Hidden in plain view in the tony clubhouse of Crooked Stick Golf Club in a suburb of Indianapolis– up a set of stairs above a narrow landing – hangs a black and white photograph of Pete Dye, one of the country’s most notable golf course architects.In the photo, the 85-year-old Dye is young, maybe 30, posing on a golf course grasping his golf bag in one hand and a club in the other. He’s wearing a half smile, the kind you sport right after you’ve won money on an easy bet. He’s dressed in khakis and a rumpled black sweater, sleeves rolled up below his elbow, maybe circa 1958, the year Dye won the Indiana Amateur Championship. He looks like a clean-cut Midwesterner, tall and lean, his dark, slightly thinning hair parted on the side. He looks friendly, approachable, kind.
So why did my threesome want to rip that picture off the wall and stomp all over it? Like our errant balls and bogey shots, the answer is scattered all over the fairways, bunkers and tricked-up greens of his Crooked Stick Golf Course – and two other Dye designs I recently played in Indy, as well as dozens of his other courses around the globe. If you’ve played one of his designs, you undoubtedly understand why his courses are often called “Dyeabolical,” and why only Dye could have designed what’s known as the most difficult par-3 in golf: the island green No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass.
“You really need to have a Titleist sponsorship to play this course,” said Daniel Webb, a real estate developer from Newport Beach, Calif., and one of my two playing partners that day. Both he and his brother-in-law were in town for another event and booked a tee time on the private course, which usually requires non-members to be joined by a member but none showed up for our appointed tee time that day.
Crooked Stick was an early Dye creation, the course that Pete and his wife, Alice (an accomplished golfer herself and Dye’s design partner) still consider their baby. Built in 1964 and renovated by Dye in 1996, Crooked Stick is widely considered among the best courses in the state. (The Dyes live on the edge of the closing fairway.) The course is long (7,516 yards from the tips) and difficult, with thick, gnarly rough, tricky greens, wide bunkers (many buttressed with Dye’s infamous railroad ties), and creeks that seem to meander as aimlessly as many of my threesomes’ drives.
Along the way, you catch glimpses of flourishes Dye used in other works: sand dunes, wispy wild grasses, wildly sculpted sand bunkers, greens as different from each other as fingerprints.
I’d like to say my group played brilliantly on Crooked Stick, that we played the course as Dye had intended, but I’d be lying. When I ran into Pete and Alice Dye in the clubhouse after my round, the most I could muster was, “It was challenging.” But, then again, Pete Dye knows that. Crooked Stick is the kind of course owners hire him to build – and the kind that people want to play, he told me. “They want to be beat up.”
I had long heard about the quality of golf in Indianapolis, a sports-crazed town if there ever was one. Of course the golf is good, boasted my golfer friend Chris, a longtime resident and one-man booster club for the city. Why wouldn’t it be, posited Chris. The Dyes live in the suburb of Carmel and have several designed courses in the area.
So when Chris invited me up to play golf and guide me around the city, I jumped at the chance. Despite Indianapolis’s old nicknames of “Nap Town” and “Indiana No Place,” I instead discovered a city with a vibrant downtown, a thriving cultural scene, terrific local restaurants, and, if you can keep your ego in check, three splendid, maddeningly difficult Dye golf courses that you can easily tackle during a long weekend.
Those three include Brickyard Crossing, a daily fee course with a secret weapon: four of its holes are inside the oval racetrack where the Indianapolis 500 is run. Brickyard Crossing takes its name from the “Brickyard,” the nickname for Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which, not coincidentally, lies adjacent to – and partially engulfs – large swaths of the golf course. IMS hosts the largest sporting event in the world, the Indy 500, with nearly 400,000 spectators. Inside its 2.6-mile track sits more than enough land to comfortably contain four of Brickyard Crossing’s 18 holes.
Dye’s 1991 design replaced an earlier golf course on the same land; nine of those holes were crammed inside the Speedway’s oval. At the direction of the Speedway’s owner (who also owns the golf course), Dye ripped out those nine holes, replacing them with just four holes so he could return most of the acreage to the Speedway for motor sports use. Dye then rerouted the rest of the holes, converting a 27-hole layout to 18.
During the construction, the owners had to replace the Speedway’s old concrete crash wall. They asked Dye if he could find a way to use the scrap material to avoid the expense of crushing the concrete and hauling it away. Dye says he walked over to a jackhammered section of the wall, considered its composition and shape, and declared, “I’ll take it all.” So instead of using railroad ties to hold back the banks of a deep stream that snakes through parts of the golf course, Dye used large sections of reclaimed Brickyard walls to do the dirty work. Much to his dismay, though, Dye says he ran out of scrap material before all the retaining walls were completed and had to fabricate more.
