CARMEL, Ind. – Crooked Stick Golf Club is one of Pete Dye’s earliest gems and the course that put him on the map as an iconoclastic genius. Located 12 miles north of downtown Indianapolis in what used to be the sleepy farm community of Carmel, the course opened up in 1967 to rave reviews for its adaptation of classical-era design principles.
It took Dye three years of work to hew the low-lying site into golf ground. Halfway through, he and his wife, Alice, made a sojourn to Scotland where they witnessed for the first time steep-faced bunkers stabilized by railroad ties, fairways that dead-ended and greens whose contours defied the natural surrounds.
Here Dye drew upon the designers who most inspired him: Donald Ross, Alister MacKenzie and Seth Raynor. But he also added a unique Midwestern sensibility, including everything from knee-high prairie grasses, rocky streams, covered bridges and a railroad car. The result, as witnessed nationally during the 1991 PGA Championship, the 1993 U.S. Women’s Open, the 2005 Solheim Cup and the 2009 U.S. Senior Open, is a demanding yet enticing layout that emphasizes aerial strength, proper angles of approach, and a tolerance for crazy bounces.
For the 2012 BMW Championship the course will play to par-72, 7,497 yards long, with a 77.7 rating and a slope of 148.
• • •
No. 1, par 4, 358 yards
Dye, ever the curmudgeon, doesn’t believe in drivable par-4s. “That’s why they have par-3s,” he grouses. But he always has a short, delicate par 4 in the mix, though rarely as the opening hole. This one, somewhat over-treed down the right side and around the putting surface, calls for a layup to a narrow fairway and a short-iron to a very well protected green that’s segmented into two distinct pods on a right-to-left angle. Miss the proper pod and it’s a difficult putt to get to the other one.
• • •
No. 2, par 4, 442 yards
Dye is a great admirer of Ross’ Seminole Golf Club because of the need there to play shots both ways – a draw tee shot followed by a fade approach, and on the next hole the other way around. That’s exactly the principle in play at Crooked Stick, where after a light fade on the first hole you need to hit a long, powerful right-to-left tee shot, though even the longest hitters can’t carry the massive MacKenzie-like bunker that runs along the left side of the fairway to a distance of 335 yards off the tee. In typical strategic fashion, the ideal line is as close to the bunkers on the inside of the dogleg left as possible. From the fairway – one of eight that was narrowed over the winter in the landing area – it’s a fade approach to a narrow, elevated green that runs away from the player at the back.
• • •
No. 3, par 3, 195 yards
If you’ve ever wondered what Donald Ross on drugs would have designed, just stand on the tee here. Slightly uphill, with pop-up bunkers edging into the line of play on this kidney-shaped green. It’s accessible to a right-to-left shot, but anything running a tad long will quickly find sand, so distance control is crucial. Dye is convinced that PGA Tour players rarely miss on distance short or long; they just miss right or left, which is why so many of the greens here are narrow at the waist.
• • •
No. 4, par 4, 483 yards
The fairway landing area is at its narrowest at 300 yards, so keeping the drive in play and out of a handful of bunkers is crucial. On this long hole, it’s a fade drive and a draw approach to a green where it’s very easy to hang the ball out to the right and end up with a delicate up-and-over greenside recovery.
• • •
No. 5, par 5, 612 yards
A big, sweeping dogleg left, where the favorable angle off the tee on the right is littered with steep bunkers. With the prevailing wind out of the southwest, this hole plays down breeze over the right shoulder. Some players will reach the green in two, though holding the plateau and avoiding the Raynor-like steep falloffs around will be the difficulty. There’s a lot to be said for holding back on the second shot with a middle iron and coming at the green with full third shot that has control and spin on it.
• • •
No. 6, par 3, 201 yards
This hole is a paradigm of Midwest Americana, what with a farm pond lapping the right side of the green and a wooden, red-painted, covered bridge presiding over the back of the hole. There’s a cross ridge in the green that segments the front downslope from the back half of the green – where the slope feeds the ball right. The prevailing wind is from behind, which makes it harder to stay on the back right shelf when the hole is cut there and brings water more into play.
• • •
No. 7, par 4, 454 yards
Here’s the lull before the storm. Pretty straightforward, a left-to-right drive past an inconsequential fairway bunker on the right followed by a right-to-left middle iron to a fall-away green.
• • •
No. 8, par 4, 456 yards
Dye is a master of the break-neck dogleg; this one a hard left around the corner of a lake running along the entire inside of the hole. By suspending the target green over the horizon of the dominant hazard, he tempts strong players into playing an aggressive line when in a fact the smarter line is away; but good players hate turning their back on the flag and playing so far away. Here, it’s a right-to-left tee shot to a green with a bunker on the right and the surface tipped down to the water on the left. It actually sets up best for a perfectly controlled high fade – another example of how Crooked Stick demands you play both ways. More than any other hole on the course, the shift in structure makes you feel unsettled.
