One of seven courses on the Pete Dye Golf Trail promoted by the Indiana Office of Tourism Development, The Fort Golf Course occupies 240 acres of the Fort Harrison State Park on the outskirts of Indianapolis.
Holes are laid out within the former Fort Benjamin Harrison Military Reservation, which served a number of roles as a troop reception centre, training complex and soldier support facility during all the major military conflicts between The Great War and Desert Storm.
The base was closed in the early 1990s but the U.S. Department of the Interior approved the State of Indiana’s request to convert a sizeable proportion of the army post into a state park and nature preserve, with the golf course earmarked as one of the public sporting amenities.
Featuring short par fours at the 2nd and 10th, and with back-to-back par fives at the 6th and 7th, the course is a Pete Dye and Tim Liddy co-design that can be extended to almost 7,150 yards from the back markers, playing to a par of 72.
The Pan-Am Games are a little like Justin Rose’s gold medal at the 2016 Olympics; fully deserving of respect and yet it struggles to muster viewers. They try to generate hype with gimmicks, accordingly; how a green parrot with a flaming tuft of feathers became the mascot for the Indianapolis 1987 Pan-Am Games is anyone’s guess. The Fort Golf Course, which now resides on the land where those games were held, occasionally features flourishes that, like the misbegotten parrot, don’t quite add up.
Part of the problem lies in the designer...which is a rare sentiment when your correspondent rates Pete Dye. He’s created some of the most exotic layouts in the game and yet manages to squeeze purpose into almost all of them—whether it be strictly visual intimidation or subtle strategic ploys. The Fort’s most peculiar facets are often, strangely, just peculiarities. No. 6, the first Par 5, features a dramatic split fairway when approaching the green, divided by several large bunkers. But why? If a player tees off long enough, they have no reason not to head directly at the green (regardless of whether they could reach); both fairways are of equal width, and the one rolling up to the target (which is both right AND correct) is at a higher altitude. There is no pitching benefit from the left side. Furthermore, a shorter drive off of the tee doesn’t even make reaching the left side possible; too many trees at the corner. On older courses, this is chalked up to overgrowth over time. That excuse doesn’t add up here. No. 15 is a lengthy Par 4 with all the potential in the world; two “great hazard”-sized bunkers, both featuring patches of growth in Dye’s frequent style, guard a serpentine fairway. The first, along the left side, is ideal: The best line to the green is from the left, and this hazard enforces those who bite off more than they can chew. The second (farther up along the right) is too far removed from the green to prevent a run-up, even after the approach carried the hazard. But hey...it looks cool?
But here’s the kicker: Dye’s best bets at The Fort are among the least discussed. No. 4 is a long, downhill Par 4 with a fairway that slopes left dramatically, feeding into guaranteed-bogey bunkers. It’s the toughest test on this course, and earns a place in Pete’s pantheon of punishing holes. Sometimes the landscape doesn’t provide much wiggle room for creativity, but he and Tim Liddy push back. Many municipal designers face similar circumstances as No. 5—a large wetland crossing with little land on the other side—and concede to the plainest of forced-carry Par 3s. Pete built a deep sod-faced bunker for both looks-and-strategy, as well as a bail-out area left. It is not a dramatic hole, but it is a solid one. Unfortunately, there are other holes (Nos. 10 and 11 come to mind) where the land wasn’t quite as flexible.
Dye obviously didn’t have the budget for this project that he did at nearby Brickyard—as both the greens fees and his $1 paycheck indicate. So he would have been forgiven for leaving a bit of personality at the door and incorporating more subtle offerings (the cluster of small bunkers at No. 13 would have been worth repeating). The Fort is hardly bad, but it probably shouldn’t be your first public option when visiting Indianapolis.
The Fort is a good golf course in a beautiful state park with interesting history, but it still managed to disappoint me, though I can’t put my finger on why. I had planned on playing Brickyard Crossing the weekend I visited Indianapolis, but it was closed for an LPGA event. No matter, I counseled some local help and determined that The Fort was the next best thing as far as Indy-area public courses went. I love Pete Dye’s work and have enjoyed a few Tim Liddy courses in the past as well. But with this course, there was just something that didn’t work for me. It played to a difficult 75.0/143 from the back tees, which was a welcome test as a “prep” round for a tournament at Crooked Stick. But I found the condition severely lacking; the bentgrass fairways were shaggy, the greens were somewhat bumpy even first thing in the morning, and the rough seemed like it hadn’t been mowed in weeks. It had not rained the few days prior, but balls were still plugging in most fairways and some of the rough.
The front nine winds up and down hills through a mostly forested area, while the back nine (after hole 11) has a flatter, more parkland-style style. In my opinion, the last seven holes are the strongest on the course. #15 is quintessential Pete Dye, a slight dogleg left par four with crazy angles on both the tee and semi-blind approach shot.
I think if the course played firm and fast it could potentially be 4-5 stars, but it’s clearly being overwatered now. Beautiful scenery and a decent routing can only do so much.
Played August 19, 2018