Courses & TravelNovember 4, 2009

An Update From French Lick . . .

Stephen Szurlej

FrenchLick.jpg

"Hey Matt, you told me to call if I had any updates from French Lick," said Harner. "We just doubled the number of traffic lights down here."

It sounds like an impressive amount of growth. They used to have one stoplight in town--now they have two.

While I had Harner on the phone, I asked about the progress beyond the increase in traffic:

*How did the year go at the Pete Dye Course?

Good. We opened on April 24 and we didn't hear a single negative comment. We just closed on Nov. 1. We didn't have as many rounds as we would've hoped for, but the people who played it, they liked it.

How many rounds did you get?

About 2,200.

When will you open in the spring?

On March 15.

How many rounds did you get on the Donald Ross Course?

16,000, but the Ross Course is still open.

Are you guys still at the $350 green fee at the Dye Course?

Yes, but we did the all-day deal.

And that's $350 to play unlimited golf at the Dye Course?

Yes--and you have to stay at the West Baden Springs Hotel.

When you reopen next year, do you think you'll still be at a $350 green fee?

Yes. And we hope to get 4,000 rounds. We'll cap the number of annual rounds at 6,000.

Is that a business model similar to Shadow Creek in Las Vegas? It's the gamblers course--a place for the high rollers to come and play fast on an open course so you can get them back to the gaming tables.

No. That's never been our business model. We don't have a lot of gamblers who play golf. It's really for the golfer who knows the difference.

Is the course done, or are you guys still making changes?

Pete Dye is still working on the course. He never stops. I'd say we're at step 3 of a 10-step deal.*

A quick calculation had the Dye course getting about 14 paid rounds per day. That leaves plenty of room for growth, and if they get to 4,000 rounds next year, they may have to add another traffic light.

I played the Dye twice. When I played it from the correct tees, I was able to enjoy the course. I really loved the recently renovated Ross course. And for $115 on weekends, I consider it better value.

I told Harner at the time of my visit, I think Pebble Beach ($500), the so-called best course in the country, should be no higher than $300 (a 40 percent decrease). That would force all the other courses in the country down to their appropriate green fees. If Pebble's at $300, that puts the Pete Dye Course at $210, which is probably closer to where it belongs. But I'm just sayin'. And I'll keep sayin' it until golf gets more affordable. (I suppose the laws of demand and supply should get golf where it needs to go, regardless of my mission statement.)

Here's a link to a blog I wrote after I got back from French Lick. It includes a link to the video tour I got of the Springs Valley High School gym--the house that Larry Bird built. My tour guide was Bird's high school coach, Gary Holland, who just happened to be mowing fairways at the Pete Dye Course to keep himself busy, post-retirement.

If you love golf and basketball, you'd love a trip to French Lick.

--Matty G.

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