Imagine a diesel pickup truck pulling up to your little mansion high on top of a country hill in Indiana. You call to your husband to check it out. He finds a man kneeling with a blank piece of paper in front of him, hands petting the heads of your dogs on each side. He turns around and says, “Hi, I’m Pete Dye.”
That Pete Dye with wife Alice discussed their new course ten years ago with the International Network of Golf members after a lovely dinner in the West Baden Springs Hotel. Pete advised that they would be departing after their breakfast before we all returned from the round because he “didn’t want to hear about it.” It is probably his most diabolical course architected and one of his most spectacular settings. On a bright sunny day the geographical dimensions are extraordinary.
Narrow fairways follow strips of ridgelines often leading to zero edge greens, like infinity pools.
That “little mansion” is now the magnificent clubhouse for events and serves as the 19th hole of the Pete Dye course. Most golfers need a libation after the grueling round and the patio serves a striking view for just that. Foursomes receive a tin decorated with course photos and filled with Woodford Reserve, glasses and cigars. Or if preferred, it can be filled with the French Lick wine package.
The West Baden Springs Hotel is considered the eighth wonder of the world for its enormous atrium dome. Bedroom balconies instill a sense of royalty overlooking the circular expanse below and the intricacies above. A piano player sets the mood by the atrium bar for a promenade around the perimeter to the spa, shops and eateries.
The Cook Group combined this hotel with the French Lick Springs Hotel making French Lick a two for one type resort. In the good old days people flocked there to soak in the sun or mineral spas, chasing purported health benefits. Today there is something for everyone including the mineral baths in the spas.
The French Lick Springs Hotel is stately with rocking chairs on the outer deck, a spa with stained glass windows, pools, a casino, bowling alley and restaurants. 1875 The Steakhouse commemorates the first Kentucky Derby with a fine dining experience. Thomas the Train chugs with passengers between the hotels and shuttles transport between all locales including three golf courses, the stables, a winery and 33 Brick Street where hometown hero Larry Bird’s memorabilia is displayed. Varied venues and high capacity make French Lick ideal for conferences, concerts and events.
Originally built in 1917, The Donald Ross Course at French Lick is more fair than the Pete Dye course but with his usual false front greens. It has been restored to its original glory where the 1924 PGA Championships were held. Golf purists will enjoy the quality of layout that is synonymous with Donald Ross. No gimmicks, no frills, just pure golf at its finest. The first tee is on the highest point in the area providing a great aerial view of the course and surrounding forests and streams. The 9 hole Valley Links Course rounds out the golf options at French Lick, redesigned and upgraded with the addition of church pew bunkering. It is a nice warm up for the more challenging 18s.
Wondering about the previous owners of that “little mansion”? Well, Jerry Fuhs, former musician promoter and his wife Caroline are now living their dream of creating a safari on their 1100-acre Wilstem Ranch, which was previously owned by a circus entrepreneur. Beginning with horses and goats, they added zebras, llamas and now it is a retirement Taj Mahal in the summer for three pachyderm maidens as people of all ages come to take part in the enlightening Elephant Encounter showering, scrubbing and polishing the giants’ toes while learning all about them. It complements the golf circus act on Pete Dye’s course. Jerry is very kind, gentle, and passionate. He patiently ensures everyone in the audience has a chance to spray, scrub or apply toenail oil. He shares, “It’s a respite from the hectic pace of everyday life, a real treasure to be enjoyed now and for generations.”
So too is the French Lick Resort. It is simply a great getaway in the middle of nowhere with something for everyone. Meriting the Best Historic Resort award by USA Today readers, it is an hour and a half from the airport in Louisville, a great city to explore. www.frenchlick.com.
Alice and Danny Scott are known as America’s Golfing Couple and travel the world writing for many publications. Visit their website at www.americasgolfingcouple.com.