Friday, September 19, 2014

Trolley Service Returning to French Lick Resort

The Cook family lives by the philosophy that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
 
They didn’t see dilapidated buildings; they saw opportunities.
 

West Baden Springs Hotel prior to the restoration

They didn’t see an outdated electrical panel; they saw a focal point for a new dining venue.

The Power Plant Bar & Grill was named for an old electric panel
found in one of the outbuildings

 They didn’t see a rusted old trolley car; they saw a portal to the resort’s past
and a way to transport guests today.
 
The sidelined trolley sits in the rail yard after retirement

Like a lot of the French Lick Resort treasures, the trolley’s history spans many decades, starting in 1903. This fall a new chapter will begin when trolley service returns almost a 100 years after it was first launched in French Lick and West Baden.
In 1903, the roads were dirt and horse-drawn carriages were the norm. Imagine the delight when electric trolley service began. Guests could catch the streetcar at the steps of West Baden Springs Hotel and go all the way (a whole mile) into downtown French Lick.
 
The trolley was a raging success, and in 1916 it set a record for carrying 250,000 people in a single year. At a nickel a ride, that’s over $300,000 in revenue in today’s world. Not bad for what was billed as the“world’s shortest trolley line.”
According to Railway Historian Alan Barnett, the electric cable car offered “ping-pong” service because it was not designed to make turns. When the car reached French Lick, the conductor would physically move the overhead power line around the back, allowing for the return trip to the depot at West Baden.
The advent of the automobile put the brakes on the trolley service in 1919. That is until Alan Barnett and the folks at the Indiana Railway Museum (IRM) resurrected the idea in 1987. They were able to find Trolley Car #313 from Portugal, the closest thing they could find to the original 1903 car.



Trolley circa 2000
Junior Carnes, an 89-year-old bellman at French Lick Springs Hotel, remembers his shifts as a volunteer conductor during its first year in operation. “People just loved the novelty of it. The West Baden hotel was closed at the time so people would just ride over and come back.” The daily service ran for 15 years but ceased in 2002 when the trolley coasted quietly into the junk yard.

Now the train (trolley) will be pulling back into the station, literally, thanks to a partnership between the resort and the Indiana Railway Museum. IRM General Manager Rick Olsen worked with the Indiana Department of Transportation to draw up plans to redo the original track and secured a $200,000 grant.

Simultaneously, craftsman Dan Ping took on the daunting task of restoring the old trolley car and put in a total of 2,600 hours completing the project. The decay was extensive and the years had not been kind to #313. He saved as much of the original material as possible, including the interior components, and built a brand new cupola. The end result is nothing short of a work of art.
 
Project Manager Alan Beck went about finding someone to work on the undercarriage and add some “juice”  to the former electric engine. Help would come by way of Andy Schwenk, who owns an ag-repair business in nearby Jasper, IN. Only stipulation was that the engine had to be green since Schwenk only works on John Deere machinery. The undercarriage is now powered by diesel and contolled by hydrostatic transmission.  
 
The trolley car was placed on the newly-laid track ths week in anticipation of the loading platforms being built near the casino on the French Lick property and adjacent to the garden at West Baden Springs Hotel. Check out this time lapse video of the event.
 

The new service is set to debut after Thanksgiving. The trolley will run seven days a week from 6am -10pm. Save your nickels, there is no charge for the service.
 
 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Riley Hospital for Children Patient Finds New Passion and Hope Through the Game of Golf



Braden Tamosaitis gets a few tips
from defending champion Lorie Kane.  
Braden Tamosaitis got to roll some putts on the Pete Dye Course on Saturday and also meet many of the players competing in the second round of the LPGA Legends Championship at French Lick Resort.

Braden, age 9, enjoyed the experience thoroughly and the players he touched most certainly did, as well.

“He’s a special little kid,’’ summed up Dave Harner, director of golf at French Lick.

Braden was born with spina bifida, hydrocephalus and Arnold Chiari II malformation. He underwent surgery the day after he was born and again on the second day of his life. Altogether he’s had 17 surgeries, but they haven’t dimmed his spirit for life. He was delighted to report that a couple of putts on the practice green even found the hole.

