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Indiana's Wildcat Creek Golf Course: A Tale of Two Courses

By Kiel Christianson, Equipment Editor and Senior Writer

KOKOMO, IN. - Wildcat Creek Golf Course is one of central Indiana's best-kept secrets. But its unique design and immaculate fairways and greens are starting to garner it the attention it deserves. Despite a steady increase in the number of homes surrounding the course (a feature of many new courses that I personally could do without), a round at Wildcat offers a top-notch playing experience.

The front nine at Wildcat opened in 1995, and the back in 1996. And as I say, it is starting to draw golfers from various parts of Indiana and out of state, as well. The starter told me of two recent groups of Michigan golfers who road-tripped down in RVs to play. And at $37 dollars (green fees and cart) on weekdays ($40 on weekends), it's worth the drive.

Wildcat Creek is a tale of two courses, really. Jerry Matthews designed the front nine, but the back was done by Jim Fazio. Apparently Matthews and the principle course owner didn't see eye-to-eye, and this lead to the switch.

I have played Wildcat three times now, and each time the back nine has reared up and scratched me badly. I will attribute my inconsistency to the subtle change from the Matthews design to the Fazio design, but this may be a cop out.

The front nine measures 3,413 from the tips, and the back 3,469 (6,882 total, par 72). So my performance isn't due to increased length or anything else that obvious. The back nine does have water on six holes compared to the three or four on the front, but that doesn't seem to significantly increase the difficulty either. The back nine is a bit tighter, with more woods than the front.

However, the main difference, I think, is the degree to which Fazio has protected the greens. Whereas Matthews has stuck two greens (Nos. 2 and 9) behind water and bunkers and left the rest easily accessible, Fazio has tucked the greens of Nos. 11, 14, and 16 behind marsh and rock that jut out into the fairways.

He's also crowned the greens of the two par 3s (15 and 17), making them hard to hold in dry conditions. And the green of the par-5 18th is as treacherous at that of the par-5 9th, with bunkers and water everywhere.

Whatever the reason for my personal collapses on the back nine--three times now, I've scored 8-10 strokes worse on the back than the front--you don't feel any jarring break in continuity between the nines. So it really does feel like the back just rears up, hisses, and then scratches me till I bleed. Nevertheless, I truly enjoy this course, and someday I'll tame the damn thing.

The first point of note as we take a quick swing around the course is the great shape it's in. The bentgrass from tee to green is lush, despite the recent lack of rain in central Indiana.

If you pay $1 for a yardage card (which I highly recommend), you'll notice that a creek runs across or along at least eight holes. This is indeed Wildcat Creek, and if you've got the time and a ball-dipper, you should be able to restock your bag.

The par-4, 395-yard 1st is a nice hole to warm-up on. A lovely pond lines the teeing ground and the wide, dogleg right around three prominent fairway bunkers gives you something to aim for (or over). The green on the first hole is the only three-tiered green, and it runs quite a distance from front to back, so check the pin-placement card in the card.

The 532-yard, par-5 2nd saves most of its trouble until the green, which is shallow but wide, and is guarded almost completely by the pond fronting it.

Nos. 4 and 5 play short for par 4s. They offer a great chance to work on long irons or fairway woods off the tee and then controlled approaches. Don't go long over the green of the 4th--you'll be lucky to get back up and down for bogey, as the green slopes from back to front rather steeply.

If you are walking rather than driving, you will have a long hike between the long (425 yards) and potentially troubling par-4 6th and the relatively easy signature No. 7. The par-3 7th is only 173 from the tips, but requires a shot over a valley and creek to a green that is slightly higher than the tees. Stepped bunkers line the right side leading up to the green like mini-rice paddies.

There used to be a camera on this hole, and any hole-in-one was worth a set of irons and $1000. As soon as the course managers find another company to run this camera again, it will be back on-line. Apparently they actually did give away a few sets of irons and some money before they unplugged the camera.

No. 9 is a 524-yard par 5. Water begins 184 yards out from the green, and a particularly large and deep bunker (one of 51 on the course) waits just beyond the water, also guarding the green.

This hole and the 18th (which is quite similar) have to be two of the best finishing holes in the area. Just be sure that on the 9th, you play to the green on the left, not across the water (which is the green for the 18th). My father-in-law said that he's seen more than one first-timer shoot at the wrong green.

At the turn, you'll find a cooler full of ice, huge jugs of water, and large Styrofoam cups--a welcome change from courses charging a buck for tap water. And you'll need this refreshment to tackle the back nine. I swear I hear the Wildcat hissing each time I tee it up on the 10th...

For some reason, the hole that always precipitates my downfall is the 11th. It's a short par 5 (450 yards) with an intimidating tee shot. From the elevated tees, the fairway looks much narrower than it really is, however. Woods line the right side of the fairway and surround the green. Most difficult, I think, is the fact that the fairway splits just in front of the elevated green, and a huge bunker lies in wait for short approaches.

In order to have an easy shot at this green, you must play out to the left from tee to green. Somehow, I always end up on the right, though. This time, I actually had to hit my third through a clump of trees behind the green (don't ask).

The 411-yard par-4 12th is a lay-up hole, with Wildcat Creek itself running across the fairway not once, but twice. The green here undulates and is very large. A three-putt (or more) is a possibility.

Sadly, Nos. 13 and 14 are marred with new condos and houses going up all over. The condos directly next to the fairway on the 404-yard 13th are spectacularly ugly. And they are so close to being in play that even a slight pull will land you in the anorexic strip of grass the residents consider their back yards.

The story is the same on the 379-yard, par-4 14th, except with houses rather than condos. At closing, the realtors must present the lucky homeowners with both a title and a hard-hat.

Finally, the par-5, 584-yard 18th is a monster. Ponds and marsh line the right side of the narrow fairway. A fairway bunker pinches off the other side of the landing area. And just as the water on the right ends, some more H2O starts on the left.

The green is gigantic, and surround by sand--I've seen less sand on some Greek isles. If you land your tee shot safely in the middle of the serpentine fairway, your second here should be out to the right toward the fairway bunker 100 yards from the green. Again, check the pin placement before your third shot.

Whether you play the Matthews nine and then the Fazio nine, or the other way around, you'll finish on a great hole and you'll finish off a great round as well. Although Wildcat Creek is new, it has a very mature feel to it and in my opinion ranks as one of the top affordable courses between Indianapolis and Kokomo.

And although no hole stands out as remarkably difficult, it has a cumulative effect and can challenge even the best golfer. And for duffers like me, the challenge can be daunting. I am always eager to return, even though after each round that I've played here so far, I limp into the clubhouse feeling like something the Wildcat dragged in.

Wildcat Creek Golf Course

3200 Timber Valley Dr.
Kokomo, IN 46902
765-455-3673

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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Dates: April 1, 2018 - October 31, 2018
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