107. The Pete Dye Course at French Lick
Pete Dye (2009)
Pete Dye’s mountaintop design, Golf Digest’s 2009 Best New Public winner, established that at age 80 the designer still had fresh ideas, including rumpled chipping swales, country-lane cart paths and volcano bunkers. Measuring just over 8,100 yards from the tips, Pete Dye at French Lick is not the first course over 8,000 yards to land on our rankings. That would be Runaway Brook in Massachusetts, now called the Pines Course at The International Golf Club. It was 8,040 yards when ranked in 1967. Today it’s 8,325 yards. The world’s longest is Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in China at 8,415 yards.
100 Greatest/Second 100 Greatest History: Ranked on America’s 100 Greatest: 2013 through 2016. Ranked on Second 100 Greatest: 2017 through current. Highest ranking: No. 93, 2013-2014. Previous ranking: No. 104
Each hole has its own character and challenge. Need to see the original design by Pete and Alice Dye on a napkin in display in the clubhouse. One of their best designs later in their careers. The statue of Mr. Dye as you pull in is a great tribute.
For those accustomed to playing from the second set of tees, you’ll be teeing it up from 7,200 yards. Some courses offer a handshake to start, and some courses punch you in the gut. I felt on edge the entire round. The penalty for missing the fairways is great, and the slope and narrowness of the fairways makes the tee shots very difficult.
The aesthetics and topography are nearly perfect on this difficult Dye test, where accuracy off the tee is a premium, as a lot of holes have narrow fairways, which get more narrow as you approach the green. The undulations provide speed slots, layup areas, spots to avoid and visual intimidation all over the course. And the volcano bunkers add a unique, memorable element to the design.
The views and the setting, playing on the top and the side of a mountain, are unimaginable for Southern Indiana. It’s a very peaceful, serene atmosphere, giving you the feeling that it’s just you and the course. Your uphill approach shot on the 12th is uphill to an infinity green that looks like you are hitting to the sky. And the old mansion looming in the backdrop adds to the aesthetics.
I found the lack of width, bail-outs around the greens and quirkiness to be too punitive bordering on not fair. When you have over 200 yards on your approach again and again, and you’re required to be ultra precise into the greens, it’s just not realistic for the average, resort player. You can hit average-to-good shots and be in bad positions again and again.