“He’s a very happy kid, and a better interview than I am,’’ said his father, Kevin, who drove his family over two hours (from Camby, Ind., near Indianapolis) on Friday night so that they could participate in Saturday’s Walk for Riley while the Legends tournament was in progress.

Riley Children’s Foundation is the new charity partner with the Legends Championship. Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health will received a check for $100,000 following Sunday’s final round to continue its work with families dealing with severe health problems.

“French Lick really stepped up,’’ said Kevin Tamosaitis. “We’ve been welcomed with open arms and treated like VIPs.’’

Emcee Steve Rondinaro announces
Sherri Steinhauer at the first tee.  
Harner said Riley Children’s Foundation’s involvement developed because `we wanted something everyone in Indiana could identify with and be a part of.’’ 

Harner knew of Braden and the Riley Hospital programs because his own son was involved in the Riley Dance Marathon at Indiana University.

“Riley affects all 92 counties in the state of Indiana plus Kentucky, Illinois and Ohio,’’ said Joe Vezzoso, vice president of hotel operations for French Lick Resort. “This is a win-win for everyone.’’

The Tamosaitis family isn’t new to the special events tied into Riley Hospital. Braden was named Indiana’s 2013 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Champion, and that enabled him to represent the state in a celebratory event in Orlando, Fla., and then take a flight to Washington, D.C., where – among other things -- he met with President Obama.

Braden’s battle with spina bifida, though, continues. He watched Saturday’s event from a wheelchair near the No. 8 tee where he was presented by the French Lick Resort golf staff with his first two golf clubs, cut down allowing him to hit shots and putt.

More surgeries at Riley Hospital wouldn’t be unexpected.

“He looks forward to them,’’ said his father, “because he gets room service and his friends are there, both patients and doctors.  He’s very comfortable there. It’s not like a home-away-from-home; it’s like our other home.’’

Five families from Riley Hospital participated in Saturday’s Walk. They were scattered around the course, and those participating in the Walk got to interact with the Riley families. That made the Walk all the more special for over 75 youngsters who came from all parts of the area.

“The First Tee of Louisville brought 35 kids,’’ said Harner. “We had them from three years old through high school.’’

Walk participants and the Riley Hospital families participated together in an introductory event on the Dye Course putting green, with two of the LPGA competitors – Lorie Kane and Ann-Marie Palli – offered instruction.  Then the families went to checkpoints along the course and the Walk for Riley participants took off on a tour of the spectacular, hilly course. They received stickers at each checkpoint and those who covered the full 18 holes received a small gift upon completion of the hike.

Story provided by Len Ziehm  - Chicago based freelance golf writer

Media can access photos and video highlights of Braden on the FTP site below:

 


 

Friday, August 15, 2014

She mentors me; she mentors me not


 

Guest Blogger Kristie L Smith


An ordinary photo-op on a frigid day in not quite mid-March introduced two women who might otherwise never have met. Rosie Jones, professional golfer and Ashtyn Brown, University of Indianapolis women’s golf team member and two-time cancer survivor met during the media event held at Riley Hospital for Children. The occasion was to announce the collaboration of Riley, The Legends of women’s golf and French Lick Resort, but another relationship was formed and the linksters became fast friends. According to Ashtyn, the eight-time Solheim Cup participant with 13 LPGA tour wins is “warm, welcoming easy to talk to and chat with.”  

Big check photo op with Old National Bank, Resort Charities, Inc. & Riley Children's Hospital


Welcome to their mutual admiration society. Struck by Ashtyn’s resilience Rosie says, “She’s seen more than most kids her age. She speaks from the heart and she speaks the truth. I really respect that.” Ashtyn is an excellent spokesperson. She believes in Riley and what they have done for her and others. She has a “calm strength about her.” But their friendship isn’t just about golf.

