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French Lick Springs Resort and Spa

By Kiel Christianson, Equipment Editor and Senior Writer

The French Lick Springs Resort and Spa offers golf for all skill and income levels. The premier course is The Hill Course (also known as the Country Club, located two miles west of town), and was built by Donald Ross in 1920. The other, easier course directly on the resort grounds is The Valley Course.

The Hill Course

Designed by Donald Ross and opened in 1920, the Hill Course is aptly named. Nearly every tee is elevated, as is nearly every bentgrass green. The bentgrass and rye grass fairways resemble roller-coasters, undulating so dramatically that one wonders at the stamina and strength that caddies must have possessed in pre-cart days.

Director of Golf, Dave Harner, is deservedly proud when he points out that not one of the holes has been touched up, much less redesigned, since 1920. From tee to green, everything is original and everything (aside from perhaps a bunker here or there, which are scheduled for repair) is in wonderful condition.

One can easily picture Walter Hagen playing the same holes in 1924 to win the PGA title, or Mickey Wright winning the 1959 LPGA Championship here, or Bing Crosby and Bob Hope clowning around on the greens.

At $55 weekdays and $66 weekends (cart included), the 6,625-yard, par 70 course is both a good deal and a great test of skill. In general, the course is forgiving off the tee (although certain holes are lined with thick woods), but every single approach shot presents players with a challenge.

The remarkably hilly fairways mean uphill, downhill, and sidehill lies on nearly every shot. And the elevated greens require precision--anything right, left, or long in many cases will result in at least a stroke or two loss. In the summer, the fronts of the greens are watered extensively, so anything short will stay short.

Some of the best examples of the hallmark Ross design are holes number 5, 8, 13, and 15. Beginning with No. 5, a 461-yard par 4, you'll find a deep bunker in the middle of the fairway, which is a definite hazard to a good drive from the white tees. The second shot is very long and the green falls away on both sides.

No. 8 is perhaps the most talked-about hole on the course. It is a 377-yard par 4 that doglegs sharply from right to left over a deep swale and around a thick stand of trees. If you happen to be a long drive champ, you might want to try to cut a bit off the dogleg, but the perfect drive otherwise is a long draw around the trees.

A safer, straight drive to where the fairway snaps to the left will leave a long second over a monstrous valley to the green that lies below the fairway, but well above the bottom of the valley. A short shot will end up in no man's land seemingly miles below the putting surface.

The 222-yard, par-3 13th is intimidating to say the least. All the par 3s here play longer than they measure, and this is no exception, with a tee shot over a ravine to an elevated green. Certain death awaits a slicer, as the green falls dead away into thick woods to the right.

The green here is also one of the most challenging--multi-tiered and tilted from back to front. Donald Ross could make some truly great greens, and The Hill Course boasts a collection of some of his best, all which roll true to this day.

Finally, the 15th is one of only two par 5s, but it gives you your money's worth at 619 yards. The tee shot is blind over water and a hill that slopes from left to right. You'll want to aim just off the left side of that hill to catch the center of the fairway. The fairway is like some mythic beast that just stretches on and on, with OB all along the right side. There is no shame in laying up here (maybe more than once!).

Not to be outdone by the resort itself, the clubhouse at The Hill is luxurious, with pro shop, full banquet facilities, restaurant, and lots of ways to pamper the discerning golfer. Take, for example, the ninth tee, where you can read the snack bar menu and call in your order before you tee off. When you arrive at the clubhouse, the staff can even bring your food right out to your cart if you wish!

The Valley Course

The Valley Course, located just outside the main entrance to the French Lick Springs Resort, is a much easier course than The Hill, and much shorter, at just over 6,000 yards from the tips (par 70). Nevertheless, it can still be an enjoyable jaunt for the accomplished golfer, and it is absolutely perfect for the junior, senior, or novice player at only $35 (cart included).

Built in 1907 and designed by Thomas Bendelow, The Valley Course was originally intended as a diversion for spa guests who may not have had much previous experience with golf (just as the archery facilities catered to guests who were not so accomplished with a bow).

The course is thus characterized by short, straight fairways, generally unelevated tees, and tiny, postage-stamp greens. Another nice feature is that it snakes around the valley in a counter-clockwise direction, so the hillsides and woods stay on your left most of the time, so slicers are fairly safe throughout.

Some trouble does exist, however, mainly in the form of a stream that threads its way through the course. And if you get greedy and hit big woods, massive slices, all hooks, and most long shots will leave tricky recovery shots. An accomplished player could hit irons all day, however, and likely score very low.

Two noteworthy holes are numbers 5 and 18. The 5th is only a 100-yard par 3, but it is straight uphill. From the tee, you see nothing but the very top of the extended flagstick. This is one of those times when, upon reaching the top of the hill, if you don't see your ball, you should check the bottom of the cup, just in case!

No. 18 is another par 3 (179 yards), but is quite picturesque due to the collection of vintage railway cars that sits behind the green. As you're holing out, you can almost see the wealthy guests of the first half of this century pulling up to the front of the resort in their private rail coaches and disembarking for a restorative vacation.

The Valley Course has been plagued with some flooding and fungus troubles of late, but the GM of the resort tells me that by mid summer of 2000, it should be back to its normally fine playing conditions. So if you want a very leisurely round, or want to work on your irons, the Valley Course and its well-stocked pro shop are just a chip shot away from the rest of the resort's impressive amenities.

For more information about French Lick, visit its web site at: www.frenchlick.com, or call the establishments below.

Beechwood Country Inn: 812-936-9012 www.beechwood-in.com
French Lick Winery and Coffee Company: 1-888-494-6380
French Lick Springs Villas: 1-800-522-9210
Patoka Lake Village: 812-936-9854
Paoli Peaks Ski Area: 812-723-4696

French Lick Springs Resort & Spa

8670 West State Road 56
French Lick, Indiana 47432

Kiel ChristiansonKiel Christianson, Equipment Editor and 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, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.

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French Lick Golf Packages
Dates: April 1, 2018 - October 31, 2018
With over 100 years of history, The Donald Ross Course at French Lick offers the chance to experience golf the way it used to be played. Experience old-school links golf on a classic Donald Ross course situated in the rolling hills of the countryside.
Price range: $334