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the history of crooked stick
"That's what Pete wanted to build, something really special."
Crooked Stick Golf Club, built in 1964 by the famous course designers and builders Pete and Alice Dye, was host to the PGA Championship in 1991 won by John Daly and the U.S. Women’s Open in 1993, won by Lauri Merten. It also hosted the Solheim Cup matches in 2005. Crooked Stick also hosted the 2012 BMW Championship, won by Rory McIlroy, and hosted the tournament again in 2016, where Dustin Johnson won with a record-breaking -23.
In 1964, Pete Dye built his first great golf course – Crooked Stick. Supported by 60 “interested, avid, and maybe crazy golfers” from the Indianapolis area, he formed a corporation to acquire a flat cornfield to be transformed into a links blend of Alister Mackenzie, Donald Ross, and C.B. Macdonald. Pete’s tour of St. Andrew, Muirfield, Prestwick, Carnoustie, and Royal Dornoch and other courses, provided him with the models for his track and routing. The cornfields were pushed into wide fairways and fair landing areas, but second shots were demanding. Pete’s design incorporated innovative elements in the United States, but familiar challenges in Scotland: railroad ties, strip bunkers, sand and grass pot bunkers, mounds and blind spots.
Construction of the first nine holes (now the back nine) was completed in 1965. Two years later the back nine was completed. Gene Pulliam, one of the original Directors, described the course as a challenging but fair test of the shot-making ability of players of varying proficiency, greens designed to the length and severity of each hole, a course which is 18 holes requires the use of nearly every club in the bag, an element of privacy by restricting the number of parallel holes, and, in sum, a course to be enjoyed both for the challenge of golf and the companionship which only golf offers.
In June 1964 the members were called upon to vote on a name for the club. “The Golf Club of Indianapolis” looked like the winner. But the story goes that as Pete Dye and Bill Wick, one of the original Directors, were walking over the uncompleted back nine, Pete picked up a gnarled stick and swung it at some stones. The likely beginning of the game was the inspiration for the name “Crooked Stick Golf Club,” which was ratified by the members on April 8, 1965.
Our story begins on the evening of February 17, 1964 . . .
. . . at the Indianapolis Athletic Club. A gathering of about 60 people enjoy their dinner of vichyssoise, tossed salad, filet mignon, baked potato, and asparagus and listen to “a brief talk of not more than five minutes by each of us.” The “us” consists of five local businessmen, members of the Country Club of Indianapolis, bound together by a mutual interest in the game of golf:
Eugene S. Pulliam Publisher, The Indianapolis Star, The Indianapolis News
Robert E. Sweeney, Jr. Banker, Merchants National Bank & Trust Company
William A. Wick Attorney, a partner in the firm of White, Raub & Forrey
J. I. “Ike” Cummings Insurance industry executive
Paul “Pete” Dye, Jr. Little-known golf course designer with 10 courses to his credit
The brief talk refers to a discussion of the five men’s objective: “To build the finest golf course in this area” (as quoted from their February 1964 Prospectus for Real Estate Development and Golf Course). In a letter to the other four, some two weeks earlier, Pulliam states: “Ike could talk about membership restrictions and club operation plans. Pete could describe the golf course. Bill could explain the corporate structure, Bob the finances involved and I’ll try to remember and retell a joke I once heard.”
Their lightheartedness belies the group’s weighty purpose: to secure a $6,000 commitment from no fewer than 100 people—$600,000 in needed capital for the acquisition of 400 acres of undeveloped land in Hamilton County, miles north of the city’s northern border, near the gravel road intersection of 106th Street and Ditch Road. The funds also provide a security nest egg enabling the now larger group to secure loans for construction of a golf course and clubhouse.
At the meeting, Pulliam hands out a small booklet entitled The Golf Club of Indianapolis, containing the names of 39 men who have already signed subscription commitments. (It will be many months before the club is named “Crooked Stick.”) The booklet also describes the planned golf course this way:
These principles should be followed as closely as possible in the design and construction of the golf course:
Each hole should be a demanding and challenging but fair test of the shot-making ability of players of varying proficiency. The placement of the tees, bunkers, and hazards should be such that a good shot should be rewarded and a poor shot penalized in proportion to the excellence or the extent of the error. The better the player, the more demanding the tee shot on any hole.