• • •
No. 9, par 5, 530 yards
This is one of those holes that John Daly, with his prodigious length during the 1991 PGA Championship, simply obliterated by driving over trees and the maintenance barn, leaving Dye in a quandary about how to test the new generation of long-ball hitters. He since has adjusted the hole so that there’s a huge bunker on the inside left of this dogleg that now requires a 305-yard carry to the sweet spot in the fairway. From there, the shot into the green of 200-plus yards has to thread a chute of trees and hold one of the smaller putting surfaces on the course.
• • •
No. 10, par 4, 397 yards
The back nine, on the south side of the property, kicks off with a modest-length hole where hitting the fairway is crucial thanks to water right and long pits of sand down both sides of the landing area. No drivers needed here, as a fairway wood or even a long iron will leave a short pitch left to a green with its high side right and a surface that cants steadily to the left. Once again, the ideal line off the tee is as close to the biggest trouble (on the right) along the fairway.
• • •
No. 11, par 5, 595 yards
This northbound par 5 plays with the prevailing wind over the player’s left shoulder and will likely yield some eagles. The hole actually starts with a new tee that creates a cross-over tee shot with Crooked Stick’s other par 5 on this nine, the 15th. The drive (to another one of those recently narrowed fairways) has to avoid a long, nasty collection of bathtub bunkers and potholes 250-350 yards off the on the left. A bold second shot into the low-lying green has to carry what looks like a cratered Sahara – this to a green canted on a diagonal that effectively shortens the depth of this well-protected green. The alternative, an option that Tour players hate, is to turn 30 degrees to the left and play a middle-iron into a dead-ended fairway and from there flip a wedge down along the more receptive main axis of the green.
• • •
No. 12, par 4, 424 yards
Dye is a genius at taking what most other architects would build as a straight hole and turning it into a confounding double-dogleg. The unbunkered fairway has a big kink in the lower right side – exactly where, from the tee, you mistakenly want to line up. The fairway forces you left, and from a draw stance you have to hit a shot that holds up against one of those steep fall-off, low-cut chipping areas that Dye – influenced by Pinehurst – occasionally relies upon.
• • •
No. 13, par 3, 182 yards
Only Dye would have the “chutzpah” (that’s a technical design term) to create a dogleg par 3, this one requiring a shot around a looming oak tree on the left. The tough part here is that this fall-away green sits near a creek that will gobble up approach shots hit short or a touch to the right.
• • •
No. 14, par 4, 497 yards
Here’s another of those holes that Daly eviscerated in 1991, turning what had been a strategic dogleg with a creek on the inside of the left elbow into a pitch-and-putt hole. The drive has since been toughened and lengthened, and because it plays into the prevailing breeze it’s not an automatic carry: 290 yards over the corner. Tug it a bit and you’re left in deep rough with a bad angle in; play it out to the right and you’re faced with an uphill approach of 200-plus yards to a green with steep bunkering flanking both sides up front and a surface that feeds everything to the left.
• • •
No. 15, par 5, 523 yards
Straight into the prevailing wind, this nominally short par 5 plays longer than it first looks. A massive, claw-like bunker runs the length of the left side of the landing area and cannot be outgunned, so drives have to steer clear because landing in it means a second shot blasted out wide right and short of the green. The target here, at 63 yards long, is far and away the biggest green on the course; also the most vexing, because it’s a MacKenzie-style wraparound surface, seen originally as the famed seventh at Crystal Downs Golf Club in Michigan and again as the 15th hole at another MacKenzie design that Dye has admired, the University of Michigan Golf Course. The banana-shaped green wraps around a mid-left-center bunker and is barely accessible from front to back by putting. The excitement comes when the only way to get a ball from the front lobe to the back is to clip it with a lob wedge. That makes for great theater, if a very upset green superintendent.
• • •
No. 16, par 4, 470 yards
Slightly downhill, decidedly downwind, and so the steep bunkers lining the fairways ending at 285 yards out can be readily passed. Here’s the most obvious example of a secret Dye trick: on all of his courses, his fairway bunkers are aligned to the front of the green and his greenside bunkers point to the back of the putting surface. The tough trick here is steering wide of a pond that laps the length of the green on the right – while avoiding a very deep bunker front left.
• • •
No. 17, par 3, 212 yards
If you ever want to renovate a Dye course, don’t hire Pete to do it. He never gets it right and loses his initial vision somewhat. He has tinkered with this hole endlessly at Crooked Stick, and it has acquired a harder, more aggressive shaping in the process as he deepens the greenside bunker on what amounts to your basic Redan hole: steep bunker left guarding the back left of a fall-away green. The wind here from the left on this exposed, elevated tee tends to push approaches to the right, leaving a delicate up-and-over recovery.
• • •
No. 18, par 4, 457 yards
You gotta love the suggestion box in the middle of the vast lake that laps the entire right side of this graceful dogleg right. Dye, who lives in a house left of the fairway, has been the club’s green committee of one for five decades and dutifully reads his mail. The sweep of this hole makes it very difficult to commit to a tee-shot line because there are no bunkers or trees for alignment. The approach shot has to deal with a bulk-headed green that sits low to the water and has three pot bunkers pulled back way to the left. If you’re in these, you have your hands full with the proverbial long bunker shot to a green that slopes into the water. The ideal line of play is a left-to-right drive and a right-to-left approach – tough shots to pull off under pressure.