My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
Worse angle from left of fairway
I really enjoyed Crooked Stick. Was it because I played well there? I don't know--those types of things never hurt. However, reflected back on the course, I thought it was a fun test. Not so penal that you'll go through sleeves of balls each time out, but enough challenge to make you earn your scores. It was early in the season, but there was a substantial premium on hitting fairways as the rough was nasty and really limited approach shots. Crooked Stick is a club where I'd love to be a member and play every day, and that's a real complement to the members and founders.
Best angle from right of fairway
#17, Par 3, 180 Yards
Allegedly, this is the hole that Pete Dye has continually tweaked, always thinking it's not quite right. It's an uphill par 3 with a cavernous bunker on the left. Avoid that bunker at all costs. Par is a very good score. Left of the hole is a rail car that doubles as a bridge to the 18th tee. Inside it are painted logos from all of the important championships the club has hosted. Very cool.
#18, Par 4, 408 Yards
The finishing hole at Crooked Stick is probably best remembered for when John Daly walked up the fairway pumping his fist en route to winning his first of two major championships. The hole is somewhat of a typical Pete Dye finishing hole. Water down the right side the hole way, and the best line into the green is to hug the edge of the pond. If you take the safe line, you'll have a tougher line into the hole over a bunker. Pete Dye's house is on the left of the hole and overlooks the famous mailbox in the middle of the pond. The mailbox reads "Greens Committee Suggestion Box Crooked Stick G.C." If you're bold enough to make the effort to the get to the middle of the pond to offer your suggestions, maybe Mr. Dye will listen!
#16, Par 4, 407 Yards
On this one, I was told a story about Pete Dye. The club was considering putting a hazard to the right of the green and was trying to decide between a bunker and a pond. After voting, the decision was made to install a bunker. The next day, there was a pond to the right of the green, with Dye deciding that a board could never be right about course design. That pond stands guard today on the right edge of the green.
#15, Par 5, 484 Yards
This one is where Dye pays homage to Alister MacKenzie by designing a boomerang shaped green, similar to the 6th and 14th at University of Michigan. While those holes are a par 4 and par 3 respectively, Dye's version is a par 5. The toughest pin on this green is right in the middle at the narrowest point. There's a local rule where if you're on the wrong portion of this green, you can take free "relief" off of the green and onto somewhere you can chip rather than chipping from the green.
#14, Par 4, 421 Yards
The 14th was an interesting hole. In a way, it can play a bit like the Road Hole at St. Andrew's in that you can fly the ball over a house over the dogleg and end up with a perfect shot into the green. As a guest at a high-end private club, there was no way I was going to run the risk of hitting a less-than-perfect shot into someone's bedroom, so I aimed at what I could see! The member didn't, and he was rewarded for his aggressive play. So, aim over a mansion at your own risk with the reward being a much shorter approach into the hole. The house below is what you'll be hitting over.
#13, Par 3, 152 Yards
Like him or not (I like him), Pete Dye is a master at designing memorable par 3's, and the 13th at Crooked Stick is no exception. This one is casually known as the dogleg par 3 because the pin can be tucked behind the trees, on the left side of the green, and barely visible from the tee. It played on the right half of the green when I played, and I was told to aim 25 feet left of the hole to catch a ridge that would throw the ball to the right toward the hole. I was also told, "if you hit it 26 feet left, it'll throw it to the left though."
#12, Par 4, 407 Yards
While the hole is basically straight-away from the tee, the fairway slants such that this plays as a bit of a dogleg right. The perfect line off the tee is at the three pines in the distance...I was told to "aim at the three Christmas trees." Rough and moguls line the left side and there are no fairway bunkers. On the approach, there's plenty of room to bail out on the right and avoid the deep bunkers on the left side of the green. Over the green is extremely dead.
#11, Par 5, 502 Yards
Heading back the opposite direction is the par 5, 11th. After reaching the fairway, you might consider going for this one in two, but you'll need to carry a large bunker with church pew style grass islands within it.