Putting surfaces should be contoured to provide both simple and difficult pin placements and should be designed to fit the length and severity of the hole. Specifically, the shorter the hole, the smaller in size and more severe in slope should be the putting surface.
Each hole, as much as possible, should be an entity unto itself and it should be a different type hole than the one preceding it.
Each hole should offer from the tee a choice to the player. He should be rewarded if he elects and succeeds with a difficult shot. He should be penalized when he fails.
The course in its entirety should be so designed that under normal conditions the player will be required to use every club in his bag during a round of 18 holes.
The 18 holes should offer a challenge and an opportunity to any golfer whatever his abilities. It should be so designed that if he plays as well as he is capable, his score will be that of which he is capable. It also should be so designed that he will enjoy both that challenge and the companionship which only golf offers.
Finally, a short quote, which publisher Pulliam found to his liking in the January 1964 issue of England’s Country Life magazine appears on the back page. Written by noted golf writer P.A. “Pat” Ward-Thomas, these words describe the essence of an ideal golf club—words that would later come to serve as an unofficial motto for the club, adorning scorecards, stationery and even the golf course itself:
The appeal . . . is that of a haven, far removed from urgency and conflict, where golfers can enjoy the quieter pleasures of their game in seclusion and peace. Crowds have no place there, and waiting between shots must be almost unknown, for the membership is limited . . .
Caricature of the Ol' Pro, Jim Ferriell.
jim ferriell • the old pro
Jim Ferriell was the Head Golf Professional of Crooked Stick Golf Club from 1978 to 2003. He was a former PGA tour player (1965-1975) who in his early days was sponsored by Crooked Stick member Lincoln Pierce. Aware of the search for a new pro at Crooked Stick in 1978, Lincoln urged Jim to seek the position. Along with many other remarkable qualities, Mr. Ferriell brought an impressive amateur and professional competition
resume to the club, including:
• 1959 Medalist, USGA National Junior Qualifier
• 1961, 1962 Medalist, USGA National Publinx Qualifier
• 1962-64 Captain, University of Louisville Golf Team
• 1973 Winner, PGA Tour Emerald Hill Open
In his career, he competed in 25 national and major championships, including the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open, and National PGA, amassing 14 amateur wins and 25 professional titles.
A new event came to the club in 2008 with the introduction of the Ferriell Cup. The member-member competition is created in recognition of Jim Ferriell, Jr., the club's longtime head professional and Crooked Stick ambassador to the golfing world. Serving the club for 25 years (1978-2003). Jim passed away in 2018.
the build out
So the first will be last
“Construction will begin soon on a new private golf club near 106th Street and Ditch Road in southern Hamilton County,” trumpets the lead sentence of an early 1964 local newspaper story. According to Pete, however, the course has been taking shape for many months prior. “Immediately after we got the land purchased, in my own mind, I had the whole 18 holes laid out as it is today. I always could see it being finished. Nobody else could.” When it comes to course construction, Pete sees something different as well.
“Most of the land at Crooked Stick was flat as a pancake, farm fields for corn and wheat. But there were a few natural features—some topography on what’s 13, 14, 15, and 16—and the woods where the clubhouse is now.”
As for shaping of greens and bunkers, “Believe it or not . . . I did most of that myself,” adds Pete. “Truth is, there’s not really much new you can do with a green. I’ve always been a borrower. I’m not making exact copies, but the basic idea is what I’m after. And that’s what I did for nearly every green out here at Crooked Stick—I borrowed.”
Tees are a different matter. To build them, Pete and Alice hire a bona fide golf construction contractor—course-building veteran Irv Stanton, who had worked for Bill Diddel. “He was the only person on the crew who had ever really seen a golf course,” says Alice. “And he built really nice, level tees.”
Pete says actual construction begins, not with a golf hole, but a hole of another sort. “Day one, we stripped all the topsoil off and dug the lake that’s now between 10 and 18. That was the only way to get any topography on this part of the course. We needed the dirt and piled it around on the different fairways: 10, 11, 12, 18.”
