News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 24, 2009

RUB OF THE GREEN: French Lick course a treasure

BY Bob Arnett

TERRE HAUTE — After the West Baden Springs Hotel, located adjacent to French Lick had been restored to its ultimate splendor by The Cook Group, it was decided a championship golf course would be the next order of business.

The ambience of the Pete Dye Course at French Lick is underscored by the many eye-catching vistas that provide a number of opportunities to observe for many miles, the most scenic countryside that can be found anywhere.

With pristine fairways, greens and bunkers providing a colorful patchwork, the course provides onlookers with the opportunity to witness some of the best experiences Mother Nature can provide.

A bonus awaits players who opt for an early morning tee time. Fog often envelops the course at the same time the sun is rising. This combination of events produces the illusion of being at the top of the world and above the clouds which are being pierced by the crimson glow of the morning sun. This creates a most scenic panorama, which is nothing less than splendor to behold.

Renowned golf course architect, Pete Dye, was selected to design an 18-hole layout that would be one of the most difficult in the United States, but also would be a venue where players could walk the course should they wish.

When Dye was offered the tract of land which was earmarked for the course, he declined to become involved indicating there were too many trees not to mention a huge amount of rock and shale that would need to be removed. When asked how many trees he would dispose of, Dye answered, “All of them.” In addition, a Canadian Oil pipeline was buried under the land which could create a routing problem.

After working out the answers to his tracking problems on a napkin, Pete relented and accepted the challenge the new course would offer.

When representatives of the Cook Group, representing the West Baden Springs Hotel, met with Dye to finalize a contract, Dye announced that a “handshake” was all that was needed, and that was it. A handshake was the contract.

When asked what would happen if Dye, approaching his 80s, became ill and could not finish constructing the course, Pete replied that his wife, Mary Alice O’Neal Dye, would have no problem completing the project and bringing it to a conclusion on budget and on time.

During her competitive days, Mary Alice O’Neal Dye was an outstanding golfer and the winner of numerous championships. She has been Pete Dye’s partner as well as his wife, and he listens intently to her advice.

Three years after construction began, The Pete Dye Course at French Lick was a reality. It opened for play on April 24, 2009. Two million yards of earth had been moved.

After entering the course, a drive up the hill to the bag drop, pro shop and clubhouse will place you at the second highest point in the state of Indiana. With a sprawling 360 acres with which to work, Dye had laid out a course that would utilize not only the natural beauty of French Lick’s high country, but also feature the characteristics of a nature preserve. Some of the animals seen frequently include wild turkeys, deer, fox, snapping turtles, killdeer and turkey buzzards.

One hundred sixty-eight greenside and fairway bunkers interrupt the winding, bent grass fairways. Golfers who want the ultimate test of their golfing prowess may select the gold tees which measure 8102 yards from the tips with an opening par four of 519 yards and another at nine measuring 532 yards. A pair of par fives on the front nine list at 643 and 613 yards respectively, whereas the par threes at numbers four and eight stretch out to 251 and 213 yards making the course the longest in the U S. west of the Mississippi River. In order to make the course more playable for golfers of all abilities five sets of tee boxes are available with suggestions as to which sets are better utilized by giving players of all ability levels an opportunity to enjoy the course. Regardless of which tees are played, rough always awaits inaccurate shots and rough could be spelled with a capital “R” when you consider it is composed of heather, fescue and winter wheat. When escaping these pitfalls, an extra strong set of wrists is recommended.

Course ratings are as follows: 80 from the golds, 76.2 from the blacks and 73.3 from the blues. Also, 70.6 for the men and 76.9 for the ladies from the white markers and 65.4 for men and 70.5 for ladies from the red tees.

Slope ratings range from 148 down to 118 for men and 30 to 120 for men and women; so enjoyable golf experiences are always available to golfers regardless of their ability levels.

Course records at this point are shared by Craig Bowden, a player on the Nationwide Tour, and Adam Marshall, the professional at the Valley Links and Sports Center. Both have shot one under par 71s.

Pete Dye, while rarely indicating which of his courses are better than others, has hinted that his French Lick creation may be his best “inland” effort. Water comes into play only on numbers 15 and 16.

Although The Pete Dye Course at French Lick opened last April, Dye continues to work on his creation doing what he calls, “Fixing my mistakes”.

Some of his renovations required raising the surfaces of four greens one inch for drainage purposes. The number 12 hole, a par 4, was raised 10 feet so as to better position the run off and collection area to the right of the green.

So far, Dye has made more than 130 trips to French Lick to take care of details associated with the course that bears his name.

The National PGA Club Professional’s Championship is scheduled to utilize the course during the last week of June next year. A qualifier for that tournament has already been held at The Pete Dye Course at French Lick with the average professional recording a score of 83, and the tees were not placed all the way back.

The course utilizes the services of Head Professional, Jan Tellstrom, who was the professional at Smock Golf Course in Indianapolis for 33 years, and two assistants, Daren Trueblood and Kevin Johnson. Trueblood is a graduate of Methodist College where he played with a team that has long ruled the roost, so to speak when it comes to their many Division III NCAA Championships. In fact they are rated number one in their division at the present time.

Walkers are welcome at the course but caddies are mandatory. Caddies such as Matt Hardy are definitely of great help in determining which side of the fairway to play in order to provide the best area to direct your approach. While the greens do not present huge problems, there are many subtle breaks that can be troublesome without someone who can point out the exact spot where a putt should be played.

Pete Dye has designed or redesigned a plethora of golf courses throughout the U. S. Some of his heralded works include Crooked Stick, Harbour Town Links, Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, TPC at Sawgrass, Whistling Straits, Kampton Course at Purdue, Eagle Creek at Indianapolis, Monticello C. C., Harbour Trees G. C., Plum Creek, The Fort, Brickyard Crossing and Woodland C. C. Green fees for The Pete Dye Course at French Lick are $350.

Initially, players getting their first look at Dye’s rendition may get the feeling of a links course, but with water is in play on only two holes, the course would never qualify as a “links”.

There are only 40 feet of elevation changes on the course although a player gets the impression that it seems to be considerably more. By the time golfers reach the fifteenth hole, they are greeted with a panoramic view that stretches down to French Lick and beyond. This produces a fascinating and elegant setting that only nature can provide. The clubhouse, named “The Mansion” also provides observation points for some outstanding views.

A twenty-one-gun salute goes to Cloverdale’s Chad Collins for his well-deserved win in the Miccosukee Championship in Miami last Sunday. The winner’s purse of $112,500 has vaulted Chad to number two on the Nationwide money list for the year.

Chad’s many friends and boosters will enjoy watching his progress on the PGA Tour next season, a promotion he certainly deserves.

TIP OF THE WEEK: Patience is a trait that often makes the difference when comparing one player to another. I’ll bet Chad Collins has an abundance of it, and his record this season is indicative of the “cool” he displays under pressure.

Keep your head down and your shoestrings tied. We’ll be back.