Impressive is the first word that comes to mind when describing the Dye Course at French Lick. It’s a monumental engineering achievement to even build a golf course on this type of terrain, much less one in such astoundingly great playing condition as this one is. When it comes to bentgrass in the southern parts of the Midwest, conditions can be hit or miss – generally overwatering causes softer turf, but not here at the Dye Course. It played as firm and fast as any bentgrass surface I’ve seen in the region.
The views, as one can imagine, are spectacular. The course sits on the highest ridge in the area, and one of the highest elevations in the state of Indiana, with the clubhouse at its peak. Particularly to the north and east, players can see for miles. Some of the greens seem to fall off into oblivion to the valley hundreds of feet below, which is disconcerting if you’re attempting to hit a shot in any kind of wind.
What’s also impressive about this layout is its difficulty. From tee to green, every hole corridor is extremely narrow – the widest fairway landing area on the course is about 30-35 yards, and missing any of them can be unforgiving to say the least. Many holes feature steep dropoffs in the mowed rough area, so if the player misses on that side, their ball can very easily bounce into the native grass which is a guaranteed stroke-and-distance penalty. Tiny bunkers – some even perched on “volcano” mounds – proliferate throughout the site and in many cases, it’s pure luck whether one’s ball finds a bunker or not. The green complexes themselves are for the most part surprisingly small for a Pete Dye design, but with typical contouring and large greenside collection areas. The moral of the story is: in order to score well on this golf course, one has to excel in nearly all facets of the game.
Due to the extreme length of its holes and narrowness of its fairways, there isn’t much strategy to the Dye Course. Most holes you just try your best to hit the fairway as there isn’t really a good place to miss, and then if you do, try to hit the green. If you miss either, bogey is likely. Birdies are few and far between – I play to a 3 index, but only made one birdie in 36 holes. It’s a grind that is softened a bit by the magnificent views.
My favorite holes included #3, a par five that played downwind enough to be a risk-reward opportunity to attack a green that there’s no chance to hold and no place to miss; #13, an uphill, upwind par three with one of the largest and most sloped greens on the course; #14, a roller-coaster uphill par five that presents the most options available pretty much anywhere on its layout due to the dual fairway and blind approach; and #17, a long downhill par four that requires a thoroughly difficult sidehill approach to the raised putting surface.
I think some of the other reviews of this course are a bit harsh; yeah, it’s not a strategic marvel, but its condition makes up for that somewhat, and the greens are imaginative and excellent. Some players enjoy a challenge, and having a course like this in a place like French Lick to contrast with the Donald Ross Course nearby is nice. But overall the consistent narrowness of the fairways contributes to a sameness that I believe prevents the Dye Course from truly being considered world-class.
Played October 20, 2019
Date: February 07, 2020