For those living in the Midwest who may not get the chance to go south for golf therapy during the winter, the spring season brings reminders of simple pleasures. Like the sight of a fresh layer of snow in Wisconsin disappearing almost magically after crossing into Illinois. And then the relatively colorless, dormant grasses greening up the further the ride goes down I-65 to Indianapolis.

The true lovers of the game who are taken away from it temporarily embrace any opportunity to return. So when Midwest Golfing Magazine (MGM) had its chance to begin the Midwest season on the links in the Hoosier State in late March, 20 extra degrees of Fahrenheit made all the difference. Hamilton County, with its dense collection of high-quality golf, was the perfect destination for a quick getaway.

The first stop, however, was Pendleton, Indiana. While Indianapolis was bustling with the first and second rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Gainbridge Fieldhouse and Comic Con at the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium, Pendleton was painting a different portrait. It always does. Nobody does porches like this historic town with a classic main street that is the dichotomy of the roundabouts that sustain modern traffic in the Indianapolis suburbs. The town of just over 5,000 even has its own public golf course, Fall Creek, which can be accessed at one point by the entrance to a Correctional Facility. Hole 17 there runs parallel to the property line of said facility providing the perfect setup for our own Glen Turk’s next quip in his Turk’s Takes column.

With an early season return to golf, managing expectations and having gratitude are always a winning combination. The latter thought came as a great reminder from a frame hanging in an Airbnb loft apartment just across Falls Park which fittingly read, “BEGIN EACH DAY WITH A grateful heart.”

Caution: Tricky Short Par-4s Ahead

Any gratitude was quickly put to test when wind advisories were forecasted for all of the Indianapolis area with a strong front moving through. That may not be exactly ideal for the first round of the season headed to a rural destination, but again there is a reminder to exhibit patience.

Speed limit signs with a max of 20 mph are nearly impossible to find but in Indiana there are at least a few. Driving through another turn-back-the-clock downtown in Cicero, one sign is even radar enforced. On this morning, the 23 mph reading is accompanied by a digital sign that is blinking the words, “SLOW DOWN.”

Bear Slide Golf Club in a rural part of the town is a perfect compliment. A white picket fence lines the property, there is a small gazebo off the first tee and the Cicero water tower is seemingly never out of sight on the opening nine. Despite the farmland around it, the layout at Bear Slide, which gets its name from the local creek, offers plenty of intrigue and strategy.

That includes three short par-4s on the second nine which take a little road map planning. The 11th hooks to the right around a cluster of trees that can block out any short approach. The green is raised, a creek and deep bunker flanks its left side and there is little bailout. The 15th features a miniscule island fairway guarded by the meandering creek. And the 17th tee shot plays uphill before the hole quickly darts left to a raised, pitched green. There is a secondary fairway area on the approach that looks like another green itself. Well-placed tee shots are especially paramount on the back nine of the design of Dean Refram, a little-known PGA Tour player from the 1960s and 70s, who did most of his courses in Florida.

The greens are smaller than average at Bear Slide and shaped like jelly beans and kidneys, many set to an angle from the approach. There are little coves on the course that can affect a player’s judgment of the wind, too. The 18th finishes to an amphitheater-like setting after one of the more demanding tee shots on the course through the trees.

There is a contrast to each nine with the first nine playing more links like in a more open setting. The stone walls protecting green sides on the par-3 fourth and par-5 12th are also a nice touch. The course surely favors shot-making over power as the back tees play to just under a windswept 7,000 yards (par 71).

Bear Slide is one of 11 courses in a surprisingly golf-rich diameter of about 15 miles with the Morse Reservoir basically in the middle of all of it. Other public courses in that circle include Forest Park, Fox Prairie, Pebble Brook and StonyCreek. Chatham Hills and Harbour Trees are private as well as the Bridgewater Club and Sagamore Club. But one of the 11 courses, in Noblesville, carries a little different vibe than all the rest.

“Time Spent Here Is Well Rewarded”

Golf with a theme is generally more associated with, say, putt-putt courses. Or maybe even TopGolf facilities like the one that sticks out like a stadium along I-69 in Fishers. As “conventional” golf courses go, however, few can combine its name with the experience quite like Purgatory Golf Club.

It starts on the first tee where a giant structure of a haloed golf ball atop a pitchfork acting as a tee greets golfers. They also have a loyalty program called “The Devotional Pass” and their restaurant is called the “Confessional Smokehouse.”

On this day, MGM is the only car in the parking lot upon arrival just after 10 a.m. The skies are overcast and the clouds hang ominously low. The temperatures are in the mid-to-upper 50s all day but the wind is gusting up to 40 mph like there is a mad scientist at the controls. The only pocket on the course where there seems to be some calm is at the par-3 No. 12, which sits in a dried-out, usually marshy cove. Grounds foreman Mark says that westerly part of the 218-acre property is usually the windiest on the course which presents a nice plot twist to the round.

Each hole at Purgatory is nicknamed, beckoning mythology. Other courses have marketed holes in similar ways but at Purgatory it seems to carry more weight. The aforementioned 12th hole is nicknamed “The Valley of Kings.” Some of MGM’s other favorites are “Stains of the Inferno” (No. 2), “The Centaur” (No. 5), “Everlasting Torment” (No. 13) and “Hell’s Half Acre” (No 17). Open up the bi-fold scorecard and the top banner on it reads, “Time Spent Here is Well Rewarded.”

They call the par-3 third “Impenetrable Fortress,” which was fitting for a couple reasons on this day. The first was that it was playing directly into what was probably at 25 mph wind on the open dunescape. The second was that not only did the impending shot not make the green, but also the 7-iron that struck it not make it to the next hole.

