The Donald Ross Course at French Lick

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.

DRFL - HOTEL ENTRY

DRFL - HOTELBelow is the start of the casino portion of the hotel.

DRFL - HOTEL 2

DRFL - HOTEL 3You 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.

DRFL - ENTRANCEBelow is a close up of the logo on one of the carts.

DRFL - LOGOI 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.

DRFL - PGA 1 DRFL - PGA 2This plaque shows that the bar in the club’s restaurant was saved from a Chicago establishment that was frequented by cowboys and later Al Capone during Prohibition.

DRFL - BARWhew!  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.

FLDR

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.

 

DRFL 1-1What you gain on the tee shot you have to pay back on the approach.  It is straight back up the hill.  There is a big false front on the green so you want to make sure you carry it far enough.

DRFL 1-2Here is a closer look at the green.

DRFL 1-3Hole 2 – 379 yards – Par 4

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.

DRFL 2-1The green is raised and protected by two bunkers.  You don’t want to tangle with either of them.

DRFL 2-2Here on the side view of the green you can see the elevation from the fairway.

DRFL 2-3There is quite a drop off on the backside as well.

DRFL 2-4The view from the front gives you an idea of the internal contouring of the green.

DRFL 2-5I enjoyed the view looking back up the hole because it captured the elevation changes.

DRFL 2-6Hole 3 – 404 yards – Par 4

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.

DRFL 3-1Once you are over the hill the hole really opens up.  The green is flanked by a massive bunker and has a big slope in front.  This is typical Ross.

DRFL 3-2Just look at the sloping.  It looks like Pinehurst #2 with rough.

DRFL 3-3Here is a side view of the green.  It is tough to see, but there is a lot of undulation there.

DRFL 3-4Hole 4 – 194 yards – Par 3

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.

DRFL 4-1A closer look at the green shows the overall slope from back to front.  There is quite a bit of slope on the side with the flag as well.

DRFL 4-2Here you can see the undulation.  Look at the hills around the flag.  You don’t want to be putting downhill here.

DRFL 4-3Hole 5 – 461 yards – Par 4

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.

DRFL 5-1The approach photo is a little blurry, but you can see that the green is open in front to provide a running shot.  This is generous since it may be struck with a long iron.

DRFL 5-2This green wasn’t quite as sloped as some of the others, but don’t let that fool you.  There is still plenty of break.

DRFL 5-3Hole 6 – 210 yards – Par 3

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.

DRFL 6-1Here is a little closer look.

DRFL 6-2This is the view from the back of the green looking back towards the tee.

DRFL 6-3Below you can see the two tiers of the green.  This obviously influences putting.  It makes it important to place your approach in the right spot.

DRFL 6-4Hole 7 – 513 yards – Par 5

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.

DRFL 7-1The second shot plays semi-blind up the hill.  A second trek around the course would help to know exactly what to hit here.

DRFL 7-2Half of the green is guarded by a deep bunker.  It is quite a large green.  There isn’t much room over the back, left side of the green.

DRFL 7-3Here is a closer shot of the green.

DRFL 7-4And an even closer look at the putting surface.

DRFL 7-5Hole 8 – 368 yards – Par 4

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.

DRFL 8-1This was a really picturesque approach shot especially with the sun and shadows.  The shot plays over a deep depression to a large green.

DRFL 8-2The green has a lot of slope.  It is a two-tier green with a huge ridge running through the middle.

DRFL 8-3In the photo below you can see the slope.  With this front pin you could use the slope as a backboard for your approach shots.

DRFL 8-4Hole 9 – 358 yards – Par 4

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.

DRFL 9-1The second shot plays uphill to a green that looks like it is sitting on the edge of a cliff.  Hopefully a good drive allows you to attack this shot with a short iron though.

DRFL 9-3You can see the runoff area on the right side of the photo.  There is also some undulation in that part of the green.  You will want to be on the left side of the green for flatter putts.

DRFL 9-4The zoomed in version below will show more of the slope.

DRFL 9-5Hole 10 – 374 yards – Par 4

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.

DRFL 10-1While the tee shot was downhill, the approach plays back up the hill to a tabletop green.  There is nothing guarding the front of the putting surface.

DRFL 10-2Here is a photo from behind the green.

DRFL 10-3Here is another from the side.  You can see that the front of the green slopes back towards the fairway.

DRFL 10-4Hole 11 – 345 yards – Par 4

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.

