Benner/Sports and Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Opinion

BENNER: Extraordinary Pete Dye course moves into spotlight

August 3, 2013

Sitting atop a 1,000-foot hill overlooking the town and offering vistas of 30 miles, the Dye course is a breathtaking emerald gem, the result of both the incredible topography and the mad genius of Indiana’s own Mr. Dye, one of the world’s most-renowned course designers.

Trust me, even if you don’t like golf, you would be captivated by the scenery.

Anyway, the Dye course is about to become more widely known to the world and by extension, officials hope, so will the amazingly refurbished French Lick Resort.

Although it has hosted the PGA Professional National Championship and the Big Ten men’s and women’s championships, the Dye course is stepping up its game.

Next month (Sept. 24-29), the LPGA Legends Tour Championship—featuring the likes of Nancy Lopez, Beth Daniel, Jan Stephenson and Betsy King—begins a three-year run.

And on July 30, the Dye scored a major blow (pun intended) with the announcement that the Senior PGA Championship will be played there in May 2015. Participants will include the likes of Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer, Kenny Perry, Hale Irwin and possibly an old Hoosier, Fuzzy Zoeller, who already has his name on the Born Trophy that goes to the winner.

PGA President Ted Bishop of Linton who owns the Legends of Indiana golf complex near Franklin, touted the exposure the Dye course will receive. The Senior PGA Championship will be telecast in 13 countries, reach 430 million households, and attract international media attention.

Indeed, its biggest hurdle might be getting exposure in its own state. The dates (May 21-24) coincide with a little event taking place in central Indiana called the Indianapolis 500.

Nonetheless, Bishop is optimistic the Senior Championship can draw more than 25,000, which has been the norm for recent tournaments.

“This will be the biggest game in town … and I’m confident the people of southern Indiana will turn out and support this championship,” Bishop said.

Landing the Senior Championship is a tribute to Steve Ferguson, board chairman of Bloomington-based Cook Group, the medical-device manufacturer. Ferguson is carrying forward the legacy of Cook founder Bill Cook, who died in 2011. The Cook Group invested more than a half-billion dollars in the restoration of the French Lick and West Baden hotels, the construction of the Dye course, and the revamping of the historic Donald Ross course which, in its original heyday, hosted the 1924 PGA Championship and later two LPGA Championships.

“Bill Cook would be deeply touched by this,” Ferguson said, blinking back tears. “This is an impact event for southern Indiana.”

The announcement was such that Gov. Mike Pence flew in to be part of it. The governor pointed to a study that says golf is a $900 million industry in Indiana and a major part of the state’s tourism efforts.

“I can’t help but think of those panoramic views [on television] and someone watching at home seeing those and saying, ‘I’m going to visit Indiana,’” Pence said.

In anticipation of the Seniors Championship, a spacious locker room is under construction. Officials downplayed a concern about the ability to house golf fans, pointing out there are more hotel rooms within an hour’s drive than at Kohler, Wis., which has hosted a PGA Championship and a U.S. Open.

It will be spectacular … and possibly diabolical. The Dye can be stretched to as many as 8,100 yards, is replete with his famous bunkering, and features little in the way of level lies, either in the fairways or on the greens.

Bishop promised a “fair” setup. “The last thing we want to do in a major championship is beat up our participants,” he said.

Dye could not attend but offered an appropriate video comment: “Golf is not a fair game so why build a fair golf course?” he said. “Have at it, boys!”•

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Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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