The original “inside nine” holes were said to be more novel than challenging. Dye’s four replacements, on the other hand, are tough, intermittently framed by tall, grassy mounds that double as cheap seats on race days. The first of the four interior Dye holes, No. 7, is a 193-yard par-3 from an elevated tee box to an elevated green that resembles the cauldron of a volcano. “Who cares what club you need,” Chris admonished me. “Get up here and check out this view.”
He was right. From both the tee box and the green, the enormity of the Speedway unspooled all around us. We continued to talk about those interior holes the rest of the round, finally agreeing that as good of a course as Brickyard Crossing may be, it’s those “inside four” that warrant the $90 price of admission.
Like Crooked Stick, Brickyard Crossing is a strong test of golf, but it’s the four holes inside the Indy Motor Speedway that make it a must-play. Who can resist wanting to tell their friends they’ve played golf inside the venue for the Indy 500, NASCAR’s Brickyard 400, and the motorcycle Grand Prix? If you time a visit right, play Brickyard Crossing during Speedway qualifying rounds on the track the day before a race. There are few sports opportunities more exhilarating than playing a casual round of golf while Indy cars roar by you at 256 mph.
Changing gears, we headed to the east side of town, where we tackled another highly regarded Dye course, the Fort Golf Resort, a daily fee layout that opened in 1998 on the former site of Fort Benjamin Harrison. There, Dye and protégé Tim Liddy spread out their 18 across 238 wooded acres of state park and nature preserve, leaving most of the land as untouched wilderness. If a spaceship plopped you down on the Fort, you’d never guess that Indianapolis is mostly flat. No one sane walks this course, a conclusion even a casual observer would reach watching a golfer tackling a series of long par 5s that average 550 yards.
Judging from my recent visit, though, the course is suffering from some neglect. Even local golfers expressed disappointment at the unfavorable changes, as the course, once known for its meticulous conditioning and maintenance, seems to have fallen victim to recent budget woes.
What doesn’t seem to be on the chopping block is the modernization of downtown Indianapolis or the impact of sports on the city. Just as Dye and golf are inseparable, so are Indianapolis and sports.
Crooked Stick will host the 2012 BMW Championship, the third of the four FedEx Cup events. 2012 also brings the Super Bowl to the city’s center, an area that already contains Indy’s AA baseball stadium, hundreds of shops and restaurants, and the terrific, pedestrian-friendly White River State Park and its outdoor performance venue, public produce garden, miles of canals and Segway-accessible sidewalks, and museums. Down the street, there’s the NCAA Hall of Champions and a budding arts district known as Fountain Square. New construction is everywhere. Indianapolis claims it’s the Amateur Sports Capital of the World, a boast supported by 10 world-class sports venues, including Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL’s Colts and the upcoming Super Bowl.
I have to admit, Indianapolis surprised me. I arrived skeptical that I’d find much beyond sports to like about the city of 807,000, but even the new airport, a sleek, spacious terminal that opened just 15 minutes from downtown in 2008, impressed me. Ditto the city’s small, chef-driven restaurants, cool spots like Regina Mehallick’s R Bistro, Café Patachou, and Goose the Market that bring local flavor and seasonal cooking to the city center’s Anytown mix of steakhouses, national names and big hotels.
Even in the suburbs, I stumbled upon fantastic places to eat: artisan pizzas at Pizzology in Carmel, a short drive from Crooked Stick; and at the Loft at Traderspoint Creamery, a worthwhile place for brunch inside a working dairy that’s on the edge of a long country road that made me want to ditch my clubs and slip on my running shoes.
Downtown is especially pedestrian- and bike-friendly. The city has reclaimed miles of major street lanes, repurposing them solely for bipeds and bicycles; they’re all well-marked and landscaped so getting from point A to any point B is a breeze, though you can’t help noting that the major hotels and shopping malls downtown are interconnected by tunnels and bridges so no one has to step out in the winter.
Of course, no trip to Indy would be complete without a tour of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Hall of Fame Museum within the racetrack grounds is open to the public for a small admission price, as are tours of the track itself. Inside the museum are vintage racecars, trophies and nearly 30 cars that have won either the Brickyard 400 or the Indianapolis 500, including the winner of the 1911 inaugural Indy race, Ray Harroun’s Marmon Wasp. Tourists – and race winners – always stop to kiss the last remaining strip of the track’s original brick surface, a 36-inch-wide stripe that serves as the start/finish line.
Nap Town? No way. This city is wide awake.
Just the Facts
Crooked Stick Golf Club
1964 Burning Tree Lane
Carmel, IN 46032-7907
Brickyard Crossing Golf Course
4400 W 16th St.
Indianapolis, IN 46222
The Fort Golf Course
6002 N. Post Rd .
Indianapolis, IN 46216
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
4790 W. 16th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46222
For hotels downtown, I can recommend the following, which I inspected:
Indianapolis Marriott Downtown
350 West Maryland Street
Indianapolis, IN 46225
Conrad Indianapolis Hotel
50 West Washington Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204
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