Donald Ross Course - Truly Natural

By Joy Neighbors

Donald Ross
The Donald Ross Golf Course offers golfers a chance to experience the game the way it was intended to be played. This old-school course was laid out by world-famous golf course designer Donald Ross in 1917.

Ross, a Scotts-American, built the course to fit in with the natural landscape in true Scottish fashion. His architectural golf firm, Donald J. Ross and Associates, crafted and designed more than 400 courses throughout the country from 1900 to the late 1940s. Ross’s courses became so popular among golfers that he has been credited for laying the foundation for the American golf industry. Donald Ross was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame - one of only five inductees with the title “golf course architect.”

The Hill Course in 1924
Known as the Hill Course, this was one of the most popular golf courses in Indiana due to the steep hilly grounds, deep ravines and the severe contour of its greens. It was here, just seven years later, that golf pro Walter Hagen won the 1924 PGA Championship by beating James Barnes on the 36th and final hole for the grand prize of $6,830. This was the biggest event every played on the course and one of golf’s four major championships. It was also just the first of many PGA, LPGA and Senior PGA championships and events held on the Ross Course.

1958 Competition at The Hill
Other notable events included the 1957 Midwest Amateur Championship, which newcomer Pete Dye won. (Dye would also design a golf course for the resort 50 years later.) In 1958, the first ever French Lick Women’s Open was held here with Louise Suggs winning all. Due to its success, the LPGA Championship was played on the Hill Course again in 1959 and 1960.

In 2005, Cook Group, Inc. spent over $5-million-dollars to reclaim the links and return the course to its classic features including sever undulating greens and 35 original bunkers. It was renamed The Donald Ross Course at French Lick Resort in 2006. (It is one of only two Donald Ross courses still open to the public in Indiana.)

Head Golf Pro Rob Koontz
According to Head Golf Professional Rob Koontz, the course will celebrate its 100 anniversary next summer. “We’re done a lot to bring it back, in order to celebrate 100 years of legendary golf. So many legends have played here, so many in local, regional and national golf. We want to honor those who have been involved through the years; those who have stepped through and played this beautiful course.”

A Traditional Course
When asked what type of golfer would best enjoy this course, Koontz explained, “This is a course for everyone; professionals, amateurs and junior players. They all love coming here. We host several tourneys each year, the Indiana H Group (10 – 18 year-old) was just a couple of weeks ago.”

“Everyone loves the history of this place,” Koontz said. “It’s a testament to the course how it still stands up to high regard in the 21st century. It can be a challenge but that’s part of the fun. We have unified undulating green sites that are quite challenging, that’s why people want to play the course. If you’ve played once, you want to play it again; it plays different every time.”

After a challenging game nothing beats drinks at the clubhouse. Hagen’s Club House Restaurant was originally built in 1927 and named after golfing great Walter Hagen, 1924 PGA Champion. An old-fashioned display case in the Pro Shop contains several items that belonged to Hagen. The restaurant menu features everything from soup and sandwiches to seafood and steaks with a variety of libations to quaff with your meal. Seating is available inside the clubhouse or on the expansive porch overlooking the greens - an excellent spot to catch a stunning Hoosier sunset.

When asked what was his favorite part of working here, Koontz gestured to the course, “It’s just exciting to be in a setting so historical. I love the course, the community; the beautiful countryside nestled down in the Hoosier National Forest. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid and I’ve always loved it. There’s so much history to learn; it’s just a great place to be.”

Course Information:

Donald Ross Course

Located west of French Lick on State Road 56

Open daily 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.

(812) 936-5523

Course Accolades:

No. 48, Top 100 Best Resort Courses, GolfWeek Magazine, 2014

No. 100 America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses, Golf Digest Magazine, February 2013

No. 2 Course in Indiana, GolfWeek’s Best You Can Play, 2011 - 2013

Best Courses You Can Play, GolfWeek Magazine, 2008

America’s Top 30 Casino Courses, Golf Week Magazine, 2008

18 Best Holes in Indiana, Indiana Business Magazine, 2008

Runner Up: Best Remodel in America, Golf Digest Magazine, 2007

Runner Up: 2007 Renovation of the Year, GOLF Magazine, 2007