I consider French Lick, Ind., one of my favorite respites.
It sits alone, directly connected to the rest of the Hoosier State, the Midwest and the country by scenic highways and backroads that quite literally cut through farmland. Larry Bird's hometown and connecting West Baden Springs offer two different historic, luxurious experiences whose roots go back to the early 20th century.
When I go to French Lick, it's an escape from everything. It's a chance to let the world pass you by a bit. With fine dining, great golf, a fun casino and a small-but-engaging downtown, it's just what I need.
Among French Lick's great amenities are two championship golf courses in the Donald Ross Course -- which hosted the 1924 PGA Championship and is current host of the Symetra Tour's Donald Ross Classic -- and the Pete Dye Course -- which, sitting on the second-highest point in the state, has hosted the Senior PGA Championship, the Senior LPGA Championship and the Big Ten Championships.
While the Ross and Dye jockey for favor among the thousands of golfers who go to French Lick each year, there's a third course at the resort that fewer visitors notice. The Valley Links at French Lick was commissioned by then-resort owner Tom Taggart and designed by Tom Bendlow in 1907, opening as the resort's 18-hole championship course. When the resort was purchased by the Cook Group, it was shortened to nine holes through a redesign in partnership with US Kids Golf, with the stated goal of making the Valley Links a family friendly course.
The landing areas off the tee are more generous than the Dye, and the green complexes aren't nearly as vexing as the Ross. Situated closest to the French Lick Resort property, the Valley is the flatest of the three courses, making it an easy walk for an emergency nine. When my GolfTripX colleagues experienced the Valley Links back in May 2021, they found it to be their favorite of the three courses because of the low-stress, laid-back nature of the surroundings.
With the broader COVID-19 comeback in full swing and golfers traveling again in larger numbers, the Valley Links has seen more golfers than in long memory. (Footgolfers, too, are paying $15 to get in their kicks.) The course is in great shape, and more players are discovering the Valley can be a good change of pace from the more challenging championship courses at the resort.
That's all to say: The Valley Links was once an 18-hole course, and now is the time for it to be once again.
French Lick Resort owns vast swaths of land in the areas surrounding the resort, golf courses and other amenities. One of those large parcels is atop a hill behind the resort pool. It rolls like the ground on which the Dye and Ross courses sit, and enough trees have been cleared that a golfer standing on the property as-is could easily see playing corridors for nine new holes. This parcel could roll down into the Valley Links, connecting the two courses to create a third, 18-hole course.
An increasing number of the leading golf-centric resorts in the country have created at least one course with an eye toward fun. The fairways are wider or the holes are shorter, or it's a short course. A new, full-sized Valley Links could be the course where players go to start their trip, easing them into their time in French Lick. The Valley Links could be a confidence-building round to get things going or a day-ending round that is softer on the ego than the Ross or Dye.
The existing range at the Valley Links could be refurbished to feature flood lights, speakers and a bar-like atmosphere for golfers and non-golfers alike, making it a revenue-generating outpost day and night. With two sets of US Kids Golf-approved kids tees, families can still have a great afternoon of golf, too -- maybe even help kids catch the golf bug early.
Most importantly, a third course can offer a value option to golfers that can't pay for more than a round at the Dye Course. If offered at a price point under $100, a reinvigorated Valley Links could be an anchor that attracts new customers and can space out bookings.
Ultimately, the golfer benefits with more variety and a course that works well for buddy trips, families and everyday guests who would love a round in a bucolic setting.