#10, Par 4, 370 Yards
Now to the South nine, and the first nine that was built at Crooked Stick. The 10th has water down the right side that must be avoided off the tee. As a fader (or slicer) of the golf ball, these types of holes can present problems for me! I barely kept the ball in play and was left with a pitching wedge into the green. Behind the green lies a Crooked Stick monument that honors its founding members, sitting on what's left of one of the club's oldest trees.
#9, Par 5, 491 Yards
The opening nine finishes off with a fun par 5 with a dogleg left. A creek runs down the left side off the tee, and crosses the fairway on the second shot. The club recently installed a pump to have more movement and clarity in the water, rather than the mucky creek that formerly existed. The second shot can either be played to a well-guarded green or to an ample lay-up zone over the creek and railroad ties. It's only 522 yards from all the way back, but my host said that very few pros hit the green in two during the BMW Championship even with the short length.
#8, Par 4, 395 Yards
The hardest hole on the front side is a classic Pete Dye par 4 with water the length of the hole on the left with a fairly sharp dogleg left on the approach. It's like #18 at Sawgrass, but a bit more of a dogleg. Obviously, avoiding the water is the key to surviving this one.
#7, Par 4, 372 Yards
From the back tees, this is a really cool golf hole. We all hit drives from back there just to see how differently it played. The landing area is up on a plateau, with a deep depression short and right of the fairway (first picture below). However, from the blue tees, there is not much to this hole as that trouble-area doesn't come into play. Just straight-away with a large bunker to the left the kidney-shaped green. It was driver, sand wedge from the blues.
#6, Par 3, 183 Yards
On to the signature hole at The Stick. Railroad ties make their first real appearance on the course, as does a covered bridge that watches from the right side. On that bridge is the inscription "Crowds have no place there, and waiting between shots must be almost unknown, for the membership is limited." This speaks to the privacy and solitude of Crooked Stick. Carry the water and safely reach the green and a par can be had here.
#5, Par 5, 591 Yards
Heading back the opposite direction from the 4th, this one typically plays downwind, but not today. It's a smooth dogleg to the left with bunkers along the way. A true three-shot hole for most of us, though I imagine the pros can get home in two with two good shots. The deep bunker short and left of the green must be avoided, and is worth considering for the bombers who want to go at the green in two. Of course, it needs to be avoided for those of us to lay up as well! From the right side of the green, there is tons of room to bail out and have a safe pitch into the green.
#4, Par 4, 408 Yards
A bit of an usual looking tee box for Indiana. With the tee box on a bit of an island with bridges to the "mainland" it felt a bit more like Florida. Why the water by the tee? Because Dye needed dirt to build mounds elsewhere, of course. Nobody has a better imagination for manufactured hills and has a better ability to mold a golf course with a bulldozer than Pete Dye! Bunkers are everywhere off the tee, though it's really the bunker on the left that is the most trouble and must be avoided due to the elevation of its face. I was told that the hole typically plays into the wind, and was playing backwards the day we played. Therefore, it was only an 8-iron for me into the hole and made this one tamer than it typically player.
#2, Par 4, 384 Yards
With morning dew still dripping off of my shoes, we walked behind the 1st hole to face the dogleg left 2nd. Bunkers are on either side of the fairway off the tee, but with the hole bending left, it's really the large bunker on the left elbow of the dogleg that is of greatest concern if you're trying to have the shortest second shot into the hole. While the large bunker is most visible, there are also small pot bunkers beyond it that must be avoided, as well as a pot bunker short right of the green. Hugging the left bunkers off the tee will give you the easiest line into the hole. This is also a typical Dye hole that ideally asks the player to work a shot each way. A draw off the tee and then a fade into the green are the ideal shot shapes.
#3, Par 3, 171 Yards
A good test of a par 3 with an hourglass shaped green that runs away from the player on a diagonal to the left six bunkers surrounding it. The back left pin placement was used the day I played, bringing the deepest bunker guarding the left side (and the pin) into play. Of course that's right where I ended up!