Instead of drawings, Pete creates holes spontaneously—visually eyeballing the routings, shapes, and contours—basing design decisions on feeling, intuition, and his mental encyclopedia of the great courses. A technique he embraces is one Donald Ross used to pleasing effect—shaping hole movement one way off the tee (right to left, for instance) and then the opposite direction into the green (e.g., left to right). For the course routing, Pete paces the ground, placing colored stakes in the ground to indicate tees (red), landing areas (blue), and greens (white). “When we built this golf course, I just came out here and staked it with the operators. That’s what I’ve done all my life.”
Back Nine Construction
Hole No. 10
One distinct feature, says Pete, gets the back nine layout underway. “There was a tree out there in that cornfield—the big old oak that’s still there behind number 10 green. The distance from the woods down to there was about the right length for a par four, so there’s 10—pretty simple.”
Hole No. 11
Pete uses dirt from the lake excavation to create the uphill landing area off the tee. “I was trying to make the good player land his drive on an upslope. Then once you got to there, you get the feeling you’re looking down at the green.” The other influence on 11 comes from a storied American course, the first and only layout of long-forgotten father/son designers Henry and William Fownes. “I played in the Western Open at the Field Club in Pittsburgh and managed to see Oakmont while I was there. Those Church Pew bunkers on 11 came from there.”
Hole No. 12
Pete now turns the routing south along the perimeter. “I knew all along I wanted to end up in the corner for 13 so I could follow the natural topography for 14 and 15 before turning again for 16.” According to Pete, adding shape to the tabletop flat ground presents some challenges on 12. “This fella worked for Cliff; Max was his name. I had him over on the right side of 12 fairway piling up a hill of dirt, trying to separate 12 and 11. I kept wanting to make that hill bigger and bigger, but I didn’t have much dirt. For several days in a row, Max tries to oblige as he keeps shoving the earth up. “But it never got high enough,” recalls Pete. “So I’m standing there and I kind of mumble to no one in particular, ‘How the hell can you make a big hill without using a lot of dirt?’ Well, here’s this guy Max, making $2.00 a day and never been in a school and he turns to me and says, ‘You put a hole in the middle of it.’ So we did.
“How did things get designed around here?” Pete recalls, “that was about it!”
Hole No. 13
Pete says the next hole more or less designs itself. “I was blessed with a prime piece of land. The idea of it was simple; everything was there.” Pete recalls it takes less time to build than any other on the course. “We didn’t have to move any dirt, which Sweeney (the financier) liked!”
The bank of a hill some 50 feet short and left of the green vexes Pete during construction, and for several years after: “The dirt was falling down all the time.” (In 1968, Pete solves the problem—in stylish, yet frugal fashion—using telephone poles to stabilize the landslide.) Pete uses telephone poles removed and discarded by Indianapolis Power & Light during interstate highway construction.
Hole No. 14
Staying along the perimeter of the property, the natural lay of the land easily forms the 14th hole in Pete’s mind. It brings to Pete’s mind the famed par-five 13th at Augusta, but lacking the length, he settles on a par four design. “That ravine, with the big hill on the left, had more character than anything out here. So I left the fairway at the original ground level and just turned to follow it. That was a natural hole. I didn’t move any dirt for the fairway.” The small creek, which defines the driving strategy, originally meanders out to the right, cutting in front of today’s ladies tee.
Hole No. 15
Pete turns the routing once more to create the par-five 15th. He places the tee to the left of 14 green, a much different location from today. “You walked right off the back of the 14th green and up the hill. You could see the 15th green from that tee. But people got tired of walking up that hill, so we moved it.”
For 15 green, Pete creates “something unheard of around here”—a massive, horseshoe-shaped affair that stretches 60 yards from front to back, incorporating three distinct playing surfaces.
Hole No. 16
Pete envisions a strong finish for the golf course as he turns back east for 16. Working with the natural terrain, Pete turns the fairway slightly left to right off the tee before following the slope gently back to the left. “The valley down to the green was natural—it was always there,” recalls Pete. For the green, however, he envisions an entirely new creation. Ten yards or so to the right of the putting surface, Pete forms a small lake. (Players at the time can miss their approach shot right and remain dry.) “That lake got all muddy, though. A few years later I went in and cleaned it out and the board said, ‘Put sand in it.’ So for a while it was a bunker. But for the PGA in 1991, we put the water back in and built the spectator mounds off to the right.”
