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CENTRAL INDIANA GOLF COURSES I LOVED TO PLAY

The state of Indiana is blessed with many great golf courses. It didn’t hurt that Pete Dye, one of America’s most loved and reviled golf course designers, lived in Central Indiana much of his life. Dye was often commissioned to re-design a tired, boring, unchallenging course that was about to be converted into an apartment complex. He was a master innovator whose courses were easily recognized by his signature design features. One only needs to walk the 18 holes of  Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Indiana, for a good sampling. Small greens, deep bunkers, tiered fairways with no flat lies anywhere, water on several sides of par 3 greens, and railroad ties bordering bunkers and water hazards are incorporated into most holes. Most golfers have one of two opinions of Pete Dye courses; they either love them or never want to play them again.

Several of my favorite central Indiana courses are Dye designs. Each hole has a personality of its own, and blends traditional features with challenging Dye-isms. In fact, some people have called his designs “Dye-abolical.” Others have said “Pete Dye must hate golfers. Why else would he put a bunker there or a pond behind the green?” In spite of the negativity Dye can generate, most of his courses are visually beautiful while being intimidating. He was a master at bulldozing terrain into a completely different contour. He loved mounding and fairways that had deep depressions in them. One senior PGA tour player said about The Brickyard Crossing golf course “I think they buried a car under some of those mounds!” Dye was unique, indeed.

The initial intent of this blog was to write about my favorite, “sorta favorite,” and least favorite golf courses in central Indiana. Combining all three would make for a very long post; instead, I’m writing about each group in separate blogs. Consulting an online golf course directory, I counted 47 golf courses I have played in the area. When you start at age 12 and play golf for 60 years, the courses you’ve played accumulate fast. 

The first course I ever played was Pleasant Run golf course on the east side of Indianapolis. Unfortunately, that experience now renders it dead last on my likability list. I hated it in 1956, and I hate it today. I avoided playing it unless I was forced to. All golfers have courses they love, and I’ve identified fourteen favorites. Seven of these are Pete Dye designs. I will talk about these 14 first. The other two categories (sorta like and dislike) will be covered, later. The comments that follow are merely my opinions, and you may disagree. That’s your prerogative. Just don’t think I’m an idiot for liking a course that you don’t like. Remember, we tend to like courses on which we score well, or courses we think are absolutely beautiful. 

My favorite course, by far, is The Fort Golf course in Indianapolis. When U.S. Army Fort Benjamin Harrison closed it was converted into an Indiana State Park. Pete Dye was hired to redesign a very boring, unattractive military base golf course into a beautiful, hilly, fun to play layout. Even though it’s located well-within the Indianapolis city limits, it has the feel of being located in a wooded, rural area. Railroad ties and water-surrounded greens are largely absent from this re-design, but the elevation changes, rolling fairways, and forests that persist add a unique feel to this Dye track. For many years, I organized an outing on the Saturday before the Indy 500. The Fort was a popular venue for the event so it was held there all but 2 or 3 times. Did I score well on The Fort? No, not really, but it was so beautiful, my score made little difference.

Eagle Creek Park on the west side of Indy is number two. Actually there are two courses at Eagle Creek, but only the Sycamore course rates my affection. Dye re-designed it, too. It is a mixture of holes from the original course and newly built holes that fit perfectly together. It’s a tough layout, but like the Fort, it feels like you’re playing out in the country. Some holes are flat, but many are very hilly with blind shots and carries to get to the green. Water doesn’t factor into play on many holes, but elevation changes definitely do. The Sycamore course is a delight to play.

Number three is Timbergate, a Fuzzy Zoeller-designed course in Edinburgh, alongside I-65. You see it on your right when you’re headed south before you get to the outlet mall north of Columbus. This course is a “sleeper.” It’s better than it looks at first glance. It always allowed me to score well. It’s not long and there’s not a lot of trouble, but it’s not a pud. What is special about it? I don’t know. I just really liked the course and played there often. It’s not particularly scenic, but it was fun to play.

Next is the Pete-Dye-designed Bridgewater Club in far north Carmel. This course, clubhouse, and home development are about as elegant as it gets. Luxury abounds. The course is immaculate, challenging, and has more traditional features than most Dye courses. While Crooked Stick is the classic Dye creation, Bridgewater is Pete Dye after somebody shook some sense into him. It’s a beautiful course I was privileged to play three times as the guest of a very generous friend. It could vie for my first place against The Fort if it weren’t private.

The Brickyard Crossing is next. The Hulman-George family, owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), hired Pete Dye to renovate the old Speedway golf course; and that he did. The old course was a “goat ranch”—flat, boring, and unattractive—with 18 holes outside and 9 holes inside the INDY 500 track. Dye reduced the course to 18 holes with only four holes (no. 7, 8, 9, and 10) inside the track. It’s really cool to play there while NASCAR or INDY Cars are testing. The new course was renamed Brickyard Crossing, referring to the “Yard of bricks” at the start-finish line. IMS has been called The Brickyard because the track surface originally was made of bricks. Just one yard remains.