Rosie admits she has learned a lot from Ashtyn. “She has a strength and ability to look forward and beyond her challenges. She will win the battle [whatever that clash may be] that’s fun to see in her.” Rosie believes that golf has been a “healing grace” for Ashtyn. She thinks the opportunity to bond with others through competition, while building supportive friendships and creating memories outside of a treatment center, has helped Ashtyn “become strong in mind and body.” After hearing Ashtyn’s story, Rosie was touched. It’s personal for her because her partner is facing a second encounter with the disease. Ashtyn’s narrative gave Rosie insight into the non-medical tool-kit and strength needed to persevere.
 
Fast Friends: Rosie Jones and Ashtyn Brown 
When asked who would win when the two get around to playing a round, Ashtyn teased, “I think she can take me.” She continued, “Rosie has an incredible mental game and my mental game needs work. I’m already practicing differently. She’s not too hard on herself and that’s something that I would love to learn.” Ashtyn, from her home in Indianapolis and Rosie, who is based in Atlanta, mostly communicate by text and email.

Rosie Jones and Ashtyn Brown are both strong women and positive role models. Respected, welcoming, open and shepherding others on their journey. When it comes to these two, it’s hard to tell who is mentor and who is being mentored.


See Rosie and Ashtyn at The Legends Tournament at French Lick Resort August 15 - 17, 2014.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Kindred Spirits: Classic American Resort and Classic Cars

West Baden Springs Hotel abandoned

To use car terminology, West Baden Springs Hotel was a "barn find." A once glorious lady who became a shadow of herself following years of decay. Abandoned. Vulnerable to the elements. Unsure if she would ever be saved from extinction.


Magnificent West Baden Springs Hotel
Until an entrepreneur and consummate preservationist fell in love and saved the National Historic  Landmark.
 

Like anyone who has restored a classic car, the Cook family couldn’t learn enough about their new find. They spent countless hours trying to find out about the people who built and owned the hotel, the guests who visited and its subsequent lives as a Jesuit seminary and a private college.


Unfortunately, no architectural drawings of the hotel were located, but numerous photos provided the “blueprint” for the painstaking restoration. 22,000 pound towers were re-created and returned to their rightful perch, flanking what was once the world’s largest dome. Modern amenities were added while still maintaining the historic integrity and lavish guestrooms were designed to accommodate today’s discerning traveler. It would take $90 million to revive the classic beauty.

But the work didn’t end there; a top-to-bottom rehab was also done on French Lick Springs Hotel, once a competitor hotel but now under the French Lick Resort collection. Before it was all over, a 1917 designed golf    course would be converted back to its original design, a PGA championship worthy course would be added, a full-service casino would bring gaming back to the resort town (legal this time) and an event center would be added to host large-scale groups. In all, $560 million was spent to complete the “Save of the Century” as it has been dubbed.

Interestingly enough, it’s classic car groups who have been driving business to the resort. Auto preservationists can appreciate the comeback story and love the vintage appeal of the resort as a backdrop for their beauty.



Model A Restorers Club of America
Annual Conference June 2014
 MG 2014--- North American MGB
Register Convention
June 2014 
International Hudson Meet
July 2014
 
 
It’s not an uncommon sight to see Model A’s lining up outside of the hotels, MGs touring the back roads of southern Indiana or Hudsons parked as far as the eye can see. This trio of national car club events, which all happened within a five week span this summer, are just the tip of the iceberg. More events are already on the books - like the Porsche Parade in June 2015.

2014 Best of Show winners
Richard & Irina Mitchell
The resort will also be hosting the illustrious Concours d’Elegance at French Lick this fall. Formerly known as the Louisville Concours d’Elegance, the celebration of automotive excellence is on pace to become one of the top Concours in the country. This year, cars valued at well over $100 million dollars will grace the show field with Shelby American and classic cars from Indiana as the featured marques.

Rare cars like Carroll Shelby's
personal driver will be on display
during the Concours d'Elegance
at French Lick
 
Rarest of the rare cars from personal collections, well-heeled judges and a full weekend of activities will make the 2014 Concours d’Elegance at French Lick Resort an event to remember.   
 
It’s no wonder classic cars flock to this classic American resort; they’re kindred spirits - saved from extinction, lovingly restored and preserved for the future.

