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March Madness on the court and on the course in Indianapolis

By Kiel Christianson, Senior Writer

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Few states take their basketball - especially their college basketball - more seriously than Indiana. And this year, the home state of the Hoosiers is also the venue for the NCAA men's college basketball Final Four.

After a major renovation and revitalization of Indianapolis' downtown in the mid-1990s, the Circle City offers some big-city entertainment served up with a hearty helping of Hoosier hospitality.

And surprisingly, Indy also offers some of the highest-quality, most accessible golf courses of any major metropolitan area in the Midwest. Along with reasonable rates and copious tee times, Indy has as much (if not more) shopping, dining, nightlife and culture as many "traditional" golf-getaway destinations - plus, this year, that little hoop party.

Big names

Pete Dye, one of the most prolific and imaginative American golf-course architects of the past half-century, has a home in Indianapolis, and he has designed more than a few of the best courses in the area.

Whether you measure by name or by novelty, Dye's Brickyard Crossing Golf Course is arguably the king of the Indy golf scene. The Champions Tour stops here, and pros from all tours come to play when they're in town. The course lies adjacent to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and four of the holes are actually located in the infield of the storied track. The course is also home to a golf academy and 108-room inn.

When it opened in 2000, Purgatory Golf Club in Noblesville was the longest non-mountain golf course in the world at 7,754 yards. That didn't last long, given the subsequent rush to lengthen courses to counter fast-moving technology. Still, this Ron Kern design - replete with 133 sprawling, crushed-limestone-filled bunkers, six sets of tees and endearing underlying tones of dark humor - is well worth the short drive from Indy.

In 1998 Dye and protégé Tim Liddy turned 238 acres of land that had once been part of Fort Benjamin Harrison into the critically acclaimed The Fort Golf Resort. As part of a larger 1,700-acre historical nature preserve, The Fort offers pristine golf along with some of the most unique golf lodging in the state: Benjamin Harrison House, where visiting military dignitaries used to stay. The park also has miles of hiking, biking, and horseback-riding trails.

A number of soon-to-be classics opened in 1999, including Whistling Straits and Bay Harbor. Coming in fourth in Golf Digest's 1999 "Best New Course" list was The Trophy Club in Lebanon. Tim Liddy's first solo effort presents golfers with snaking table-top fairways, intriguing and vexing greens, and fescue rough worthy of a Scottish links course.

Munis - really!

One great thing about Indianapolis golf is that even the top-flight daily-fee courses listed above won't break the bank. But if you really want a deal - and some excellent golf - check out the city's enviable collection of municipal courses. Yes, munis.

Even here Pete Dye has had a large hand in building Indy's golf tradition. His Eagle Creek Golf Club offers 36 holes, a wide variety of hole designs and a pedigree worthy of far pricier (heck, even private) clubs. Eagle Creek was once recognized by Golf Digest as one of the top 25 public courses in America, and in 1982 it hosted the USGA Public Links Championship. And at $21-$43 a round, it's a deal that can't be beat.

Coffin Golf Club is another muni beauty. Thoroughly renovated in 1994 by Liddy, Coffin doesn't have the length of Eagle Creek, but it's got another defense: claustrophobic fairways closed in on all sides by trees, water, and rough. If you're scared of tight places, this is one Coffin that might give you the creeps.

Out on the town

Compared to the Indianapolis of the 1980s, the Circle City of today feels like a completely different place. The famed Circle around which the downtown was built is now home to Circle Centre Mall, chock-full of upscale shopping, dining and entertainment. Just north of downtown is The Fashion Mall at Keystone Crossing, where the big-name designer brands live.

When you're not on the course or crying over your bracket at the RCA Dome, there are plenty of diversions available.

The Indianapolis Children's Museum is the largest museum of its kind in the world, offering 11 major displays throughout its 400,000-square-foot interior. The Indiana State Museum contains everything from a walking tour through state history to an IMAX theater to high-tech exhibits on the making of The Lord of the Rings films.

If you like big engines as much as you do electric golf carts, visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame and Museum after your round at Brickyard Crossing.

Two parts of town stand out for dining and nightlife. In the Keystone Crossing area, try the Bonefish Grill and Sullivan's Steakhouse. In Broad Ripple you'll find the best ethnic food in town, as well as loads of bars and clubs where students from Butler University and IUPUI party.

Nightlife and lodging

Broad Ripple is the place to be for bar bands and college crowds. At the unique Murat Theater you might see Miss Saigon one night and rock out to Elvis Costello or Sheryl Crow the next.

For a more intimate scene, try the Slippery Noodle Inn. The oldest continually operated bar in the state, it hosts live blues seven nights a week, starting at 8 p.m. Not for nothing was the Slippery Noodle named 2003 Blues Club of the Year by the Blues Foundation: If there's a big-name musician in concert anywhere in the city, you might just find him or her here jamming with the band in the wee hours.

Indy abounds with lodging in all price ranges. If you're traveling with family, you'll want the Holiday Inn Select North, home to the 50,000-square-foot Caribbean Cove indoor water park, complete with kids' island, waterslides and tubing river.

Kiel ChristiansonKiel Christianson, Senior Writer

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • sorry I missed this earlier

    Spencer Hux wrote on: May 6, 2006

    I'm glad someone has highlighted how great the Indy golf really is. I'll have to try Coffin and the Trophy Club next time I'm in the area.
    I played Brickyard, and while the experience is outstanding, I don't think the golf really stacks up to some of the other courses in the area.


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