In what may go down as the “Failed Shot of the Year” in the annual MGM awards, this scribe felt something strange just after impact. As fast as could be figured out what happened, there was a splash in the pond some 30 yards away. Alas, there was no more 7-iron but rather a shaft that looked like a single prong of that pitchfork on No. 1.

Despite attempts at recovering the club head, with the friendly assistance of Mark, by dredging the pond’s edge with a couple of bunker rakes, it was not to be. Only old soda pop cans and discolored Pinnacles were found. The rest of the round would be played without perhaps the most versatile club in the bag – that is, on normal days.

Failed shot aside, the journey at Purgatory is challenging enough if not whimsical. Dunes that seem a couple stories tall and large bunkers dominate the layout which gives off feels of courses overseas and those closer to home like Erin Hills. There are 130 total bunkers (made of crushed limestone) via the yardage book. Hole No. 18 has the most with 20. What that two-dimensional view does not show, however, is the hollows, bumps and swales in the fairways and alongside the greens. The putting surfaces were designed with the size and shape for distinct pinnable sections. Designer Ron Kern, an Indiana native, worked wonders with imaginative features on just about every hole.

Purgatory uses a reddish color for the back or “Purgatory” tees, which is a contrast to most courses which use red for the forward tees. No one in their right mind would want to play those tees on a windy, largely treeless routing where choice Sycamores stick out as a factor on a few holes. The course can play to 7,754 yards on the scorecard and a rating of 78.3 with a slope of 148. Holes 7-16 from these tees are particularly brutal even for scratch players. The yardages on that stretch go 231-487-579-473-406-235-741-469-453-474. Yes, that 741 was not a mistake. Hence, the “Everlasting Torment” nickname.

After taking a second look at those yardages on the scorecard, upon leaving the clubhouse, MGM noticed a door with a sign that read “Therapy Room.” While it is no longer in service it seemed fitting enough at least for a joke.

Pete Dye And The Full Moon

During MGM’s visit, Indiana was also celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Milan Miracle. The story of the smallest high school to ever win the single-class state basketball title in Indiana was the inspiration for the 1986 film Hoosiers. The news story was shown on the same day a high school kid took medalist honors by shooting 36 on the front nine at Prairie View Golf Club in a match between Zionsville and Westfield as the sun was going down.

Shooting an even par round, even at the high school level, is no miracle in itself. But given the high wind conditions again this day, over the prairie, made it feel close. Prairie View in Carmel certainly plays to its name at the start with wide fairways framed by native grasses over the first five holes. But the course starts to change at the par-3 No. 6. The rest of the journey tightens up its grip with narrower corridors, water hazards and bunker clusters.

Two short placement par-4s, not unlike those at Bear Slide, start a much wilder ride on the second nine which also includes two risk-reward par-5s. The 13th (at 572 yards from the back) is one of the most memorable holes with a fairway snaking between two ponds and 11 bunkers. The 18th (at 547 yards) comes out of a narrow chute off the tee before finishing to a green guarded by a creek for the approach shot.

The flags at Prairie View feature a wagon wheel logo inside the state outline of Indiana. Actual wagon wheels are placed all over the property – from the alongside a tree by the putting green to alongside a tree on the 18th fairway. There is also a golf academy center on the range with indoor bays and the scorecard notes that the course is the home of the Indiana High School State Tournament.

Prairie View has always been one of the top public offerings in Indiana and its pride shows. It is the only Robert Trent Jones Jr. course design in a state known for the Pete Dye Golf Trail. The Ohio-born Dye built more courses in Indiana (22 by Wikipedia count) than any other state in the U.S. His design career really blossomed in Indiana. His first ever 18-hole course, now known as Maple Creek Golf and Country Club, was created in the early 1960s.

Plum Creek Golf Club is another Dye course which basically acts as a neighbor to Prairie View and River Glen Country Club in Fishers. The three courses are bisected by the magnificent White River which basically surrounds the property at Prairie View. The road to enter Plum Creek is lined with castle-like homes which is juxtaposition to the course property which still has the Lynnwood Farm barn on it.

The back tee box of the first hole at Plum Creek sits right up against the city road and the circle drive for the clubhouse. It stretches out a drivable par-4 opener which played straight downwind the day MGM visited. Two long bunkers protecting a pond to the right of the fairway and a significant knoll in front of the green play tricks with golfer’s minds from the get go. But besides some of those features – and the finish with a tricky par-3, par-5 and par-4 – Plum Creek plays a little tamer than many other well-known Dye courses. There is a good chance to score over the first 11 holes before the angles get a bit tougher.

After a quick bite at Bru Burger Bar for lunch (they have a “special sauce” burger) in between rounds on a 36-hole day, MGM made its way through the Carmel Arts and Design District to get to Prairie View. Hamilton County clearly embraces the arts and culture and it shows. There is an energy on this day that feels like pure summer even though the temperature barely hits 60 degrees. On seemingly every block at this location, there are life-like sculptures by American realist J. Seward Johnson Jr. that are not to be missed. They send off Norman Rockwell vibes as did the drive home that evening.

Coming back into Pendleton, the sun has just set. A massive full moon sticks out boldly in the Eastern sky almost like something out of a fairy tale. It is reddish orange and centers perfectly at the end of the descending road, lined by trees, into the quiet town. Indiana is getting ready for a total solar eclipse event and this looks just as impressive as a preview.

The setting is almost too perfect – a scenic reminder, after a long day of golf, to “FINISH EACH DAY WITH a grateful heart.”







Matt Tevsh has been a contributor to Midwest Golfing Magazine since 2004.

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