Pete Dye is certainly Indiana’s most celebrated architect, and his designs dot the landscape across the state. That said, he certainly left room for his acolytes to contribute to the Indiana golf scene. Tim Liddy is one of those disciples and he’s the designer behind the Rock Hollow Golf Club in Peru, IN.
The name of the course is quite literal; the property was previously a gravel mine, so Liddy was free to move land and use the existing water-filled pits to create holes that combine for a thrilling mix of risk-reward and straight heroism. There is evidence of Dye’s influence on both fronts.
On the heroic front, those playing from the back tees at the closing hole will face a white knuckle tee-shot across the property’s central lake, a Cape-style hole almost as scary as anything Dye himself did (players from the shorter tees also deal with a less frightening angle to the fairway).
Don’t think Liddy doesn’t have his own design philosophy, however. The drivable par four at No. 13 is a rejection of Dye’s dislike of the short-four concept...but the centerline pot bunker that will disrupt the majority of attempts at the green is right in line with the master’s thinking.
This review is based on a single round almost two decades ago followed by years of regret about not visiting Rock Hollow since. Having spent nearly seven years of my life only an hour’s drive away at Purdue University and only experiencing this fantastic course once, I very much wish now that I had returned. In my defense, there are just so many great daily fee courses within that same hour’s radius to keep me occupied: Harrison Hills in Attica, Rock Hollow in Peru, Brickyard Crossing in Indianapolis, Trophy Club in Lebanon, Purdue’s Kampen and Ackerman-Allen courses, and even lesser-known gems such as Battle Ground CC near Lafayette or Tippecanoe CC near Monticello that you won’t find on many lists. (Coyote Crossing in West Lafayette may think it’s that caliber, but it isn’t.)
Rock Hollow provides its answer to the age-old question from golfers everywhere: what is the proper number of quirky short par fours a golf course should feature? The answer, it appears, is three, one of which is the opening hole which features a funky little green pushed back in a corner. I also enjoyed #3, a risk/reward par five with a tiny, well-protected green; #13, another one of the aforementioned short par fours, featuring a centerline bunker and another tiny, sideways green; #14, a long par 3 with an elevated green. (Seeing #14 green from other parts of the course is an intimidating sight.) That said, there’s not a weak hole on the golf course.
It’s not always about length, it’s not always about accuracy, and it’s not always about one’s short game at Rock Hollow. There is so much variety here, but it’s not contrived or overdone, and that’s what makes it one of the most enjoyable courses anywhere in the Midwest. Maybe someday soon I’ll make it back there...
It's amazing how often quality golf can be found in the most remote of locations. I have opined many times that in my estimation the land a course occupies is no less than 60% of the equation when ultimately judged.
Rock Hollow is in Peru, Indiana and the 350+ acres served previously as a stone quarry which had been mined out by 1972. Located 80 miles of Indianapolis the course opened in 1995. At the direction of owner Terry Smith the decision made to take land which had morphed into a wildlife habitat and transform it into a golf course of note.
The Smith's are avid golfers and and one of Terry's children -- Chris -- eventually became a PGA Tour winner. Through a mutual friend an introduction was made in reaching out to Pete Dye. It was Dye who suggested his key associate Tim Liddy be the man to assist their efforts. The clearing began in 1992 and the course opened three years later.
I have been able to play Rock Hollow a few times on my visits to and from the midwest from my home base in NJ. The reason is very simple -- the golf created by Liddy and the land he had to work with makes such visits clearly worthwhile.
Few people have a good understanding of the talent Tim Liddy possesses and much of it can only be seen with a trip to America's heartland and most especially Indiana. One of the virtues of the site is that the past existence as a mining site meant elevation changes of upwards of 50 feet were part of the terrain -- something many courses in the Hoosier State do not have. Liddy capitalized on the size of the property in keeping the natural landscape intact -- you don't see the inane clutter or forced hodge-podge of holes at Rock Hollow. There's enough breathing space because the routing takes you to all the key parts of the property without having to include detours for other inclusions that rob the vitality of the design and, more importantly, the overall experience.
The opening hole is quite unique. You commence with a very short par-4 -- just under 300 yards and turning slightly to the left. The temptation is for the bold play right at the start of the round -- launch one to the green and snare the quick birdie. Think again. The key is realizing the bait dangling in front of you and not taking the impulsive bite. Placing the tee shot directly in front of the green is the smart choice -- enhancing the probability of a birdie.
