Explore: Teeing up on the Simon links

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Since 1999, you’ve had to know someone—particularly a member of the Simon family—to play a round of golf at Asherwood, the estate along Ditch road in Carmel.

But thanks to Bren Simon’s decision to gift the estate to the Great American Songbook Foundation, the once private amenity is now available—at least temporarily—for the public to play as the organization tries to figure out what ultimately to do with the 107-acre present.

The course was designed for the Simon family by Steve Smyers—with some input from his mentor Pete Dye. Smyers also designed local links Wolf Run and Heartland Crossing and courses in England and France, among others. And it’s clear that neither Asherwood’s 6,600-yard, par 72 long course, nor the 2,356-yard, par 3 short course were designed to inflate golfers’ egos.
A day on these particular links carries a hefty price tag—starting at $1,500 per foursome—but it also comes with bragging rights. Apart from participants in an occasional benefit event, you will be among the 500 or so people who have ever played here.

You’ll only need a putter, wedge and 5-iron to play the short course. But it’s helpful to bring some patience as well. The signature hole, the “Island Green,” requires a hold-your-breath tee shot to a patch of land that can only be reached by a footbridge. Slice or hook—or give the shot too little or too much heft—and your ball will join many others at the bottom of the pond.

“If I had scuba gear, I could probably pull out thousands,” said Jason Butrum, estate manager and head of security at the estate for the past 14 years. “People use the worst balls in their bag to shoot at this one.”

Even if you make a solid landing, there’s a sloped green and a mid-green sand trap with which to contend.

The island belongs to Hole 4. But it’s also on Hole 14. That’s because the unique design of both the short and long courses double up on some of the greens and make use of multiple tee boxes. The result: The short course has 13 greens that can be played three different ways, making a total of 28 playable holes. The long course has 13 greens that can total 27 holes.

Highlights of the long course include a 523-yard Hole 4 and an 18th that ends dangerously close to the main house of the estate. “A couple of balls made it into the pool,” said Butrum.

Under the Songbook Foundation’s rules, your party will have the course to itself—at least when it comes to humans. The relatively untrafficked grounds have attracted coyotes, foxes and, said Butrum, “at least once a year, a deer gets caught in the wrought-iron fence.”

The rounds are available Tuesday through Sunday for a limited time—only through Nov. 4—although the Songbook Foundation is considering extending the offer.

A foursome will pay $1,500 for exclusive access to the short course, $2,500 for exclusive access to the long course, and $3,500 for both courses for a full day. That means no one else will be on the course. All the fees include a tax-deductible donation.

A fully-furnished clubhouse, locker rooms and golf carts are included, but keep in mind that this isn’t a country club or public course. There are no caddies on duty and, while you’ll have access to the clubhouse and its kitchen (once presided over by a house chef), you’ll have to bring your own beverages and snacks. That means no pause after the 9th for a hot dog or crying over your scorecard while drowning your sorrows on the “19th.”

And there’s no pro shop. So bring your clubs and an ample supply of balls. Your scorecard and the pictures you take will be your only souvenirs.•

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