On the morning of July 13, I took a crooked path to get to the Crooked Stick Golf Club. I’d driven to Indianapolis from Erin, Wisconsin on the night before. That morning I checked out of my hotel. I put Crooked Stick Golf Course in my GPS. And off I went. As I drove through the neighborhood approaching the Club, I started to get the feeling that I was heading to the wrong place. As I arrived at the Crooked Stick Golf Course, it became very clear that this was not the Club that was ranked 94th on the Golf Digest 2017-18 Top 100 list. I called Doug Hicks who had coordinated the round at the club with his brother Bob. Bob is a member. Doug provided me with the actual address of the club.
I put the club address into my GPS and was again on my way. Problem solved. So, I thought. The GPS took me to the back of the club where there is no entrance. Another phone call to Doug and a discussion with the Assistant Pro in the Golf Shop led to me arriving at the Club just minutes before our intended tee time. I hit a couple of balls on the practice range with my driver before I headed to the first tee to join our group. We were playing as a fivesome. Doug’s brother had initially set us up to play with another member, Mike Kilkenny, because he didn’t think he would be available. Fortunately, he could join us for the first 12 holes. Doug’s youngest brother, Brian was the other member of our group of five. Jordan, our forecaddie introduced himself before he headed out to the fairway to track our tee shots.
The first hole at the Crooked Stick Golf Club is a short par 4. We played from the blue tees which measured just over 6650 yards with a slope of 73.3 and a rating of 135. The first hole was playing around 325 yards. It has a generous fairway, but very little rough between the fairway and the trees that line both sides of that fairway. The trees on the left are thick and come into play immediately if you hit your drive to the left. The trees on the right are more spacious and forgiving. I hit my drive long, but to the right. The ball was playable and only about 60 yards from the flag, with a small tree between it and the green. I could probably have easily cleared the tree with a lob wedge. I was told however that it is customary to hit a second tee shot off the first tee if you miss the fairway. My second drive on the first tee was just as long as the first, but it was down the middle of the fairway.
I didn’t take advantage of the generosity granted me on the first hole. Oh yes, I did play the second drive rather than the first, I just shanked my approach shot from 60 yards out and ended up to the right of the green. From there I chipped on and two putted for an opening hole bogey.
The second hole plays 385 yards. It has a slight dogleg left and one of those customary long Pete Dye bunkers near the landing zone on the left side of the fairway. Mike Kilkenny served as my guide for the day. He was very knowledgeable of the course and offered great advice on where to hit my shots. On the second hole, he advised that I hit down the right side of the fairway. He pointed to a tree in the distance, just past where the fairway makes the slight left turn, as my target line. I hit along that line and landed on the right side of the fairway with a nice angle to the flag, but the flag was tucked behind a small bunker on the right front of the green.
I missed the green on my approach shot, chipped to within five feet of the cup. My par putt skimmed the left edge of the cup, but didn’t drop in. I tapped in for a second bogey. Two fairways hit and two missed greens. Not a good start on the most playable course I’d faced all week.
The third hole is a medium arrange par 3. It’s the first of four par 3s on the course, but the only one without water. It measures 170 yards to the middle of the green, but the pin was positioned on the back left portion of the green, so it was playing 180 yards. I hit a 5 iron on a straight line to and then past the flag into the bunker behind the green. It took me to shots to get out of the bunker and two putts to get the ball in the cup. I was hitting the ball well at this point, but it wasn’t reflected in my score of two bogeys and a double bogey on the first three holes.
The fourth hole is a long par 4 measuring over 400 yards. The fair way is lined with several small bunkers on both sides, but more on the right than the left. Again, Mike gave me a nice line to hit my ball on and my drive found the fairway. I hit my approach shot over the back of the green. Again, I chipped on and two putted for another bogey.
The fifth hole is the longest of the four par 5s at Crooked Stick. It plays 590 yards from the blue tees. The fairway is narrow for the first 300 yards, then it widens before narrowing again for the last 130 yards before the green. There are small bunkers along the right side of the fairway, right in the landing zone. Mike pointed out that it was best to miss to the left. In addition to avoiding the bunkers, it set you up for a lay up to the right side of the fairway, which has the best angle to the green.
I had my first missed fairway (this excludes my first drive on the first hole since I played my second drive which was in the fairway) when my drive rolled into the left rough. I hit a lay up to the left side of the fairway. My approach landed in the right green side bunker. I double bogeyed the hole.
