Any list of the best golf courses in America always includes courses like Harbour Town in South Carolina and the TPC Sawgrass in Florida. Closer to home, Indiana’s best features the likes of Brickyard Crossing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, The Fort in Lawrence, and Carmel’s Crooked Stick Golf Club, site of this year’s BMW Championship on the PGA Tour. What all these world-class golf courses have in common is their designer, World Golf Hall of Fame course architect Pete Dye. Long before he built any of those other courses, Dye got his start right here in Center Grove more than 50 years ago, designing what is now the back nine at Dye’s Walk Country Club.
The Center Grove area not only holds a special place in the history of golf course architecture, it now offers a variety of playing options. From casual par-3 courses for the beginner to quality tracks suitable for hosting qualifying tournaments for national championships, there’s something for every level of golfer in Center Grove.
Dye’s Walk Country Club
In 1959, the area on the southwest corner of Olive Branch Road and State Road 135 was farm land. But real estate developers Henry and Bill Nordsieck wanted to turn it into a planned community with a golf course. The Nordsiecks could handle the neighborhood. But for the golf course, they turned to Pete and Alice Dye. At the time, Pete was a former insurance salesman working at the Country Club of Indianapolis and Alice was an Indiana amateur golf champion. El Dorado Country Club (as it was originally called) would be their very first golf course design.
“It was a partnership from the very beginning,” Alice explains about her and Pete’s design process and division of labor. “We laid out the holes and we talked about it together. We had a dining room table, and we’d cut strips of paper and laid them out on the map and talked about the best arrangement.”
The Dyes created plans for 18 holes but only completed nine – what are today holes 10 through 18. The #10 tee was right next to a small cemetery. Asked today if starting a golf course right next to a burial ground gave him pause, Pete Dye responds, “I’ve built more golf courses around cemeteries – I think they haunt me.”
Much has changed since the private club opened in 1960. A second nine was added in the early 1970’s by Indianapolis golf course architect Ron Kern (the Dyes were living in Florida by then and weren’t asked to complete their original design). The name was changed from El Dorado to Royal Oak in 1987, then to Dye’s Walk in 2007. The private club filed for bankruptcy in 2011, but has emerged as a member-owned club and is seeing a resurgence.
Mike Abdalla, a member of the Dye’s Walk Board of Directors, talked about how the club made the transition from for-profit private ownership to a member-owned not-for-profit structure.
“A consulting company explained that the rate of failure of privately-owned clubs is extremely high compared to that of member owned,” says Abdalla. He goes on to explain that during the bankruptcy process “it was the intent of the bank to sell the club back to the members in about 3 years. What we (the members) did by coming in and offering to buy it sooner, we short-circuited the process and made it happen quicker.”
With around 250 members at last count (the club will cap membership at 350), Dye’s Walk offers several different membership levels: Family, Single, Corporate, Jr. Executive, Military, Widow, and Honorary. The club also boasts a very active female membership. “The women have their own club within the club,” says Abdalla. “They have a president, vice president, and treasurer. They organize their own tournaments as well as fundraisers and social events.”
In 2007, Pete Dye was invited back to suggest possible changes to the course. The one that has the best chance of coming to fruition in the foreseeable future is a fairly radical redesign of #10. The 10th tee has already been moved forward about 40 yards because of a dispute between the club and the owners of a small parcel of land near the entrance to the club where the tee was originally located. That dispute is currently in litigation. But no matter the outcome of that suit, the tee most likely will not return to its original spot. In fact, it may move even farther down the fairway.
From the beginning, the 10th hole has played as a dog-leg par-4, requiring a well-placed tee shot followed by a second shot over the pond fronting the green. No easy par, by any means.
Dye’s new idea for #10 is to move the tee box forward even more, to the point where the golfer can see the green from the tee and taking the dog-leg out completely. But this change to #10 would also allow for another improvement to the club that Abdalla says has been in the planning stages for a while. The front part of the 10th fairway, that area between the clubhouse and S.R. 135 that would no longer be needed for the 10th hole, would then be made into a new expanded practice area, featuring a putting green and chipping area. The current location of the practice green would be eliminated to lengthen the driving range.