 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Coming Home: French Lick's Own Eloise


As a little girl, I couldn’t imagine a lifestyle that would be as fabulous as Eloise’s life at the Plaza Hotel. Just look at her. My six-year-old self was convinced that we were meant to be best friends.

 
But, unfortunately, Eloise was just a character in a book and her glamorous life at the Plaza was nothing more than something fun to dream about.

So you can imagine my excitement when I received an email from a man named Dale. He described that his wife, Carol, lived at French Lick Springs Hotel for a few years of her childhood during the late 1950s. He wanted to bring her back so she could revisit the hotel she once called home.


I had the chance to meet a real-life Eloise. The child inside of me couldn’t help but smile gleefully. 
Enter Carol, French Lick’s Eloise.

Carol's father delivers a birthday cake from the kitchen
Originally from Jackson, Michigan, Carol’s father was hired as a chef at French Lick during the time when the hotel was under the operation of Sheraton. Carol and her parents called room 2013 home – it was nestled in the spring wing right next to the elevators. 
Being one of the only children living at the hotel at the time, Carol soon determined that she had to make her own adventures.

“I’d ride the elevators for fun. At that time, there were elevator operators and I’d have them take me up and down the floors,” explained Carol. 
With an exceptionally good memory, Carol recalled the friends she made during her time here.

There was Rocky who worked in the laundry room right next to the kitchen. She’d pay a visit to her dad and then pop over and see Rocky. His family lived in a neighborhood right next to the hotel, and she vividly remembers playing with them on the nearby playground.

Then, there was Bruno – the pastry chef. Carol talked about Bruno fondly – remembering how he bought her very first strand of pearls.

“He had to have bought them from the shop just over there,” she said as she pointed to the space that now houses the Mercantile, just off the lobby.

Living at French Lick did have its slight downfalls though. 
Easter spent at the hotel
Carol recalled taking part in the hotel’s annual Easter egg hunt in the Mezzanine with the visiting children. She could participate in the hunt, but she was forbidden to find the prized golden egg. 

One of the first things she and Dale did upon arrival was walk up to the Mezzanine.

“For old time’s sake, I had to check for Easter eggs in the flower pots,” she said with a smile.

In true Eloise fashion, Carol was an extremely stylish child. Just check out some of her outfits. Her dresses were either hand-sewed by her mother or mailed to her from her aunts across the country.
I couldn’t let Carol leave without knowing what it was like to live the life that my inner-six-year-old always wanted – to call a beautiful hotel home.
“I never knew how unique it was until I was an adult,” Carol explained. “I never thought anything of it as a kid because that’s all I knew.”

For Carol, coming back to French Lick after all this time was a little nerve-wracking. It’s hard to know what to expect after so many years have passed.

But when Dale drove her up to the hotel, she described a peacefulness that washed over her.

“As soon as I saw those front steps, it just felt like I was coming home.”
Dale and Carol pose in front of the spring house
Chelsea Brinegar

Monday, July 7, 2014

"Fore" (x2) Reasons to Catch the Action of the Legends Championship

Looking for something to do August 15th – 17th? The best gig going is the second annual Legends Championship Tournament at French Lick Resort benefitting Riley Hospital for Children. Here are eight reasons why you should watch these lady linksters in action.  
 


Jane Blalock prepares for her next shot

Nancy Lopez signing autographs
Economics 101 – Going to watch match play is economical. By comparison, attending an NBA game with courtside seats could set you back in the neighborhood of a couple thousand dollars, but a grounds pass to The Legends Championship is just $10 per day or $25 for all three days. Buy the NBA ticket if you want, though good luck getting LeBron to say “hi” – or autograph your program.

R.O.I. – The return on your ticket investment is greater than any other sport. Football, baseball and basketball lack in the “minutes of action per dollar” category with approximately 12 minutes of actual action in an entire game. Providing that each shot lasts roughly five seconds and a golfer shoots par – that equals 12 minutes of action each round!
 
