If you are looking for Indiana’s premier golfing destination, then you should look no further than French Lick. The best method of getting there is by car, preferably one that hugs the road and makes the drive down U.S. 150 through the Hoosier National Forest more fun than a roller coaster.
Once you turn off onto Indiana 56 and drive through West Baden, you’ll get the feeling you stepped back into time. The West Baden Hotel is a massive fixture down a brick road, fronted by an arched entryway. Its very existence is amazing to me; the fact that such an ornate, immense structure was built in 1902, and also that an awful lot of money was poured into it to save it from continuing to be a crumbling ruin. Just down the road you come upon another amazing edifice, the French Lick Resort and Casino.
The French Lick Resort looks very much like it did 100 years ago, with yellow bricks, welcoming canopy, and the especially welcoming veranda, strewn with rocking chairs and bistro tables, for sitting and relaxing, reading, chatting, and watching the day go by. There are some modern additions to the French Lick Resort, most notably the Casino and conference center wing, but when you enter the lobby with its rococo paintings and embellishments, intricate tile patterns in the floor, and bustling bellhops, again you’re reminded that you’ve gone back in time. They just don’t build them like that anymore.
French Lick offers modern and throw-back golf too. The Valley Links course is a nine-hole conversion of the 18-hole Tom Bendelow design that was original to the French Lick Springs Hotel. It is fully walkable and designed with children and beginners in mind. However, the championship tee length is 3,500 yards, so it’s perfect for families with various skill levels.
The Donald Ross Course, originally called The Hill Course, is a more challenging course, strewn with elevated greens that are filled with undulations. A par-70 that plays to 7,000 yards, it was originally constructed in 1917 by iconic architect Donald Ross (best known for Pinehurst No. 2 and Oakland Hills). Over the years changes were made to the course, not necessarily enhancing it. So in 2005 the course underwent a $5 million dollar restoration, in collaboration with the Donald Ross Society. Eighty of Ross’s original trademark bunkers, with flat bottoms and deep faces, were put back in place aside or near the restored square or rectangular-shaped greens.
Again, you are sent back in time to golf a century ago. However, the modern convenience of golf carts with GPS devices in them, make the course oh so much more playable!
The gem of the French Lick courses is the Pete Dye Course at the top of the hill, which opened in 2009. The clubhouse, a turn of the last century mansion built by Thomas Taggart, former owner of the hotel, stands at nearly 1,000 feet above sea level. Even so, the course is quite walkable (although a caddie is required), with 40-mile panoramic views all around. On every hole you have a spectacular view, which might distract you from the dangers that lie in the course at your feet! Five sets of tees range from 5,151 yards with a 118 slope rating, to 8,102 with a 148 slope. It has narrow fairways, many different kinds of bunkers, including some that Dye called “volcanoes.”
With the casino, spa, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, bowling alley and water park, there are activities (besides golf) for the whole family to enjoy at The French Lick Resort.
• Quote of the Day — “I was lying 10 and had a 35-foot putt. I whispered over my shoulder: “How does this one break?” And my caddie said, “Who cares?” — Jack Lemmon.
• Upcoming events — The THWGA will host the Women’s City Tournament July 27-30 at Rea Park. A qualifying round will be on Friday, with three days of match play to follow. Entry fee is $40. Entry forms are available at Rea Park and Hulman Links. Contact Sandy Stabler at (812) 877-3485 for more information.
The Alice Dye Women’s Golf Invitational will be held at the French Lick Resort on Sept. 23-25. The package includes two nights at West Baden Springs Hotel, golf at The Pete Dye Course, golf at the Donald Ross Course, practice rounds available at either course, and most of your food. Price is $618. For more information contact Marsha Tellstrom at email@example.com.
Jennifer Myers can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.