The city of Columbus, Indiana is renowned for its architecture; its open-minded grants to promising designers resulted in the relatively small municipality hosting designs from I.M. Pei, Kevin Roche, and two generations of Saarinens. Don’t worry golfers: At least one prominent course architect passed through as well, when Robert Trent Jones laid out the North and West nines at Otter Creek, which are now used as the complex’s championship routing.
Minimalism was certainly not the theme Jones aimed for, bunkering the course well and stretching it for those who dared play it from the back tees (it currently sits at more than 7,300 yards from the tips).
Two of the signature holes come in order on the back nine (West). Players will finally lay eyes upon the title creek, playing a tee shot 190 yards across the flow and several bunkers to a green on the other side. Following that, strong players can make a move at the 510-yard par five’s green, if they’re comfortable carrying more than 50 yards of bunkers and rough in front of the green.
Speaking of father and son architecture duos, Rees Jones returned and added the East nine 30 years after his father.
Otter Creek is a RTJ Sr course that first opened for play in 1964. An additional nine holes have been added. This course is heavily tree-lined. The first hole is a par 5, straightaway with a water hazard protecting the green all the way across the front. The 2nd is another straightway hole with fairway bunkers in the landing zone right and left. The green has bunkers left and right. The first par 3 is mid-length with a water hazard front and left as well a bunker front right and rear left. The 4th is a dogleg left. You can drive thru the fairway and there are bunkers on the inside elbow. A high draw is best off the tee. This green is also protected with bunkers front left and right and the green is essentially a peninsula in a water hazard. The 5th is a long par 5. Aim left of center off the tee, there is a pesky fairway bunker right as well as a stream that runs parallel. There are a few fairway bunkers in the landing area left for your second shot, but go too far right and you will be dealing with bunkers in the sky and greenside bunkers left and right. The 6th is the shortest par four on the front and is a dogleg left. You can cut the corner, there are two large bunkers on the inside elbow but the landing area over the bunkers is fairly small. There is ample room right of the bunkers, so you may want to consider laying up off the tee. The green is elevated with the standard bunkers right and left. The 7th is a long par four that tilts right. Bunkers on the right side as well as left and right of the green. The 8th is a mid-length par 3 that will play much tougher when the pin is up. Two bunkers front left and one right and the green slopes back to front. The front ends with a long demanding par 4 that lists to the right. Fairway bunkers on the inside elbow and you can drive through the fairway. Best tee shot is a high fade. This green is surrounded by four bunkers.
The back starts with the number one handicap hole, a long par four that bends right. Fairway bunkers in the landing area. The green is perched on a ledge with bunkers front right and left. The 2nd is a sharp dogleg left that is driveable. Having said that, I don’t encourage trying. You will need to get the ball up quickly to get over the trees and the green has water left and front with a couple of bunkers as well. Off the a high draw or layup is the best choice. The 12th is a short straightaway par four. No surprise here, fairway bunkers right and left and 3 greenside. The 13th is a par 3 that requires a carry over a stream with bunkers left and right. The 14th is a reachable par five. The hole slants left and has multiple fairway bunkers on each side. A high draw is the weapon of choice. There are also 5 bunkers in front of the green to act as a deterrent. The 15th is a long uphill par 3. Take an extra club. A dogleg left, the 16th is a long difficult hole, especially if you block it right. There are bunkers on the inside elbow. A high draw off the tee would set up a long uphill approach. The 17th bends a wee bit to the right with two fairway bunkers left and one right. This green has four bunkers. The last hole is a long uphill par 5 that bends left. Multiple bunkers in the landing area as well as greenside.
Very predictable course. I suspect if RTJ Sr was around today he would want some trees to be cut down.
There aren't many RTJ, Sr., layouts I am a big time fan - but his effort at Otter Creek clearly makes the short list. The layout is faithful to the original design and the hole variety is quite good and appropriately challenging depending on the tee position you select.
The Jones philosophy of tough par easy bogey is front and center. You have a number of large scale bunkers with big greens with various internal contours.
In many ways Otter Creek reminds me of another one his works that opened one year later in 1965 -- Hominy Hill in Colts Neck, NJ. The Garden State layout originated as a mega-private course for its owner Henry Mercer before becoming public years later.
The rise of quality public golf in the Hoosier State clearly ascended in the years after Otter Creek first came onto the scene. However, the course has hosted a range of key events including serving as venue a number of times for the Indiana state amateur event.
The routing is fairly straightforward and I wish there was a bit more variety in terms of the par-3 holes. Basically, you are playing almost the same shot in four instances. Jones was also not as proficient in creating a really top tier short par-4 although the 2nd hole (West) -- formerly the 11th -- is better than most of his efforts.
Its also hard for me to think of a really top tier short par-3 that bears the architect's name.
The fairway bunkering scheme follows the Jones theme -- pinching in drive zones -- sometimes with flanking bunkers. A bit more variety would have helped matters.
Otter Creek is still worth a visit, however, given the depth of public course options that now exists in Indiana I see the course drifting a bit downward -- not so much as a critique against the course because scoring is still challenging -- but as consequence on just how underrated the depth of Hoosier public golf has risen in the last 25 years.
M. James Ward