THE LAST WORD: Golf world will miss Pete Dye’s work
In August, my wife Beth and I drove to the French Lick Resort in southern Indiana, two hours south of Indianapolis, to see the historic domed lobby of the West Baden Springs Hotel and the sites of the sulfur springs there and at the French Lick Springs Hotel.
During our weekend stay, we drove around the area looking for what I knew to be a famous golf course designed by Pete Dye, who passed away Thursday at age 94.
We first came across the Donald Ross course on Indiana 56 just outside French Lick, which was originally constructed in 1917, restored in 2007 and rated the No. 2 public course in Indiana by GolfWeek every year since 2011. A former Scotsman, Ross was an iconic golf course architect for more than 40 years, leaving a legacy of 413 courses across the U.S.
He even crafted a nine-hole course in Fort Wayne, which opened in 1927 and was purchased by Indiana Tech in 2018. It is located at 7102 South Calhoun Street at Calhoun and Tillman Road.
But it took a little more exploring to find the Pete Dye Course, rated the No. 1 public course in Indiana by GolfWeek from 2010-2019. We had to drive up a steep, winding road behind the monumental West Baden Springs Hotel to find it. And it was an experience that made the whole trip complete.
It is now somewhat ironic that my first look at the incredible
golf course was only months between Dye’s death Thursday in the Dominican Republic and the Feb. 1, 2019, death of his wife Alice, 91, his partner in golf course design.
I remember driving up, up, up and finally emerging at the top of a mountain I didn’t even know existed where sat the clubhouse. I spent the next hour snapping pictures with my iPhone as Beth and I walked around the stone pro shop in awe of the sprawling layout of fairways and bunkers spread out over rolling hills with panoramic views reaching over 40 miles of southern Indiana countryside encircling the 8,100-yard 18-hole course draping the hills beneath the summit.
Pete and Alice first sketched a proposed layout of the course on a napkin (on display at the clubhouse). And the result was what 2015 Senior PGA champion Colin Montgomerie called “one of the iconic courses” in America and one that golfers all over the world will want to play.
The course was built on what is said to be Indiana’s highest elevation point and features narrow fairways, rugged, intense terrain, three man-made lakes, “volcano” bunkers, a variety of elevation changes and severely undulating greens. It opened in 2009.
A story about Dye in USA Today said the golf architect “used his vast powers of visual deception to create holes where desire and disaster often converge.”
“Life is not fair,” Dye once said, “so why should I make a course that is fair?”
Those who have played the French Lick course no doubt relate to that comment.
Dye was born in Urbana, Ohio, but lived most of his life in Indianapolis. He was selling life insurance when he and his wife built their first golf course, a nine-hole track near Indianapolis called El Dorado in 1961. He also designed Crooked Stick in Carmel in 1964 where John Daly won the 1991 PGA Championship.
Among his other famous course designs are Florida’s TPC Sawgrass, home of The Players Championship; Kiawah Island in South Carolina, which has hosted both a Ryder Cup and a PGA Championship, and Whistling Straits, site of the 2020 Ryder Cup in Kohler, Wis. The French Lick course is home to the Senior LPGA Championship.
Suzy Whaley of The PGA of America announced Dye’s death Thursday, saying, “Pete Dye left an imprint on the world of golf that will be experienced for generations, painting wonderful pictures with the land that continue to inspire, entertain and challenge us.”
Greg Norman once referred to Dye as the “Picasso of golf architecture” who changed golf course design in the 20th century.
I’m glad I had the opportunity to see the work of art he left in Indiana.
– Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.