The sixth hole is the signature hole at Crooked Stick. It is a beautiful par 3 with water, a covered bridge and a big oak tree. At least it had a big oak tree until a storm brought it down earlier in the week. As you can imagine, this was a sad moment for the members and staff at Crooked Stick. The storm also did additional damage to several other holes on the front nine. Following the storm, it wasn’t clear whether we would be able to play the course on Thursday. Fortunately, the staff worked tirelessly to get the full 18 holes on the course reopened for the membership. There were minor remnants of debris on the course, but nothing that interfered with play.
What did interfere with my play was my poor swing on the sixth hole. I hit tee shot long and to the left of the green. It took me 4 additional shots to hole out for a double bogey. Doug on the other hand, hit his tee shot onto the green and sank a 60 foot putt for a birdie!
The seventh hole is a wide-open par 4 that plays just over 370 yards. Mike again gave me a good line for my tee shot and I was able to find the fairway with my drive. I landed on the left side of the fairway and had a great angle to the green. I hit my approach shot to within five feet of the flag, but missed the birdie putt. I settled for my first par of the round.
On the eighth hole, I tried to execute my drive according to Mike’s instructions, but hit a little too far to the right into the rough. The eighth hole is a 400 yard par 4 with water along the left fairway all the way to the green. You can understand why Mike advised that I hit my drive to the right side of the fairway. My approach shot from rough sailed to the right and into the green side bunker. I hit out of the bunker, but just barely, so I didn’t make the green. I chipped on and hit my customary two putts for a double bogey.
The ninth hole is a short but challenging par 5. It plays less than 500 yards, but has a lot of trouble for each shot. There is water along the left side of the fairway and a very large bunker in the landing zone. The right side of the fairway has trees and the rough. The creek that runs down the left side of the fairway, crosses the fairway at about 100 yards from the green. The green side of the bisected fairway has timbers along the bank of the creek.
I hit a great drive on the hole to the middle of the fairway, just over 250 yards out. I decided to go for the green in two. This was a mistake. My ball almost cleared the creek, but hit the timbers on the bank instead and bounced back into the water. I could retrieve my ball, but that didn’t make up for the penalty stroke I took. I hit my fourth shot onto the green to about 8 feet from the flag, but rather than putting for a birdie, I was putting to save par. Had I laid up short of the creek, I could have saved at least one stroke and made an easy par. Instead, I bogeyed the hole after missing the par putt.
The tenth hole is a medium distance par 4. It plays 370 yards with water along the right side of the fairway and trees and bunkers along the left side. I hit my drive way left. It was far enough left that I had a clear shot to the green. I missed the green to the left on my approach shot. I then did what has been come a routine for me and that is chip or pitch on and two putt for bogey.
The 11th hole is a short par 5, measuring a little over 500 yards. But don’t be fooled by it. To take advantage of how short it is, you would need to hit a drive over a 5/4 domino of bunkers. I call it that because there are two groups of bunkers clustered together. The first group has four bunkers and the second group has five bunkers. The group of five bunkers is arranged like the five dots on a domino. It takes about a 240 yard carry from the blue tees to get past the bunkers. I like dominos, so I took on the bunkers with my drive and landed the ball in the fairway. This left me about 220 yards from the green. Rather than thanking my lucky stars and playing it conservatively after that, I decided to take on the next set of bunkers between me and the green. This next set of bunkers consist of only two bunkers, but the first one is about 70 yards long. If you get past it, there is a large green side bunker waiting. Well those bunkers proved to not be a problem for me. I hit my second shot into the fescue way right of the bunkers. I turned great drive into a seven on my scorecard.
The twelfth hole is a par 4 that plays slightly longer than 400 yards. It is shaped like a lazy “v”. The fairway is narrow, but there is ample rough on the left and right if you miss the fairway. I missed the fairway on the right. My approach shot missed the green, but as usual, I chipped on and two putted for a bogey.
This had not been a good day for me on the par 3s. The 150 yard par three thirteenth hole was no different. While Pete Dye found a crooked stick in the corn field that would become the Crooked Stick Golf Club, I found a Crooked Creek several times on this day. When Mr. Dye found his crooked stick, he imagined that could have been the way this game we called golf got started. Perhaps some guy found a stick, decided to hit a rock with it, and then imagined what it would be like to hit that rock into a little hole in the ground. Mr. Dye decided to change the name of the course he was designing from the originally planned name to Crooked Stick after finding that stick on the property. I think I should consider calling it Crooked Creek for all the times I found the creek during my round.
As you can imagine, the creek was in play on the 13th hole and I found it. I made a double bogey on this par 3 as I had one on the previous two par 3s.
