There is always something to experience at one of the nation’s most awarded golf resorts, French Lick Resort in southern Indiana. So much so that I am surprised the resort hasn’t petitioned the state for its own zip code.
The thriving mini-city features two distinctive lodging options, one casino, three golf courses, and a myriad of exciting activities planned throughout the year. Have you ever heard of a resort creating a pamphlet that lists 101 different things to do while on property? Well MGM hadn’t, until now!
At the heart of the resort is the otherworldly West Baden Springs Hotel, which was the world’s largest free-standing dome until the Houston Astrodome was erected in 1965. The 35,000 square foot structure, which opened in 1902, is opulence at its finest with 90 hotel rooms overlooking a 200 foot diameter atrium inside the dome.
I don’t make a practice of urging our readers what to do, but you’ll thank me later for this edict, I promise. If you are within an hour of French Lick Resort you must divert your trip to visit West Baden Springs Hotel. In my humble opinion it is the 8th Wonder of The World and shivers will be sent down your spine once you look up at the 110 foot high dome for the first time.
Goosebumps will have to find room on top of shivers when standing on the first tee at the Pete Dye Golf Course. The 8,100 yard behemoth was named 2009’s Best New Course in America by Golf Digest and is a series of roller-coaster rides that overlook the breathtaking Hoosier National Forest. The layout was originally conceived as a sketch by the legendary Dye on a napkin at a nearby restaurant. His goal was to build all tee boxes and greens on the 36 highest points of the property. Thanks to his adroit execution, golfers can now experience 40 mile panoramic views in all directions.
The 92 year-old Dye has even gone so far to say the course is his “Crown Jewel” built on his best inland site. The perennial #1 course in The Hoosier State hosted the Senior PGA Championship in 2015 won by Colin Montgomerie and more recently has entertained the greats of the LPGA in the Legends Championship won by Trish Johnson. The event will come back to the resort October 15-17th, 2018.
Andy Fortner, Head PGA Professional at The Dye Course, discusses how important it is to keep top-of-mind awareness by hosting high-profile events. “Only so many places get to be seen on television; our goal is to host major championships and great tournaments from all tours. Seeing the course you work at on TV is extremely rewarding and gives our entire staff a great sense of pride,” explained Fortner, who is entering his 11th year at the resort.
Three miles south of Pete Dye’s masterpiece is Donald Ross’ 1917 links-style gem and when played on the same day constitutes Indiana’s ultimate dynamic duo. Where The Pete Dye Course is hilltop golf at its best, The Ross masterpiece is parkland golf without reproach. It’s hard to explain, but every hole on The Donald Ross Course is framed to perfection, even though less than 100 trees dot the playing areas of the 125 acre property. Moguls, fescue grass, and wickedly fun green complexes fill in for the lack of tall timber.
The Dye Course isn’t the only one onsite to entertain professionals, as July 12-14th will mark the second year the Symetra Tour will grace the fairways of the 101 year-old track. The Symetra Tour is known as the official development tour of the LPGA and continues a long tournament history at The Ross Course, as the 1924 PGA Championship was won here by Walter Hagan.
Rob Koontz has one the coolest offices in America at the Ross Course and shares his inside knowledge on what makes the design timeless. “What I most love about the course is that since it opened in 1917 I would say not one hole has ever been deemed a signature hole. It is hard to say there is even a stretch that stands out because of having so many unique and outstanding golf holes. The par 3s as a whole get talked about often as they are challenging, beautiful, and fun to say the least. The entire layout makes you hit many different clubs while thinking about so many different options. The visuals, the horizons, the options, the perception of The Donald Ross Course, tee through green, will test all of your golf and mental abilities,” stated Koontz.
While the Dye and Ross courses are instant classics for golf aficionados from all generations, the recently renovated Valley Links 9 hole layout was specifically designed for children and beginners with the assistance from U.S. Kids Golf. Two set of tee markers, one at 1,100 yards and the other at 1,900 allow families of all different skill levels to play the Tom Bendelow 1907 gem – the first championship course at the hotel.
But this course is no pushover from the back tees, as a series of difficult holes await golfers in the middle of your round according to Valley Links Professional Andrew Bradley. “Holes 3, 4, and 5 are not only my favorite but also the most challenging,” began Bradley. “Being a 9-hole golf course they bite you in the middle of the round where it can make or break you. Number 3 is a challenging par-3 that stretches out from the back tees to 224 yards. The green looks like a postage stamp from back there and it is guarded by two well-placed bunkers. Hole No. 4 is a long par-5 and also the number one handicap hole on the course and plays 550 yards from the back tees. With fairways bunkers down the left-hand side and large trees down the right, the tee shot is the most important. Finally, number 6 is a tree lined par-4 that plays a tough 446 yards from the back tees. From this yardage it forces you to hit driver off the tee. Once in play the second shot is dramatic, with a small bail out area to the left and a bunker with the famous Pete Dye rail road ties on the right. Anyone who can get through this stretch of holes at The Valley Links Course without dropping shots should win some money from their buddies,” concluded Bradley.
If betting off the course is even more appealing to your group, then the adjacent French Lick Casino features a vibrant casino for all your gaming needs. The 51,000 square foot casino is tucked inside the award-winning French Lick Springs Hotel and is highlighted by 27 foot ceilings and Indiana’s largest non-smoking gaming room. Every time I walk down the magnificent staircase to get to the casino floor I feel I’ve been transported the set of James Bond’s Casino Royale, it is that cool of a space!
French Lick Resort has never been one to rest on their significant laurels, to that end they are offering a new stay and play package that includes their new skeet shooting amenity. Rob Koontz describes the package in greater detail. “Our new ‘Eagles, Birdies, and Pigeons’ Golf Package is ideal for buddy trips and meeting groups in 2018. It includes a two-night stay at either hotel, a day at The Pete Dye Course, a day at The Donald Ross Course and then a group adventure at the resort’s new shooting range. This is a fun, new addition to our wonderful list of golf packages,” said Koontz.
From skeet shots to a shot from a different sport, basketball fans are aware that Larry Bird of Boston Celtics fame is a French Lick native. In fact, French Lick High School is across the street from the French Lick Springs Hotel and can be walked through during non-school hours.
“I knew Larry Bird was from French Lick but not much else about the town and resort before I started working here,” began Andy Fortner, a southern Indiana native. “It is really amazing to me that you can have two historic hotels in such a small town plus an NBA Legend that was born here. Every time I enter French Lick it is as I have stepped back in time, it is really unlike any other place in the country,” gleamed Fortner.
In basketball terms, French Lick Resort and its stunning assortment of amenities is a slam-dunk for golf travelers from around the Midwest and beyond! For more information of all the resort has to offer, visit www.frenchlickresort.com