Bucket List Potential: French Lick Resort in Southern Indiana

The Donald Ross Course at French Lick Resort
The Donald Ross Course at French Lick Resort (Credit: Annie Fairfax/Pinterest)

When you think about the great one-two combinations of golf courses, you might not think of the state of Indiana. But you should. Because the two courses at French Lick Resort in the southern part of the state are incredibly challenging and spectacular. And they’re in a unique resort environment that includes a domed hotel with a great history, casino, excellent dining and a few more features.

I’m talking about The Pete Dye Course at French Lick, which will play host this October to the Korn Ferry Championship Presented by United Leasing & Finance; and The Donald Ross Course at French Lick, a classic design that first opened in 1917.

The Dye and Ross courses ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, by Golfweek, have plenty of history. The Ross staged the 1924 PGA Championship won by Walter Hagen. And the Dye Course since it opened in 2009, has been the site of lots of big events, including the Senior PGA Championship in 2015 as well as staging the LPGA Senior Championship, first played there in 2017.

The Donald Ross Course at French Lick Resort
The Donald Ross Course at French Lick Resort (Courtesy French Lick Resort)

The bottom line is that both of these golf courses are incredible tests and beautiful to boot. If you’ve never been there, this is bucket-list type golf. And as golf participation continues to soar since the pandemic, this is the time to start thinking about a visit.

“We continue to see record growth in golf,” says Dave Harner, French Lick Resort’s director of golf. “We’ve already surpassed our 2023 package sales, and we’re really not even into the season yet.”

One of the things that makes a golf experience special here is that these two courses couldn’t be more different, and they complement each other well.

The Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort
The Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort (Courtesy French Lick Resort)

The Dye Course is, well, difficult, among other things. During the PGA Professional Championship held there in 2010, many of the players didn’t break 80 in some of their rounds. The same happened in the Senior PGA.

The cutline in the 2015 event year was 8-over-par, and these were the best senior players in the world. So, you definitely want to play the appropriate tees because the approaches are tricky, and you don’t want to be coming in with long clubs if you can help it.

But you’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful course or intriguing one, for that matter. It’s located at the highest point in the area, and sometimes when you play it early, you might feel like you’re in the clouds if there’s fog that’s rolled in. The conditioning is always incredible, and every hole is captivating.

It’s a course with illusions, fascinating greens complexes, and elevation changes.

The Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort
Signage at The Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort (Courtesy French Lick Resort)

The Dye is a course that I didn’t fully appreciate until I had played it three or four times. It’s not that I wasn’t impressed the first time around; it’s just that it took awhile to start to figure it out.

Dye and his co-designers, including wife Alice Dye and Chris Lutzke, crafted a puzzle that you have to put together. So, you not only have to hit the ball well, but you’ll need to think your way around this course, too. Oh, and it’s also over 8,100 yards from the tips, so again, pick the right tees.

French Lick Resort
A sky view of the West Baden Springs Hotel (SG Youtube)

The Ross Course is hardly a letdown, of course. The former home of the Symetra Tour Donald Ross Classic, the course has few even lies. The greens are treacherous as Ross greens tend to be (stay below the hole), and there’s a wide variety of holes. Some of the uphill shots you’ll have to add a couple of clubs to, and there’s even a cool little par 3 that’s a great hole-in-one candidate if the hole location is right. While it’s just 7,100 yards or so, don’t underestimate it. The Ross is a great test as well.

While golf is the main attraction, there’s so much else at this resort located in the hometown of basketball great Larry Bird. There are three hotel options, and the most extraordinary one is West Baden Springs Hotel, which was arguably the real eighth wonder of the world (not the Houston Astrodome) when it opened in 1902 as the largest freestanding dome in the world. It was fully renovated in 2007 and is simply spectacular. French Lick Springs Hotel is a really nice option as well.

The French Lick Springs Hotel
The French Lick Springs Hotel at French Lick Resort. (Courtesy French Lick Resort)

There’s also a 51,000-square-foot casino with all the good stuff, a winery in town, great spas at both hotels, and lots of terrific dining options.

Among the places to eat is 1875: The Steakhouse. Located in the French Lick Springs Hotel, the restaurant’s name honors the first year of the Kentucky Derby, which is conducted at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, of course. And that’s only 74 miles away. So, if you’re planning to fly in, Louisville is probably your best option.



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