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.
Date: June 20, 2019