Take a sneak-peek – Seize a rare opportunity to explore the latest golf equipment you’ve been dying to try without paying the equivalent of the gross national product of a developing country to do so. Walk the course and see how the pros play it – an invaluable lesson prior to calling your foursome and setting a date.
 
Get a little fresh air – The Pete Dye Course at French Lick is built on the second highest point in the entire state of Indiana and generously shares a 30-40 mile panoramic view in all directions. Carved out of a hilltop in the Hoosier National Forest, this is “the best” nature has to offer and sure beats the recycled air of an indoor sports stadium on a sunny day in August.
 
Family-friendly event
Get a move on – Walking the golf course alongside the greatest names to ever play the game is a real workout. This is what qualifies golf as a sport and its players as athletes. There might be some IcyHot in your future, but if 75 year-old Joanne Carner can do it, so can you.
 
Quality time – Slather on the sunscreen and take your favorite little duffer to see how the big kids do it. Nothing grows the game like sparking someone’s interest from a young age. Introduce them to Ashtyn Brown, a good role model and a real up and comer in the sport – someone to follow until she plays in The Legends and beyond.

 
Lisolette Neumann thanks the volunteers
Proximity to greatness – Probably the absolute most-cool thing about seeing golf in person is how up close and personal you can get with the players. Sure you might be able to see the ball better with a view from the La-Z-Boy in front of the TV, but you’ll miss out on everything else. These competitors can do so much more than hit a little ball into a cup. Jan Stephenson is very engaging, funny even. And you just might get a “John Hancock” or two.

Shop ‘til you drop – Plenty of golf specific paraphernalia to browse, try-on and purchase. You’ll find everything from custom golf-themed art to jewelry, apparel and more. What a great way to remember your trip to see The Legends Championship at French Lick Resort.


For tickets to this year’s event, contact our reservations representatives at 888-936-9360 or visit our the website

Kristie Smith

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Get a Kick Out of FootGolf


 Roberto Ballestrini
Father of North American FootGolf
French Lick Resort is out in front of the newest sports craze:  FootGolf!“It’s basically golf with a soccer ball,” says the father of North American FootGolf, Roberto Ballestrini.  “Instead of clubs you use your foot. What could be easier and more fun than that?!”

I spent a recent morning with Roberto and our Director of Golf Operations, Dave Harner, on our 9-hole Valley Links course.  Roberto’s enthusiasm is infectious.  He even got head groundskeeper John Parker to willingly buy into the idea of digging 21-inch wide holes in his beloved turf. 

“If it gets more people, more families, out here enjoying the course; I’m all for it.”A FootGolf hole looks a regular golf hole, complete with flag, only bigger.  “21 inches lets the soccer ball drop into the hole even with the flag in it,” says Roberto.  “That way a FootGolfer can play the game alone without someone tending the pin.” 


But far and away, it’s been families swarming the FootGolf course here at the resort.  You can hear them laughing as they make their way up and down the fairways. 
 
The FootGolf holes themselves are not on the green.  They’re typically located to the side of the fairway near the green.  “We can have FootGolfers and regular golfers out on the course at the same time.  The rules and courtesies of both games are the same,” says Harner.  “So far they’ve co-existed beautifully.”  (Serious golfers also have two legendary 18-hole courses to play at French Lick Resort.)The FootGolf tees on Valley Links are closer to the hole than most of the golf tee areas. 

Theoretically, most people can’t kick a soccer ball as far as most golfers drive a golf ball.  (They obviously haven’t seen me tee off.)  You would think a soccer player would have a decided edge over a golfer in a FootGolf challenge.  Not so fast says Roberto, who loves both games:  “The soccer player is used to playing on a flat pitch (field) and kicking to teammates, always in motion.  He might kick it further but there’s more to this game.  The golfer trains to go at a stationary target, learns how to read the roll of the terrain, and think about where he wants the ball to stop.”  Good points!  But first and foremost, it’s just plain fun.So who would you give the edge to in a round of family FootGolf?  Reserve your tee time at Valley Links during your next visit and settle it on the fairway.
  


Check out our our video story on FootGolf
 
Steve Rondinaro