Crooked Stick is situated in Carmel, twenty miles north of Indianapolis. Constructed in 1964 by Pete Dye, it is home to a private members club. The club almost became known as “The Golf Club of Indianapolis” but according to folklore, Pete Dye was walking over the unfinished homeward nine and picked up a knobbly stick and proceeded to swing the stick at some loose stones, “Crooked Stick Golf Club” was the outcome.
There have been several major championships held here over the years: the 1982 US Junior Amateur, the 1984 US Senior amateur, the 73rd USPGA in 1991 (won by John Daly), the 1993 Ladies Open and the Solheim Cup in 2006. The Stick also hosted the Women’s Amateur Championship in 2007 and the U.S. Senior Open Championship in 2009.
Crooked Stick was one of Pete Dye’s first golf course commissions and it was constructed the year after he had spent some time in Scotland playing many of the traditional links with Cruden Bay, in particular, making a lasting impression on him. Consequently, pot bunkers, wooden sleepers, small greens, blind shots and undulating fairways were concepts that were transported across the Atlantic to this, and many of Dye’s other American designs.
Dye lives a wedge shot from the 18th hole at Crooked Stick and in speaking about the acclaimed par three 13th hole, he says that it “is a nice, fairly simple, straightforward hole. But I left a mound in the fairway… so when you’re standing on the tee, you can only see part of the green… and I’ve heard more people complain about that blind hole. But… it sticks in their minds.”
Pete Dye and his wife Alice, when not on golfing business elsewhere, still play seven holes on Crooked Stick together every day – have you ever read a golf course review where someone writes “if there was only one course that I could play for the rest of my life” – maybe Pete Dye has done just that.
Crooked Stick is a delightful pilgrimage for any fan of Pete Dye’s designs. It’s not as visually intimidating as many of his other designs (Whistling Straits, Kampen, The Ocean Course, to name a few) but mainly because it sits on what otherwise would be a so-so piece of land for a golf course. That said, it is expertly routed; I’d only describe a couple of holes (#1 and #4) as unremarkable.
The course begins with a front nine that’s on a slightly more flat piece of ground, which on the rainy morning I played caused some casual water on the bentgrass fairways. In my opinion, the course truly starts on #6, a pretty par three with Dye’s signature railroad ties. The blind #7 tee shot begins a long stretch of holes where angles created by the architect mess with the player’s head. #8 and #12 in particular stand out in that regard: both are par fours where the optimal tee shot is the side of the fairway closest to the trouble to provide the best angle into the well-protected green complexes. The back nine provides more elevation changes and scenery; when the player stands on the back tee of #11, they are able to see quite a bit of the course around them, which is a pleasant surprise after the somewhat more isolated nature of the holes on the front side. The “dogleg” par three #13 is memorable, as is the huge, banana-shaped green on the par five #15. Sadly, I never played the par three #17 before the very artificial-looking pond was added in place of the deep bunkers, but I have to believe it was a better hole prior to that change; the pond is far too penal a hazard for such a long and narrow green. #18 is a classic finish; I summoned my inner John Daly walking up the fairway at the finish.
All in all, Crooked Stick is a special experience, from the Pro V1 practice balls to the excellently maintained greens which played firm and fast despite all the rain. It’s one I would recommend to anyone who is given the opportunity.
Played August 21, 2018
In the middle of that pond was an island of no more than 50 square feet. On that island was a mailbox with a sign on it: “Club Suggestion Box.” Are you supposed to swim to it with your written suggestion clutched in your teeth? I laughed myself silly…
Crooked Stick is where Dye began experimenting with the creation of dips, swales, hollows and undulations throughout the fairways and greens. He also notes an interesting illusion that he created “where golfers appear to be playing down toward an illusionary elevated green. Most of the greens are really at ground level, but with so much earth removed in front, they appear elevated in the mind’s eye.” There is a saying among the members: “Sooner or later the Stick will get you.” Larry Berle.
A player at Crooked Stick will find that no consecutive holes are laid out in the same direction, one must constantly adjust to wind from a different avenue, long holes are followed by short holes, and shots calling for right to left flight are followed by shots requiring a left to right trajectory. Mr. Dye has gone on to create golf courses which all have the same common denominator – FEAR. Have you ever seen anyone walk off Whistling Straits, Kiawah (Ocean) or TPC Sawgrass and shrug their shoulders with indifference? Little do people realize the influence that Mrs. Alice Dye has on Pete’s layouts. Pete lives off the 18th hole at Crooked Stick and can often be found walking his dog around the property, no doubt visualizing how he can tinker with every bunker that catches his eye. But those ‘in the know’ are aware that he may well have to ask his wife permission. They are a magical couple and she certainly weighs in on each creation.
The golf course is like running a gauntlet and the deep cavernous bunkers and never-ending long lakes lead you from danger to danger. I recall standing on tee boxes gazing out in front of me imagining a race-car swerving through a hairpin – you’re always going in a different direction. You’ll see bunker shapes and complexes which will stretch your imagination, and will certainly hone your raking skills. He designed many bunkers to sit well below the putting surface, only adding to the pressure of avoiding them. I don’t remember a green which was circular or forgettable. The greens are small, you can’t always see the entire surface, mostly diagonal with subtle spines - and each green is in love with a hospitable hazard. The course is extraordinarily memorable and you certainly won’t have an easy time forgetting the adventure.