#1, Par 4, 321 Yards
If I had a complaint with the 1st hole (and I really don't), it would be that it doesn't quite fit with the rest of the course. However, as a "gentle handshake" opening hole, which is Pete Dye M.O, this one works. It's short and tight, and driver isn't recommended--it reminded me just a touch of the first at Harbour Town. Also, after I hit my shot, my host said he forgot to tell me not to hit a Titleist with a black one on it, since the range is immediately to the right of the first hole and if you miss your target, you might be searching among the ProV1 range balls. With a laugh, I told him that a black #1 was EXACTLY what I hit, but luckily, mine 3-wood shot lay right in the middle of the fairway, so no search was required. From the fairway, it was a 90 yard shot into the green over a bunker guarding the front-left of the green. As is usually the case with Pete Dye, there is a preferred side of the fairway that presents the best angle into the hole. In this case, it's the right half of the fairway, though you have to flirt with the trees, a fairway bunker, and the driving range to get rewarded with that preferred angle.
Crooked Stick was stop number two on a long weekend trip around Kentucky and Indiana. After playing Valhalla the day before, I made the drive of a little over two hours to the northern suburbs of Indianapolis to check out Crooked Stick. It was well worth the drive! There were a number of things that made a trip to Crooked Stick interested to me. First among them was the connection that Pete Dye has to the club. Where Pinehurst was Donald Ross's baby, and Muirfield Village is Jack Nicklaus's baby, this club is Pete Dye's baby. Not only was it the club that put Pete and Alice Dye on the map, but it's a club that's in their backyard...literally! Pete lives on the 18th hole, and is known to walk his dog "Sixty" around the course daily when he's in town (the dog gets his name from the price he paid for a "free" dog many years ago after all the shots and such...all his dogs ever since have been named Sixty). Around these parts, Pete Dye isn't a celebrity. He's just Pete, one of the founders of the club, somewhat of a curmudgeon, and the source of all the tweaks, renovations, and improvements that Crooked Stick has seen. From playing 18 holes with two gracious members, it was clear how Pete is just "one of the guys," and some of the stories I heard were fantastic. In the event that I didn't respect Pete Dye coming into this round, I sure would after hearing the legend of Pete as told by those who knew his best.
This is a club were no details are ignored, and you get the feel that you're in a special place from the moment you drive into the parking lot. From the Rolex clock that greets you in front of the clubhouse to the ProV1 practice balls on the range, putting greens, and short game area, it almost feels like you're about to tee off in a Tour event. Then after taking a walk through the clubhouse, it's clear how proud the club is of the championships it's hosted, and for good reason. The John Daly PGA Championship put the club of the map, but there have been a number of USGA events, a Solheim Cub, and a BMW Championship that have taken place at The Stick since Long John first came on the scene.
So onto the club itself. Crooked Stick was built in to parts. Today's back nine was built first. After that, money was a bit short, and the club sat back and continued to collect on farming revenues from the land that would become the second nine while Pete went to Ohio to design The Golf Club. After finishing there, he came back to Carmel to complete Crooked Stick by building what would now be the front nine. The front nine sets on the North side of the property, with the back nine to the South. From the day the club opened until today, the routing has been essentially unchanged. The first tee was formerly well right of where it is today. It was moved to the left to make room for today's practice range. Also, the 17th green was formerly well left of where it is today--closer to the 18th tees. Some ponds were expanded, bunkers added, and greens expanded and such, but the course is mainly what it was when it founded in 1964.
What stands today is a course with classic Pete Dye features, but a course that's more fun and playable than the resort courses that made him famous. The course has plenty of excellent risk/reward features, but doesn't beat you up on every shot, and ask you to pack a dozen golf balls in your bag just in case (I lost just one ball at Crooked Stick). With that said, there's plenty of challenge here. The rough is healthy and thick, the greens are tricky, and hazards are still in plenty of relevant spots to catch a mis-placed shot.
Four sets of tees make up Crooked Stick, with additional tees on some holes to make Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods sweat. The Gold Tees are the tips on the scorecard and play to 7,159 yards, and a rating / slope of 76.0 / 141 and a par of 72. The Black Tees aren't on the scorecard, and are the set that the pros play. They stretch beyond the golds and play to a rating slope of 77.8 / 149. Those tees were certainly not going to happen, especially since I'm a Northern golfer and this was golf in May. Therefore, I was plenty happy when the member suggested we play the Blue Tees, which play to 6,647 yards, and 73.1 / 136.