CARMEL, IN - A master course architect can take a relatively nondescript tract of land and turn it into memorable golf. Pete Dye is one of these masters, and the Plum Creek Country Club in Carmel, Indiana, is yet another memorable testament to his mastery.
The layout at Plum Creek is fairly flat and quite wide open. In fact, the track is one of a very rare breed: A playable Pete Dye course. Off the tee, you can spray it around pretty good, and still find yourself on or near the green in regulation-if you can stay out of the water, that is. However, since 13 of the holes have water of some sort in play, this is a BIG if.
Head Pro Paul Kemps' tip is to not let the wide-open layout fool you. "It's not bad off the tee. Around the greens is where you need your A game," he warns. And he's not kidding. The greens here are large, ranging from 418 sq. yards to 1,008 (if my pin position card and my math can be trusted). They are also firm, slick, and shapely. (Insert your own clever metaphor here.)
It is a combination of the challenging greens and the wonderful bunkering and mounding that explain why the tournament course record is only 67. This seems high if you just look at the scorecard: just 6,731 yards from the tips, and 6,190 yards from the blues. But the devil is in the greenside details-and I'm guessing Mr. Dye has a little bit of the devil in him as well.
Course maintenance is outstanding. The pinlinks bent grass fairways and A4 bent grass greens looked like they'd been trimmed with scissors. The sand was all even and fluffy, and the tee boxes lush. This is no mean feat, considering that it was still mid April at the time.
As already mentioned, the acreage from which the course is cut is not spectacular, but Dye has put in plenty of water. The numerous houses built on the course are all set far enough off that only the most wayward mishits have a chance of landing in a yard.
Despite the lack of natural splendor, many of the holes are memorable, and not one is the same as the next. The overall feel is quite linksy-there are hardly any trees at all (and neither are there any Port-o-Johns, so if you want to go, do so before you leave the clubhouse!). And just about every hole forces you to think: Think about club choice (especially on windy days), think about laying up, think about going for it, think about how many balls you have plunked into the assorted water hazards...
At the very first tee, you're forced to think, which is not completely welcome early in the morning or early in the season. At only 301 yards from the tips and 283 yards from the blues, all carry over a good bit of H2O, bit hitters will have options. And let me tell you that if you decide to lay up safely to the fairway on the left, and then get wet anyway, you can pretty much kiss your good mood good-bye for the round.
The par-4, 431-yard fourth has a split fairway, which is bisected vertically by Plum Creek. The left fairway is narrower, but you're left with a shorter second to the green. A classic conundrum!
The real treats are the closing three holes. The long par-3 16th (201 yards from the tips) has water right and is dead into the prevailing wind. On a gusty April day this hole can make you wish you were more fond of bowling.
The 520-yard, par-5 17th is described on the scorecard as turning "sharply to the right." This is a severe understatement: The fairway turns right farther and faster than Rush Limbaugh with a snoot full of Jack Daniels. The good news is that the brave of heart can cut serious yardage off the hole by simply carrying 230+ yards of the pond, around which the fairway bends. If it were only so simple to cut as many pounds off of ol' Rush....
Plum Creek's 423-yard 18th has been called by Pete Dye one of the top 10 finishing holes he's ever designed. It's another gut-check off the tee, requiring a shot over water to a strip of fairway between two lakes. The green is tucked behind the lake on the left, so the best approach is also over water. Remember, I said the course is playable, I didn't say it was easy.
Opened in 1997, Plum Creek is quietly building itself a first-class reputation as a unique course. Not many other places can boast a player-friendly Pete Dye design with country club amenities (tennis, swimming, etc. for members and guests) and reasonable green fees. The clubhouse sports lots of cozy dark woodwork, banquet and meeting rooms, bar and grill, and one of the best pro shops you'll find anywhere. In fact, the Plum Creek Pro Shop was recently named Golf Digest Merchandiser of the Year (Public).
All in all, this course is a real peach, er, plum.
Plum Creek Country Club
12401 Lynwood Blvd.
Carmel, Indiana 46033
PGA Pro: Paul Kemps
Rating: 72.5 (Gold), 69.8 (Blue), 67.3 (White), 65.0/69.6 (Plum)
Slope: 127, 121, 115, 107/117
Yardage: 6731, 6190, 5665, 5204
Rates: (public) 18 $42 (M-Th), $49 (F-Su); Cart fee, $15
walking allowed M-Th (unlimited) and F-Su (after 1 pm), no metal spikes, memberships available.
Practice Fac.: A
Club House/Pro Shop: A
Pace of Play: A-
Overall Rating: A-