Twenty-seven holes were originally planned for the golf course at Culver Academies and William Langford and Theodore Moreau were told to construct the best nine first, which they did, with the course opening for play in 1924. The remaining holes were to follow but, unfortunately, they never got off the drawing board.
Bobby Weed was approached in 2008 to have a look at the existing layout and his first impressions were: “I felt like I had opened up a barn door and found a vintage Porsche 356 underneath dust and hay.” Restoration work didn’t start until late 2013, when the course’s first irrigation system was installed and tree growth addressed.
With the assistance of old aerial photographs, the architect embarked on a mission to recreate all the bunkers (because they’d been grassed over down the years), widen fairways to their intended limits with new mowing lines then sand and expand the greensites to increase the overall putting surface area by more than a third.
A new clubhouse and practice area have now been built so Culver Academies has a first class golf complex to match the equestrian, rowing, hockey and tennis facilities enjoyed by students at the school. Hopefully, the recent efforts to upgrade such a wonderful old golfing amenity might result in more of those young people taking up the game.
In the book The Finest Nines by Anthony Pioppi, the author writes:
“For decades the golf course at Culver Academies existed as if it were a painting hanging on the wall of a long-abandoned home, covered in soot, dust, and grime. If one looked intently enough, the forms and images could be discerned, but the true artistry was hidden by years of neglect.
“Prior to restoration, every original bunker was overgrown with grass, putting greens had shrunk a third or more of their intended sizes, and trees encroached on fairways that had decreased significantly in width. Students played on the course more as a lark rather than an actual golfing endeavour.
“Then it was decided that the course should be returned as close as possible to its original greatness. The result of the work by architect Bobby Weed and his senior design associate, Chris Monti, is stunning. The Culver layout brims with angles and strategy, as well as the trademark Langford-Moreau large greens that possess bold interior contouring.
“Every putting surface is open in front, so the option of running shots onto the green is available. Since the Culver layout is now kept in firm condition, the choice of playing the ball on the ground is there and often the wise one. The existing routing has three par-5s, par-4s and par-3s. From the back, Culver plays 3,328 yards.”
It’s hard to tell people to go out of their way to play a nine hole course but that’s exactly what I’m suggesting you do. For some reason I was expecting a flat course in Indiana but that’s not what you find here. Far from it. But let me start at the beginning. Culver is open to students, faculty and alums but not to the general public. I called and was able to get permission to play since neither school or any camps were in session. It’s a school course so they ask that you don’t drink or smoke while there. The golf house wasn’t going to be open but I was told there would probably be some trolleys available for me to use and, if not, I would need to carry. When I arrived there was only one car in the lot and plenty of trolleys. There is not a weak hole on the course. Plenty of length and variety. Some excellent risk reward, especially on the par 4 fourth hole. There are a couple of holes where I had blind second shots, #1 and 5, but the design almost intuitively tells you what to do. What really makes this a special experience are the greens, some of the best you will find anywhere. It was truly a worthwhile experience and I thank the Culver Academies for being willing to share it. If you have ever played Whitinsville you know how good a 9 hole courses can be. It’s in that class of courses. It’s all about the golf and the spirit of the game here. I’ve played a number of the top courses in Indiana but this was my favorite experience.
Culver was originally meant to be a 27 hole course, but likely due to the Great Depression and the expansion of Culver Military Academy’s airfield just north of the course, Langford and Moreau’s charmer was kept to nine holes. Still, the course is incredible. The land sits just above a lake which gives it extremely severe terrain. Despite the low budget for this course, the ball still rolls far with the steep slopes. The course features 3 par 3’s, 3 par 4’s, and 3 par 5’s.
The first hole is an incredible hole after you’ve played it multiple times (which is doable in one day since it’s a nine-holer). The tee shot is played over a huge gorge which takes about a 190 yard carry to clear (I have no clue how people played it in the thirties). The second shot is blind over a mammoth bunker on the left which opens up the strategic glory of the course. Playing over the bunker brings more trouble into play but a dry day will allow the ball to roll all the way down onto the green, while a conservative play to the right brings a devilish trap into play. The third is a fantastic eden-like short hole. The fourth doglegs hard to the left back over the gorge. The charm of this hole is that the player has to pick a line off the tee that could leave them anywhere from a chip to an 180 yard shot in. The ninth is possibly one of my favorite three shot holes in the world. The tee shot is blind and for the longer hitter the ball runs all the way down into a valley between deep bunkers. For the shorter hitters, the second shot must be strategically placed over a bunker set into the upswing of the valley to get an angle in.
The greens at Culver are among the most undulating and fun I’ve ever seen. One of my favorite memories in golf is from the fifth hole when I drained a ten footer for eagle that had to have broken at least 15 feet. Langford and Moreau truly demand you to be creative around those greens. The course is free, but is only open to students, faculty, and alumni. So unless you pay the $55,000 annual tuition, the course is difficult to get on