Rock Hollow does not follow the Dye dictum of severe angles or clearly over-shaped outcomes where the visceral is there to overwhelm the senses. Rock Hollow's allure comes from being more mysterious -- the outcome you desire can be attained but on first glance it's just not as obvious. The secret of golf course architecture is like a good mystery novel. Plenty of clues are provided -- but often times there's a rush to judgement -- a rush to believe you've got the right answer -- then low and behold you find out that in one's haste you failed to see what should have been obvious but was completely missed.
There are two types of great courses -- those with immediate gratification intersecting with Mother Nature at her finest in combination with golf holes clearly working in tandem with the site. There are also other courses -- where the beauty is present but not in overwhelming the senses but in a more subdued manner. The golf holes in those settings are a rich brew of different types. The examination is purposeful but also pleasant no matter the score. In fact, the desire to return and do it all over again becomes the driving force. Rock Hollow reveals itself slowly. There may be those who come to the course with the usual "let's check this off the box mentality."
Those doing so will still reap the benefit in playing the course but I certainly would recommend playing the course in consecutive days to get a much better realization of what you likely missed the first time around.
After the temptation of the 1st -- you quickly encounter the rigors of the first rate par-4 2nd. Playing 455 yards the hole invites a tee shot down the more open left side but the better angle comes from the more difficult to attain right side. The green has no bunkers but is well suited to accept only the most deliberate and well thought out approaches.
At the par-5 3rd you face one of the attributes Liddy learned well from Dye -- fairway movement. There's plenty of room to the right but again the best angle comes from the more challenging left side.
Like a standout baseball pitcher -- Liddy constantly changes not only the type of pitch but also the velocity and movement. At the par-3 4th you face a target of just 167 yards but even with no bunkers the approach must be exact as any miss to any side will likely make the attainment of par more of dream than reality. At the 5th -- a par-4 of 412 yards the fairway exquisitely tapers down dramatically as one attempts to squeeze a drive through the narrow slot provided. Naturally, the smart play is to eschew such potential recklessness and opt for a safer play. On one's first round -- the wherewithal to understand such prudent plays is not as fully understood as one plays the layout a second time.
For the balance of the outward side it is this constant chess match with the architect. Power is rewarded at Rock Hollow -- but never when carried out with impertinence or impatience. The desire to highlight shotmaking is central to the thesis of the course and being able to attain the correct positions is what lies at the secret in securing the lowest of scores.
Liddy also correctly provided for greens which have movement but not of the excessive variety where putting assumes too much of a role beyond the primacy of what it has already.
The front nine concludes with a stellar par-4 at the 7th -- the slightest pull means a watery grave -- for either the tee shot or approach. When the pin is cut in the deep far left corner it pays to throttle down one's aggressiveness less one opt to enjoy the inclusion of a fast 6 or 7 on the scorecard. The 8th demonstrates the importance of the long par-3 hole. Wetlands await the slightest of pushes and to Liddy's credit he asks players to show both courage and dexterity with the long iron or hybrid to a narrow green that like the charming princess will only accept the advances of the most determined of players.
The side concludes with a quality par-4 of less than 400 yards. Again, the positioning of the tee shot is everything. Those keeping to the right will be rewarded with a far better angle into the target.
The inward half is no less captivating and the rich combination of holes is maintained throughout. Like the 1st, the 10th on first glance seems to be easy pickings. The par-5 of 542 yards can be reached by longer hitters but not without the proper positioning.
The par-3 11th sports a quasi-redan theme with an angled green protected fiercely by a long frontal bunker and two smaller ones at the rear.
The change of pace is wonderfully carried out with a long par-4 at the 12th -- followed by a short par-4 at the 13th. Each going in separate directions.
The par-3 14th is the flip side of what one encountered at the 7th. This time going in the opposite direction.
The par-5 15th is a potential birdie hole but only when played with a more daring angle down the right side. The short par-3 16th is a gem. At just 326 yards but providing a semi-blind approach to a green that demands the most surest of strokes with the short iron.
The concluding two holes -- both par-4's over 400 yards go in different directions and mandate the ideal intersection of strength and finesse. At the penultimate hole, you need to understand how the narrowness of the fairway only adds to the rigors of the hole. At the concluding 18th -- the lake provides for an Indiana version of the 18th at TPC / Sawgrass but with a more playable version for human beings not just tour professionals.
Rock Hollow includes a delicious brew of various holes. The recipe for success comes from being able to make adjustments -- knowing when to take a step back in order to gain two steps ahead on the next shot. Patience and perseverance wins the day at this Indiana gem. Hats off to the Smith family in providing this fascinating golf course for all the public to enjoy and to Tim Liddy for so skillfully learning the lessons from his Obi-wan Kenobi in Dye yet realizing his own path in bringing to life a layout so strikingly in concert with this fascinating piece of terrain.
M. James Ward