The Donald Ross Course at French Lick – Played 2015
- Rankings: Golf Digest Public #100
- Location: 8670 W IN-56, French Lick, Indiana
- Year: 1917
- Architect: Donald Ross
- Course Access: Public
- Walking Rules: Carts Available
Score Card Information:
- Medal – Gold: 7,030 yards, Par 70, 74.7 Rating/135 Slope
- Ross – Bronze: 6,517 yards, Par 70, 72.3 Rating/132 Slope
- Regular – Black: 5,950 yards, Par 70, 69.5 Rating/131 Slope
- Forward – Silver: 5,050 yards, Par 70/73, 65.4 Rating/120 Slope (Men’s), 69.9 Rating, 120 Slope (Women’s)
You wouldn’t expect much on your drive to French Lick, Indiana. I equated the town with one of my favorite athletes of all time, Larry Bird aka “The Hick from French Lick”. I also knew about it from the movie Blue Chips, but other than that I didn’t know much.
Trust me when I say that you are missing out if you write this town off. It is home to some wonderful golf courses and hotels. The mainstay in the town is the French Lick Resort. I took a few pictures on my way to the course that showcase the hotel and casino.
You may be wondering what is all this doing in a small town two and a half hours from Indianapolis. That is a good question. The original hotel, pictured above, was established in 1845 and attracted visitors to its “miracle waters” in the nearby sulfur springs. The West Baden Springs Hotel was the other attraction built in 1902 with its massive 200 foot atrium (pictures to come in the post about the Pete Dye Course at French Lick).
Things were not always good though and by the mid-1990’s the resort was a shadow of its former self. The affiliated West Baden Springs Hotel was literally crumbling to the ground. That is when the Cook family, led by local Indiana resident Bill Cook, stepped in to help. Mr. Cook was the founder of Cook Medical and a billionaire. The family had taken an interest in restoring Indiana buildings and thankfully the two hotels of the resort were next on the list. Per my friend Steve at golftripper.com I found out that after $500,000,000 the town was left with a new golf course, a casino, and nearly 1,700 jobs. This investment most likely saved the town itself.
I also learned from Steve what I thought it was an interesting story. Mr. Cook died living in the three-bedroom house he bought three years after he founded Cook Medical. This was well before he was rich and just goes to show the kind of humble, down to earth guy that he must have been. He had only recently added a garage to the house!
The Donald Ross Course was the original golf course affiliated with the resort having opened in 1917. I don’t know if I can add anymore to Ross’s legacy with my words. He is a hall of famer and laid the foundation for the American golf industry.
The course played host to the 1924 PGA Championship won by the legendary Walter Hagen. I imagine he had quite a time at the sulfur springs! His grand prize was worth $6,830. I guess you could say times have changed. In 2006, the course underwent a restoration in collaboration with the Donald Ross Society to revive the bunkers and green complexes.
I thought the picture below had a great story. Hagen and Barnes are on both sides of the picture. The old-style cameras apparently took from side to side. So once the picture started on one side and captured the two, they ran to the other side. If you go in the clubhouse you can clearly see them on both sides. On the original side they are stern and on the other side they are grinning like schoolchildren.
Whew! That was a lot of history. Let’s get into the course tour. I was off early by myself. There is nothing like having a Top 100 course all to yourself in the morning! All distances are from the Ross-Bronze tees.
Hole 1 – 401 yards – Par 4
The first hole plays downhill, but can seem a bit tight with the high grass on both sides. Lace one down the middle though and you will be in good shape.
This hole is wider than it looks. A good drive should easily carry the bunker on the left so the landing area is massive. It’s not all fairway, but you won’t lose the ball either. The best line is a little fade off the left bunker.
Playing this course for the first time, I didn’t always know where to go. This was one of those times. A little draw in between the middle tree and the tower is a good play.
Wow! What a hole. It plays longer than the yardage due to uphill grade. Anything short will come tumbling back down the big slope you see here. This is such a cool looking hole, one of my favorites on the course.
This hole is quite simply very stout. It plays downhill, but you still need to bust a drive to give yourself a good approach. A bullet at the right edge of the center bunker is the best play.
This is another tough hole. The hazard shouldn’t come into play, but you still need a well-struck shot to reach the green. It needs to carry long enough and have the right direction to give you a shot at birdie.
This tee shot is more visually than actually difficult. There is more room in the landing area than meets the eye. A little draw up the right side will provide the biggest area to land the ball.
This hole is a sharp dogleg to the left. Anything right of the bunker will be in good shape. It is a pretty wide fairway.
This is a shorter hole and doesn’t really require driver. There is plenty of room out there though so you can feel free to let the big dog eat. A line over the right bunker is a good strategy.
This is a great looking hole with the bunkering and trees. The strategy off the tee is pretty easy, just hit it straight out there between the sand.
I really enjoyed the look of the bunkering and wispy grass. This is a pretty cramped landing area. A driver will bring the two middle bunkers in play. Something around 220 yards will carry the first bunker to the largest part of the fairway.
This hole is a monster, but at least the tee is elevated. You can really launch one here and you need to. Left is an inexcusable miss since you have an additional fairway to the right. In fact, you could get creative for extra distance and try to hit the cart path!
Ross gives you two beastly holes in a row. This is a monstrously tough par three. There is a large bunker to the right. The bunker in front is not as close to the green as it may look from the tee.
The landing area is blind on this tee shot. If you split the bunkers you will be in good shape.
I wanted to show you the view from the back tee on this hole. This is pretty tough and definitely favors a cut.
I had forgotten to take a picture of the tee signs. Here is the one from sixteen.
This a short hole, but it has plenty of trouble. Bunkers of varying sizes surround the entire green. The putting surface is quite large though so it should be easy to hit with a short club in your hand.
The fairway here slopes to the left. A draw off the tree up the right side is the best play. I am not really sure what the bunker right off the tee is doing there. It doesn’t come into play at all unless you hit a terrible shot. It made me wonder if the configuration of the course was different in the past.
My tee shot was way right so I didn’t get an approach shot picture. You can see the green below from the left side. There is steep ridge that bisects the green from front to back. Putts across the green will be very challenging.
The last hole is no pushover. The trees are not really in play with a good drive. You can also carry the bunker on the left so there is more room out there than it looks.
The Donald Ross course was a delight. It was a throwback course and it had a great set of greens. The numerous elevation changes were something I didn’t expect from Indiana. It was a course where I had to use most of the clubs in my bag and I appreciate that. So while French Lick may be out of the way, it is definitely worth a stop to play a Donald Ross gem.