After many months of quiet on the travel front, the team from Talking GolfGetaways finally got to hit the road together, and what a bullseye they hit. French Lick Resort in Indiana is known far and wide as one of the game’s great destinations, and co-hosts Mitch Laurance and Darin Bunch join Producer Kris McEwen on this podcast episode to relive their recent, memory-filled trip.
They shared the world-class experience with partner Ryan Ballengee from Golf News Net (who was responsible for setting up the trip), which included not only rounds on the world-famous Pete Dye Course, the iconic Donald Ross Course and the 9-hole peaceful treasure of the Tom Bendelow-designed Valley Links Course, but sampled the gracious, historic elegance of the Resort as well.
The main draw for the traveling golfer is undoubtedly the two well-known Dye and Ross layouts, with the under-appreciated, hidden gem that is the Valley Links a wonderful addition. Mitch begins the episode with a bit of history about the Dye Course and the massive effort that it took to build it. He lists the numerous major championship events that followed its opening in 2009, and the three podcast partners each give their first impressions on seeing the layout, and their thoughts on what makes the Dye Course truly remarkable. They discuss the stunning views from the highest point in Indiana, the immaculate conditioning that separates the Dye Course from other public venues, and the trademark Dye design features, such as numerous “volcano bunkers”, that etch themselves in a player’s memory. Darin notes that though the fee for a round on the Dye Course is substantial, with the addition of a forecaddie mandatory, the experience and challenge of that round is well worth the price tag.
Mitch then moves to the Donald Ross Course, giving background on one of the earliest American courses, and the pedigree of championship events it hosted early in the game’s history. He explains about the renovation that took place in 2006 at a cost of 5 million dollars, an effort that restored bunkers and greens to the original Ross designs, in cooperation with the Donald Ross Society. Darin, Kris and Mitch then detail the challenge and fun of playing a course that’s very different in design from the Dye Course, with trademark Ross green complexes playing a major role in the storytelling.
Darin then mentions the clubhouses of both courses, and talks about what an integral part of the experience they both are. The beautiful, history-laden Dye Course building, once a mansion of the Taggert family, early visionary owners at French Lick, sets the tone from the time you arrive. The smaller, but equally impressive Hagen’s Clubhouse at the Ross Course, named for the legendary Walter Hagen, who won the 1924 PGA Championship at the Ross Course, is home to a fantastic display of merchandise, as well as a terrific restaurant that occupies the site of the first restaurant at the French Lick Resort.
Mitch, Darin and Kris then discuss the 9-hole Valley Links Course, site of the 1917 first course at French Lick Resort, at the time an 18-hole layout built by Scotsman Tom Bendlow, an early, well-known architect who was in the process of spreading his designs, and the game, across America. All three extol the beauty and the peaceful nature of what they each consider a revelation when it comes to golf at the Resort, a family-friendly (designed in cooperation with US Kids Golf) but challenging walk in a paradisical valley, the perfect complement to the intensity of challenges at the Dye and Ross courses, and one they all feel should be a must-play for guests at the Resort before they depart.
Accommodations at French Lick Resort are discussed next, and it’s agreed that the main Springs Hotel, built in 1845 and with 443 elegant, enormous rooms in immaculate, renovated condition, was a perfect home base for the trip, complete with a wide variety of restaurants and amenities for every taste. Mitch details the history of the nearby and stunning West Baden Hotel, with a 200’ free-span Atrium, the centerpiece of a property designated as a National Historic Landmark and once referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. Another must-visit attraction for visitors to French Lick.
The episode closes with other terrific aspects of the team’s visit, including the foundational, century-old Casino that early-on established French Lick as a destination, a stop at the Legendz Bar and the native-son Larry Bird collection of trophies and memorabilia at 33 Brick Restaurant, and the general, fantastic vibe of the small Indiana town that is French Lick.
— Words by Mitch Laurance