FRENCH LICK, Ind. — The weather captain has turned off the “Fasten Seat Belt” sign. It is now safe to move about the country. Please use caution collecting your golf clubs in that some of your plans may have shifted during the flight.
That’s right, this cold, wet and turbulent Spring 2018 appears to have finally landed, and better late than never. As temperatures warm, any number of thoughts may come to mind and for many of us, almost all of them have to do with golf. For those itching to get away and get to playing, many wonderful destinations might fit the bill. A golf trip can be as fundamental or as fabulous as you like, each capable of breaking the cabin fever, each a proper prescription for “grip-and-rip” anxiety.
That said, in terms of accommodations, variety and accessibility, you would be hard pressed to find a better cure than southern Indiana’s French Lick Resort. It checks all the boxes.
Let’s start with ambiance. Long before French Lick became known as the childhood home of basketball legend Larry Bird, the French Lick resort was home to politicians, mobsters, movie stars and athletes alike, who came to bathe in the mineral springs, kick off campaigns, arrange backroom deals and relax in the enchanting surrounds. The French Lick Springs Hotel was built in 1845 and has accommodated celebrities from Bing Crosby to Al Capone to the Chicago Cubs.
The West Baden Springs Hotel, the resort’s sister property, was dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world” when it opened as the world’s largest free span dome in 1901. In the early 2000s, the entire resort underwent renovations and innovations that exceeded $600 million and restored the properties to their captivating old-world elegance.
To go with the historic hotels are world-class spas, a 51,000-square-foot casino, restaurants, hiking, biking, swimming pools, a bowling alley ... Wait a minute, what’s that? You’re here for the golf? Well, if that’s the case, you’re in the right place.
Golf is where French Lick shines brightest. Not many properties can offer the type of quality and quantity the resort presents with four accessible golf courses and a variety of golf-intensive packages.
When it opened in 2009, the Pete Dye Course was named America’s Best New Course by both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, and it currently ranks No. 60 in Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses. Laid over spectacular slopes and some of the highest points in Indiana, the course presents breathtaking vistas and panoramic views of Hoosier National Forest, some stretching as far as 40 miles. Colin Montgomerie won the 2015 Senior PGA Championship on the Pete Dye Course, which Hall of Fame architect Dye considers to be among his finest works.
“I have spent over five decades designing golf courses all over the world, including courses on great coastal sites, and this course at French Lick is on arguably the best inland site I have ever worked on,” Dye proclaimed.
But that’s not all, oh no, that’s not all.
Another iconic architect, Donald Ross also is in the house at French Lick. The Donald Ross Course at French Lick played host to the 1924 PGA Championship (won by Walter Hagen) and recently underwent a $5 million renovation. Located just minutes from the main resort, “The Hill Course,” as it was formally known, was ranked as the No. 2 public course in the state by Golfweek from 2008-2016. The parkland masterpiece swirls through the rolling terrain with numerous elevation changes, 80 maniacal bunkers and the kind of undulating, back-to-front greens for which Ross is famous. That’s two, two spectacular courses in one intoxicating place — Dye’s modern day marvel, Ross’ classic gem.
Golfers who opt for the French Lick Hall of Fame Package (starting at $559 per person) have privileges to play both courses all day long, as often as they like, over a two-day period. But that’s not all. They also receive a complimentary warm-up round on the Valley Links Course, a nine-hole track designed by Tom Bendelow, who also designed Medinah Country Club near Chicago. Built in 1907, Valley Links is easier on the handicap, but holds it own on the fun meter.
But that’s not all, oh no, that’s still not all.
Another championship course, Sultan’s Run, is located just 25 minutes away in nearby Jasper, Ind. A round at Sultan’s Run — designed by Dye disciple Tom Liddy — can be included in one of French Lick’s packages. For instance, the Triple-Play Package (starting at $799) includes a two-night stay at the resort and a day of golf on each of the three championship courses.
As far as accessibility, the French Lick hideaway is drivable from a number of different airports and directions — 100 miles from Indianapolis, 170 miles from Cincinnati, 74 miles from Louisville, 230 miles from St. Louis, 280 miles from Chicago. You do the math — first-rate accommodations, good restaurants, entertainment options and unique golf experiences. What’s not to like?
It is now safe to move about the country. And if getting a golf fix is your first priority, you can’t go wrong heading to French Lick, Ind.