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 Fort is a Pete Dye design and is a fun, challenging course. The first hole is a straight away slightly uphill welcoming par 4. Couple of fairway bunkers left and one right. The redan green is protected by three bunkers front left and center. The 2nd hole is a fun, kinda sorta driveable par 4 dogleg left, Two bunkers on the inside elbow and one thru the fairway. There is also a cluster of bunkers short left. You can and should cut the corner, however there is a steep dropoff into a ravine if you are found wanting. The 3rd is a mid-length forgettable par 3. The 4th is a golf holes golf hole. Long downhill and the number one handicap. Left off the tee is death, if you are left, hope you end up in the fairway bunker as the hole drops off into a ravine. There are bunkers left and short of the green. This green is receptive to run up shots from the right side as the hole tilts left. The 5th is probably the signature hole. A mid-length par 3 just about all carry over a ravine. There is a large bunker front middle, well below the green and several grass bunkers. The 6th is the first par 5. It is reachable for long hitters. Everyone else should focus on getting to the top of the hill. This hole does have a split fairway, which seems peculiar to me. The long narrow green is on the right with bunkers on the left. Not sure why anyone would choose to come in from the left. The 7th is also a par 5. Off the tee, favor the right side. For your second shot favor the left side to give yourself the best approach angle. The 8th is a birdie hole. A good drive should catch the downslope and leave you with a flip wedge to a small green. The 9th is a long par four with fairway bunkers both sides. Off the tee favor the left side. On your approach there appear to be two greenside bunkers left. There is about 25 yards between the two bunkers.
The back starts off with a driveable par 4, 311 yards from the tips. It is downhill, tight and the green is perched on a ledge with bunkers below it on the left. We made the turn and the group ahead of us had disappeared. We were just about to tee off when they pulled up. They said they went in to get some food and beer and for us to go ahead. We were on the green, when we heard “fore”. We ducked and covered and sure enough the drive landed and stayed on the green. An impressive shot but what the &*%#! Drinking and driving should be applied to the golf course as well. The 11th is a reverse S uphill par 5. If you are too far right off the tee you will end up in a ravine with a couple of bunkers and a tough uphill 2nd shot that must stay right to avoid the two fairway bunkers on the left ridge. Too far left and you will be thru the fairway and your 2nd shot will need to carry those two bunkers. Once you are past those bunkers it is pretty clear sailing. The 12th is a long par four. Favor the left off the tee to take the right fairway bunker out of play. The 13th is a birdie hole. Favor the left off the tee to take the right fairway bunker out of play, but be aware of OB left. The green is protected with bunkers left and trees right. The 14th is a short par 3 with a tricky green. The 15th is a long par 4. Large fairway bunker on the left and four bunkers to the right side of the green. The 16th is a long par 5. The landing area is pretty tight as there are fairway bunkers left and right. The 17th is a long par 3. Large bunker left and trees right. The 18th is a good finishing hole. Slight dogleg left, aim at the right bunker. There are two bunkers on the left elbow.
Super golf course, great value and fun. I would pay to play it again.
Very enjoyable course to play. Long and flowing, up and down, around the corner, and did I mention long. Highly recommend this course. People there are very nice to you.
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