparkling design in an unmatched modern career. His PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award and the Old Tom Morris Award (the highest award given by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America) are more than well deserved.

The End