When the new Brickyard course first opened, the Senior PGA tour played a tournament there. It seems the pros disliked the course enough that after six years the event was removed from the schedule. Remember the pro’s comment about a buried car under a mound? The pro’s felt the course was too easy, an opinion I did not share. I thought it was plenty hard—number 7, the first hole inside the track, is a 155-yard (from the whites) par three. The green is the largest I have ever seen anywhere, and is elevated and domed. If you hit the green, the ball can roll too far, and roll to the bottom of a steep hill. That’s on all 4 sides of the green! If the ball does stay on the green, there’s a good chance you’ll three-putt because the green is so large. I loved Brickyard Crossing, but when the greens fees exceeded $100, there was little incentive to play. 

Plum Creek and Crooked Stick are Dye courses, too, both in Carmel. Crooked Stick is classic Dye. He and wife, Alice, lived along the 18th fairway until he died last year. If you’re famous and live in Indy, you’re probably a member at Crooked Stick. It has hosted so many big events it’s hard to recall them all. I was privileged to volunteer for two of them—The Senior U.S. Open in 2009 and the 2012 BMW Championship PGA tour playoff. The course itself isn’t spectacular, visually, but it has some very tough holes and water hazards, uneven fairways, and railroad ties are everywhere. In contrast, Plum Creek is flatter and easier than most Dye courses, and as such, is more fun to play. 

Trophy Club in rural Lebanon, Indiana, is next. The farmland for this course was oddly shaped so the routing takes you far away from the pro shop and in all sorts of directions. But it’s fun to play and has the obligatory impossibly hard holes and “breather” par-threes. Number 12, a par four with water along the entire right side of the fairway, is my favorite hole. In all the times I played that hole, I never drove the ball into the water! Hallelujah! Pete Dye protege, Tim Liddy, designed Trophy Club.

Danville, Indiana, is the home of Twin Bridges, named for the bridge you cross to play hole 3 and its twin crossed after playing hole 4 (until 2018, it was 12 & 13). The course has personality and incredible variety—water bordering fairways, elevated greens, carries over creeks, and length. Playing this course was always fun, but it was an hour drive from my home. I think it’s very much underrated and very reasonable in price.

The Hawthornes is a private club in Fishers, Indiana. I was able to play there several times as a guest of a member. It’s a links-style course that winds through a high-end residential area. It’s a beautiful course, but there are no holes that stand out in my memory.

Indy’s Meridian Hills country club on North Meridian Street is the standard for the traditional American golf course and luxury clubhouse. Mature trees, lush fairways, and a totally private feel are evident. Meridian Hills patterns itself after many well-known prestigious, exclusive country clubs that have hosted major golf tournaments. I would call it the distinguished grandfather of Indianapolis golf clubs. No holes stand out because the entire experience is first class.

The last three courses are Rock Hollow, Broadmoor Country Club, and Coffin. Rock Hollow is in Peru, IN. I’ve played it only once and remember it was scenic and enjoyable. Broadmoor is a private club in Indy, designed years ago by Donald Ross. Ross’ reputation for designing traditional, widely-loved golf courses has endured for a century. Fairways are tight and rolling, greens are small, and it’s exhausting to play, especially on a 103° day in July. Coffin, a city course, often regarded as the best muni in Indianapolis, is the last of my favorites. The front nine is a great layout and very challenging. The back nine gets weird on holes 10 and 18 which parallel one another. The designer ran out of enough space for two holes so the 10th and 18th fairways are very narrow. More than half of the 10th fairway is a pond. Also, the 18th fairway is hard to distinguish when standing on the tee. Deciding where to hit your tee shot is difficult because you cannot tell where the landing area begins and ends. Landing areas for 10 and 18 are small so penalty strokes are common. 

Like most city courses, Coffin suffers from under-maintenance. Bare spots, fallen tree limbs, un-filled divots, and un-repaired ball marks on the greens are common. Weeds and tree limbs overhanging the fairways need trimming. Golf carts are old and worn. But ignoring all that and just enjoying the routing of the holes and the natural landscape along White River lands it on my list of favorites.

These fourteen courses are here because I liked them over all the others. They are just the opinion of Dr. G who finds enjoyment in opining! If you disagree, I’d love to hear from you. If you’re not a Hoosier, you’ve probably either found this blog boring as heck or you’ve learned what courses to play during your next visit to Indianapolis. Seven of my favorites are also on the list of the top 40 courses in Indiana, so I’m not too far off base. 

Coming next will be blogs on courses I passionately disliked, and courses I liked at times but not at others. Your opinions are welcome, too.

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2 Comments

  1. How about Martinsville. That is one of my favorites and I can actually score decently. We played Rock Hollow several years ago. Loved it!

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