By Rick Drennan
History is a valuable commodity when it comes to golf writing, but it also stirs up its fair share of sentimental twaddle.
Golfers often wax poetic about the game’s ancestral home, St Andrews, or the iconic Pebble Beach, which to some, is the true source of the golfing Nile.
“Golfers have a unique sense of history, and many are willing to ante up to visit these places,” says Claudio DeMarchi. “but they’re an adventurous bunch, too, and always on the lookout for new and unique experiences.”
DeMarchi and this author found exactly that in late April, making the easy 8-hour drive from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to the geographic heartland of America, the state of Indiana.
DeMarchi aka the Traveling Golfer, and a North American rep for IAGTO (International Association of Golf Tour Operators), the global tourism organization for the golf industry with over 2,500 members in 97 countries has seen it all. He says, while other locales have staked their claim as golfing hotbeds (think the Carolinas, Arizona, Florida, Scotland, Ireland, and the sun-splashed Caribbean, et al.), Indiana is a relatively new player in the field. But its portfolio of world-class courses is deep, and so is its focus on marketing ‘The Pete Dye Golf Trail.’
The trail is the perfect aperitif when introducing Indiana to out-of-state golfers. There’s also something ethereal about experiencing “Hoosier hospitality.” Hoosier is the nickname of a state resident, and while its origins remain cloaked in history, the hospitality part is crystal clear.
Indiana’s Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch oversees the tourism sector, and says Hoosier hospitality is all about “politeness,” something embedded in the people’s DNA. “We are comfortable with ourselves and our surroundings,” she says, and “we’re eager to share with outsiders what Indiana truly represents.”
John Martin, publisher of Indiana Golf & Travel Guide estimates that over $700 is spent on each golf trip (4-night average stay) to the state. Crouch wants to expand the mandate to “high-yield” visitors from far afield, like Canada and the rest of the world. These travelers, says DeMarchi, bring added value because they play, stay, shop, and visit restaurants, higher end usually preferred, and bars. “They’re the gold standard in the tourism business,” he adds.
The Dye Trail began a few years back in part to pay homage to a local legend, the world-famous course designer who lives with his wife and fellow designer Alice near one of their most famous courses, Crooked Stick, in Carmel, home of the 1991 PGA Championship.
State’s Office of Tourism Development, Carol Sergi, Director of Marketing, and Noelle Szydlyk, Director of Planning and Development for Sports and Outdoor Recreation. Golf tourism within State is a part of the sports and outdoor rec planning initiatives.
Crouch was at the beautiful French Lick Resort in southern Indiana in late April to participate in a press conference promoting the first-ever Senior LPGA Championship (July 6-12). She was there with other officials, including Mark Newman, Executive Director of the State’s Office of Tourism Development, Carol Sergi, Director of Marketing, and Noelle Szydlyk, who will oversee the State’s day to day initiatives with the Dye Trail.
The Dye course at French Lick, is a moveable feast, with five tee blocks stretching from 5151 yards all the way back to a robust 8,102. It’s a shiny gem in the trail’s crown, and first stop on our six-day tour of the state.
French Lick was named the ‘2017 Golf Course of the Year’ by the National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA) of America, and Dye is an architect with more designs ranked in the Top 10 and Top 50 than anyone who has ever lived. His portfolio includes TPC Sawgrass, home to The Players Championship and its infamous island green, No. 17.
In fact, the Pete and Alice Dye Golf Experience, a miniature replica of his most famous holes, including No. 11 at French Lick, is part of the new Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience taking shape in Indianapolis, and scheduled to open in 2018.
RELATED ARTICLE: Tribute to Pete and Alice Dye
The French Lick course opened in 2009 and was named best new design by both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine. It was a key cog in a $600 million renovation of the resort, which features two historic hotels, West Baden Springs and French Links Springs, as well as a casino. There are numerous tourism draws both inside and outside the 3,000-acre site, plus bucolic French Lick, hometown of NBA hall of famer Larry Bird.
The LPGA event will feature a cavalcade of 45+ aged players, including past greats like Jan Stephenson, Laura Davies, Michelle McGann, and Canada’s Lorie Kane (a past winner of a Legends event at French Lick). It will be broadcast around the world on the Golf Channel.
It’s a chance for Indiana golf to strut its stuff, says Crouch.
The nearby Donald Ross course (celebrating its 100th anniversary this year), will host a Symetra Tour stop (July 7-9) leading into the LPGA Championship.
Think of Indiana. Not big-city Indiana, or industrialized Indiana, or the clichéd Indiana that was once a part of the rust belt.
Indiana is temperate climes and friendly people and bucolic towns and villages and rolling hills and twisting waterways and grasses as green as the first day of creation. Sprinkled across this picture postcard is a lovely mixture of golf courses, with The Pete Dye Golf Trail at its epicenter.
After French Lick, we turned north to Indianapolis, and one of the most unique golf experiences in the world. Brickyard Crossing, a Dye layout that includes four holes inside the fabled Indianapolis 500 Speedway. Where can you drive your cart over bricks that were once a part of the original race track? Where can you hit shots while over your shoulder, juiced up cars whiz by at 200+ mph?
Yes, our six-day tour along the trail was only an introduction It ran the gamut, from the historic and high-end (French Lick Resort), to a fantasy 18 (Brickyard Crossing) and a picture-perfect ending in West Lafayette at the 36-hole complex at Purdue University. In between, there were other great courses and off-course excursions.
The Pete Dye Trail proved to be the sum of its considerable parts.
Newman told visitors that Indiana is the State of “untold stories.”
During our visit, we heard just a few of them.
Others are available in this newsletter and even more will have to wait for another day, and our next trip.
For information on booking a customized stay-and-play golf packages and more information on what Indiana has for you to discover:
Rick Drennan is a writer with The Travelling Golfer and ProShop Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org