But Dye’s Walk isn’t just about golf. The club is available to the public for indoor or outdoor weddings and receptions, graduation parties, reunions, and private parties of any kind.
Finally, Abdalla succinctly explains the benefits of a Dye’s Walk Country Club membership: “It’s a year’s worth of entertainment for the cost of one family vacation.” Dye’s Walk Country Club, 317-535-8635.
Hickory Stick Golf Club
“Looks like you’re in jail.” Every golfer knows what that means: You’ve hit your shot so badly right or left that your ball has landed among the trees, the trunks acting like jail cell bars making escape difficult, if not impossible. Fortunately, that’s a phrase you’ll never hear at Hickory Stick Golf Club. That’s because there are no trees. Not very common for your typical American golf course, but indicative of an “Irish links” course, as described by Keith Clark, Head PGA Professional at Hickory Stick since 2004.
“It has contours throughout the fairways,” says Clark, “and greens that have the availability for run-up shots, which make the course very playable for all levels of players.” But don’t let the lack of trees fool you. Hickory Stick can be challenging. Water hazards come into play on half the holes, and bunkers can be found on all but one. Built in 2001, Hickory Stick, like Dye’s Walk, was part of a planned residential golf course community. And also like Dye’s Walk, it has Pete Dye’s design fingerprints on it – sort of. The layout was designed by golf course architect Tim Liddy. “Tim did this golf course,” Clark says, “after he had worked on Whistling Straits (Wisconsin) with Pete Dye and brought some of those ideas here.” Perhaps it’s that design pedigree that has led Hickory Stick to host a number of high-profile events in its relatively short history, including a qualifier for the U.S. Senior Open. Asked what makes Hickory Stick unique, Clark says, “I think its design truly sets it apart from others in the area. There’s no other like it in the immediate area. And we like to hang our hat on our service and our friendly atmosphere.” Hickory Stick Golf Club, 317-422-8300.
Bluff Creek Golf Course
The clubhouse sits on the highest spot in Johnson County, just west of the State Road 37 and Stones Crossing intersection at 2710 South Old State Road 37.
That vantage point affords golfers at Bluff Creek some beautiful views. However, it also presents some challenging shots. For instance, the par-3 10th hole is only 111 yards. But the green is a 70-foot drop from the tee. There are guides out there that can help you play better golf.
One thing you won’t see from your perch above the fairways is a house. Bluff Creek is the only Center Grove-area course not built near a residential neighborhood. So you can swing with confidence and know that your slice won’t end up in someone’s back yard.
The course was built in 1998, but the clubhouse wasn’t added for two more years. So those early golfers were basically on the honor system to pay for their round. Bluff Creek Golf Course, 317-422-4736.
A par-3 course is the perfect place for a beginning golfer to learn the fundamentals of the game. It’s also a good place for an accomplished player to hone his or her short-game skills at a fraction of the cost of a regular round of 18. Center Grove is fortunate to have two par-3 courses.
Orchard Golf Center on State Road 135 across from Kroger has an 18-hole par-3 course, as well as a driving range, and “Bunker Run,” a complete pro shop with all types of equipment and lessons. Orchard Golf also has a lighted miniature golf course.
Walnut Ridge, about a mile north of Center Grove High School on Morgantown Road, opened in 1974. It features 18 holes of wide-open fairways and mature trees. They have also recently remodeled the clubhouse focusing on area kids and teens. It features food, arcades, pool tables, and a live DJ on Friday and Saturday.
From the first-time golfer to the single-digit handicapper, there’s golf for everyone in Center Grove.
John Cinnamon is a 25-year radio broadcast veteran. He and his wife Ann travel extensively and currently own the CruiseOne travel franchise in Greenwood. John is an avid golfer and has had the opportunity to play iconic courses like Pebble Beach and The Old Course at St. Andrews. Read more of John’s musings on golf at www.IndianaGolfOnline.wordpress.com.