FRENCH LICK, Ind. -- There's a statue of Pete Dye in front of the clubhouse of the course he designed at French Lick. Underneath it, there's a quote from Dye that reads: 'The ardent golfer would play Mount Everest if somebody would put a flagstick on top. Golf is not a fair game, so why build a fair golf course?'
Whether the six-year-old Dye Course at French Lick Resort is fair or not is up for debate, but in 2015, the best senior golfers in the world will be able to decide for themselves.
On Tuesday, the PGA of America announced that the Dye Course will be the site of the 76th Senior PGA Championship Presented by KitchenAid, set for May 21-24, 2015. There were several dignitaries in attendance the press conference, including Ted Bishop, president of the PGA of America. While Bishop, the director of golf and general manager at The Legends Club in Franklin, Ind., didn't dispute Dye's notion that golf courses need not be fair, he did say that this particular venue, which can be stretched to more than 8,100 yards, would be set up so that it was enjoyable for the players.
'We're certainly not looking to beat them up,' said Bishop, an Indiana native.
The Dye Course is one of four courses at historic French Lick Resort in Southern Indiana. It's also, by far, the hardest golf course at the resort and one of the most difficult courses in America.
In 2010, the course got a trial run with the PGA essentially when it played host to the PGA Professional National Championship. Mike Small, the golf coach at the University of Illinois, won the event for the third time when he carded an 8-under-par total through four rounds to win by three. Most remarkable was that he fired a 65 that week on a course that was routinely giving up scores in the high 70s and low 80s to the field of 312 who qualified at local pro events around the country to get there. In recent years, the course has also been the site for the Big 10 collegiate championships and also hosts the LPGA Legends Championship.
If you're wondering what makes the Dye Course so difficult, all you have to do is understand Dye's philosophy. Dye designs courses to test the best and as he has aged, he's become more stubborn. Although the course has five sets of tees, it's not easy from any of them. Even the second set of tees rates north of 73 for women. Fairways get awfully narrow around driver landing areas. Miss them, or the greens, and you can count on a very uneven lie, usually out of pretty thick rough. For the recreational golfer, bogey is par.
Still, the course is one of the most picturesque in the country. Built on one of the highest points in Indiana, there are panoramic views from the clubhouse, several greens and a number of tees. Indiana Gov. Mike Spence (R), who was also in attendance Tuesday, said he hopes TV coverage inspire viewers from around the country and the world to visit Indiana just because of the natural beauty of the topography.
Conditioning on the Dye Course is also flawless. Forecaddies are required, and the practice facilities are among the best in the nation. At $350 plus caddie fee and tip, it's a little steep for most recreational golfers, so tee times really aren't needed. As one player at the resort said, 'I can't afford the green fees and I don't want to lose $50 in golf balls.'
Simply put, the Dye Course isn't for everyone, but fortunately for resort guests and visitors there are three more courses to choose from – the no-frills Valley Links and the recently restored Ross Course at the resort as well as Sultan's Run down the road in Jasper, Ind.
Many consider the Ross Course to be the real gem at the resort. Challenging in its own right, it's definitely more forgiving that the Dye Course and fairly dramatic with its views, elevated greens that slope back to front and classic architecture. The Ross' condition is also pristine, and considerably cheaper to play than the Dye. Plus it has a distinguished golf history, having staged the 1924 PGA Championship won by Walter Hagen and the 1959 and 1960 LPGA Championship, where Betsy Rawls and Mickey Wright respectively were the victors.
Even more historical, though, is the resort itself, which is divided into two hotels. In 2010, after being abandoned for 10 years, the Cook Corp. painstakingly restored the West Baden Springs Hotel as part of a half-billion renovation project. The hotel was the largest free-standing dome structure in the world when it was built in 1901 and dubbed the 'eighth wonder of the world.' (The Astrodome in Houston later claimed that moniker when it opened in 1965.)
French Lick's famous West Baden Springs Hotel
No detail was overlooked in its restoration, including its separately domed lobby and 28,000-square foot spa that features marble inlaid floors, fine wooden cabinetry and hand-blown glass. There's also a spa at the resort's other hotel, as well as a sports center that includes indoor tennis, a casino and numerous restaurants. In total, the resort has nearly 700 rooms. It will need every one of them and then some when the Senior PGA comes to town in 2015.