In 1991, John Daly was relatively an unknown in the golf world. That changed when he won the PGA Championship by dismantling Crook Stick with his ability to hit the ball much farther than any other golfer in the field. As we stood on the tee box for the fourteenth hole, Mike Kilkenny shared one the many John Daly stories that have become legend for that fateful contesting of the PGA Championship in 1991.
The 14th hole has a dogleg left that is designed to play almost 500 yards as a par 4 from the championship tees. That crooked creek that I so admire, runs along the left side of the hole and bends with the dogleg. It is about a 270 to 280 carry to cut the corner and reduce the hole to about a 400 to 420 yard hole from the championship tees. John Daly was able to easily carry that creek. While today with all the new technology and the fitness of the golfers, several golfers would be able to carry the creek, but in 1991, only John Daly could do it. This meant that he could hit short irons or wedges on his approach shot to the green, while the other golfers were hitting long irons.
On this day while I was at Crooked Stick, given my experience with the crooked creek, I chose to avoid as much of the creek as I could. I followed Mike’s advice to hit the ball to the right. The hole plays only 420 from the blue tees. I hit my drive through the fairway into the rough no the right side of the fairway, leaving about 180 yards to the green. As was my pattern on par fours for the day, I left my approach shot short, pitched on and two putted for a bogey.
The fifteenth hole on the course is the final par 5. It is a short par five playing only 485 yards from the blue tees. It is a straight forward hole. The tee box points you toward a bunker along the left side if the fairway. If you can avoid this bunker, the hole becomes an easy hole. I avoided the bunker and hit the fairway with my drive, then laid up to about 70 yards. I then hit the green in regulation leaving myself a makeable birdie putt of about 7 feet. Unfortunately, the putt wasn’t so makeable for me. I made par on the hole.
Th sixteenth hole is a straight away par 4 that plays slightly over 400 yards. It has bunkers on the left and right as the fairway narrows at about 230 yards from the blue tees. I hit my best drive of the day on the 16th hole, leaving myself a nice angle in to the green which had a back middle pin. The angle also helped to take the water along the right side of the green out of play. There was a bunker on the right front of the green. I took aim at the pin and landed on the left side of the green, short of the flag, setting up a nice birdie attempt. I missed my birdie putt, but did make my second par in a row.
I approached the final par 3 on the course with some trepidation. I had made double bogeys on the first three par 3s. Two of the first three had water in play. The 17th hole had more water than the previous par 3s combined. It protruded into the lake like a bridge across its southeast corner. It was also playing as the longest par 3 of the course. There was certainly a lot to think about as I prepared to hit my tee shot. My tee shot landed 12 feet short of the flag and to the left.
With my ball, safely on the green of the final par 3 on the course, I took a moment to visit the lone tree that stood in the corn field that became the Crooked Stick Golf Course. The tree is now a stump that serves as a base for the symbol of the course, a golf club with a crooked stick as the shaft. There is also a plaque that lists the founding members of the course. I tipped my hat to them for their contribution to the game of golf.
After visiting the stump, I made my way to the 17th green where my birdie putt awaited. I saw the line on the putt. It looked like it was breaking about 18 inches. I was so confident that I’d make the birdie, that I asked our caddy Jordan to photograph the putt and make sure he caught the ball dropping into the cup. What he caught was not a ball dropping into the cup, but rather a ball that move only about 6 inches of what I thought would be an 18 inch break. I made the second putt to record my third par in a row, but was disappointed in not making a birdie.
There we stood on the 18th tee box. Another hole that was over 400 yards long with water in play.
The lake that came into play on the par 3 seventeenth hole ran the length of the right side of the tee boxes, fairway, and green on the 18th hole. I hit my tee shot into the lake. Mike was kind and said I should re-tee because of my lack of familiarity with the course. On my second tee shot, I didn’t want to go anywhere near that lake. I hit my drive to the left and almost put my ball into the backyard of Pete Dye. He still lives along the 18th fairway at Crooked Stick.
The hole only got worse from there. My approach shot flew the green and barely stayed in bound. I then left my third shot on the bunker. I just picked up and wrote down a double bogey on my card. It was an unceremonious end to a wonderful day of golf on a historic course with the Hicks brothers and Mike Kilkenny.
I would like to thank Doug for coordinating the round and both Bob and Mike for hosting us. I’d also like to thank Brian for joining us for the round. I will always remember that there was a man who found a crooked stick and built a wonderful golf course in its honor.