DRFL 11-1Mr. Ross was a fan of the elevated greens.  The bunker to the right is very deep and not to be trifled with.

DRFL 11-2The green has a couple mounds in it influencing putts.  You can have some devilish ones depending on where the flag is.

DRFL 11-3Hole 12 – 430 yards – Par 4

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!

DRFL 12-1The approach is back up the hill as you can see from this low-angle shot.

DRFL 12-2Below is a more normal angle.  There are a couple bunkers around the green to keep in mind.

DRFL 12-3The green is flat compared to some of the others we have seen.  The difficulty in the hole is definitely on the full shots.

DRFL 12-4Here is a shot from behind the green.

DRFL 12-5Hole 13 – 228 yards – Par 3

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.

DRFL 13-1A zoomed in photo shows the green on the approach.  A cut really works well here.

DRFL 13-2This is what you are faced with if you miss short and right.

DRFL 13-3Here is a photo of the right bunker you saw from the tee.  It’s a tough up and down from here.

DRFL 13-4And below is a face-on view of the bunker shot.

DRFL 13-5The back of the green has quite a bit of slope but will generally funnel to the flags placed back here.

DRFL 13-6There is a large ridge you can see on the left side of the photo below.  To have a good chance at a birdie you will want to be on the correct tier.

DRFL 13-7Here is a closer look.

DRFL 13-8Hole 14 – 409 yards – Par 4

The landing area is blind on this tee shot.  If you split the bunkers you will be in good shape.

DRFL 14-1The tee shot should get some good roll if you clear the hill.  The approach plays downhill to a large green with a pretty setting.

DRFL 14-2Here is a closer view of the approach shot.  The bunkers are no place to miss.  If you come up a little short you may get lucky and have the ball bounce onto the green.

DRFL 14-3Below is a photo of the green.

DRFL 14-4The zoomed in photo here shows the slope of the green.  An added bonus is seeing my good approach shot!  I do it right every once in a while.

DRFL 14-5The green is seen from another angle below that gives you a fuller picture of the slope.

DRFL 14-6Hole 15 – 530 yards – Par 5

I wanted to show you the view from the back tee on this hole.  This is pretty tough and definitely favors a cut.

DRFL 15-1The tee shot from my tee was much more hospitable.  The fairway cants to the right and will feed most tee shots that way.  A fade will probably get more roll.

DRFL 15-2You can’t really see the green from where my drive ended up.  You really just want to go over the right edge of the bunker from this spot.

DRFL 15-3If you don’t go for it, this is the approach shot.  The right side of the green is open, but the left is guarded by the deep bunker.

DRFL 15-4Here is the green and you can see that it slopes from back to front.  It is pretty large and can accommodate long second shots.

DRFL 15-5Hole 16 – 133 yards – Par 3

I had forgotten to take a picture of the tee signs.  Here is the one from sixteen.

DRFL 16-1This 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.

DRFL 16-2Below is a closer look.

DRFL 16-3You can see the slope in the putting surface below.

DRFL 16-4The back left of the green is featured in the photo below.

DRFL 16-5Hole 17 – 362 yards – Par 4

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.

DRFL 17-1My 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.

DRFL 17-2Here is a shot from the next tee looking back at the green.  You can see the overall slope and shape of the green.

DRFL 17-3Hole 18 – 418 yards – Par 4

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.

DRFL 18-1The approach plays to a slightly elevated green.  The only trouble around the green is the bunker on the right.

DRFL 18-2The green isn’t overly sloped which is a welcome sight after a round of Donald Ross greens.  If you hit the putting surface you can give birdie a run.

DRFL 18-3Below is the front of the clubhouse.  It was a nice old-school looking building.

DRFL - CLUBHOUSE 1Below is a pulled back shot of the clubhouse.  It kind of sits at the highest point of the property.

DRFL - CLUBHOUSE 2The 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.

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8 thoughts on “The Donald Ross Course at French Lick

    1. Jim, thanks for the comments. I do find that my game suffers if I am taking pictures in a foursome. Usually when I am on my own I am playing fast enough to take proper time with pictures and shots. All really depends on how I am hitting it that day anyway!

  1. Jimmy,

    I love the looks of this course and how it is contoured. Looks like a fun challenge. I wouldn’t have pegged Indiana as a golf destination, so thanks for bringing this one to my attention!

    Cheers
    Josh

  2. Pingback: End Of The Year Newsletter | Tiger Golf Traveler

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