Hole No. 17
A tree line runs down the left side and a large oak at the end of the row provides Pete the only significant natural feature to incorporate into the design. “I wanted 17 green to sit just to the right of that tree—way left of where it is today,” he remembers. “Pete purposely put 17 green near the big oak,” says Alice. In addition, Pete has another visual effect he wants to incorporate—one he will, however, never devise a way to achieve. “From the tee, I wanted you to see the lake on 18, behind the green. I wanted you to have to think about that,” says Pete. “For a while I kept trying to do anything I could to make that lake show. I even thought to myself, ‘If I could only tilt the lake up toward the back of the green, maybe that would do it.’ I don’t know what the heck I was thinking."
Hole No. 18
“I’ve always felt 18 was much more difficult for a better player,” says Pete. “If you play it right to left, you’re almost aiming at the hazard to keep it in play. If you play it left to right, you’re moving the ball toward the water.” Water comes into play only on the tee shot, as the lake originally ends some forty yards short of where Pete places not one green—but two. On the home hole, he creates a monstrous putting surface that incorporates both the 18th and a large practice green. Protecting the green entrance, Pete places bunkers right and left. Greenside right, he fashions a generous, flat bailout area. Long right—to the right of the area used for putting practice—is a small marshy pond, which becomes filled with a lush stand of cattails. And in the far-left corner, Pete places a bunker.
Front Nine Construction
Hole No. 1
An evolving Dye design philosophy dictates that the opening hole will not be too punishing. “I always thought the number one should play fairly short. And if you’re going to have a really short par four, I think it should be the opening hole of the course,” he explains. At the inside crook of the dogleg on the opening hole, Pete locates a fairway bunker. For the approach, Pete encourages a right to left shape from the player into another Donald Ross inspired green. “I’d just gotten back from Pinehurst,” says Pete.
Hole No. 2
Hole number two is just the opposite of the opener as Pete turns the fairway from right to left. “It’s a wide hole, but I wanted the good player to have to watch going through the fairway.” The approach requires a left to right shape into a Ross-styled green, protected by bunkers right. “I saw a lot of Donald Ross courses do that—which tells you why his courses are difficult to play,” adds Pete.
Hole No. 3
Here, Pete once again borrows an idea—this time from himself! “When I got to number three, I had in mind a modified, smaller version of 15. I wanted it to be a demanding shot to the green,” he says. As with the 15th, Pete fashions another MacKenzie green—and a deep pit bunker that hugs the front left portion of the green.
Hole No. 4
Excavated dirt from lake construction creates the teeing area for number four as Pete turns west, creating a gentle right to left, medium-length two-shot path. Pete situates the green to encourage a drive that hugs the right side of the fairway. “I always felt the hole should play left to right. "I always think about the green setting of a hole, because that is your ultimate target in the game.”
Hole No. 5
For the fifth hole, Pete faces a different challenge. “We’re running out of money.' I remember thinking: four goes here, and I want six there. So I just had to figure out how to get from here to there and not spend any money!”
Pete wastes little time deciding. He quickly fashions a long straight hole, devoid of any (costly) fairway bunkers. For the green on five, Pete fashions a large, Raynor-inspired creation and slopes the left side off abruptly. More than 20 years pass before fairway bunkers and the distinctive greenside pit bunker are added to the hole.
Hole No. 6
Pete turns his attention to creating a golf hole out of one of the few natural features he has to work with. “Six was always there,” says Pete. “It had this stream coming down through there off of 116th Street. We dug the pond and you could see the hole real quick!” To deal with the sloping topography left of the green, Pete turns to still-fresh images of Scotland. “I was always impressed with Old Prestwick. They had railroad ties in the banks that they used to stop the erosion. I had the bank there on six and thought, ‘Here’s your chance to make it look like they have it over there.” Yet as Pete relies on a tried and true methodology, reaction differs. “People thought I was just nuts!” The hole that “was always there” gets a sweeping boomerang-shaped MacKenzie-style green, which allows for water-challenging hole locations both back right and front.
Hole No. 7
He has in mind a long par four: “I always had in mind that long look. You’d stand there and see clear across seven all the way into the wooded area around nine green. I always thought there should never be anything behind seven green.” This idea—the drive into an upslope followed by the player hitting down to the green—is a Pete Dye notion that Alice well remembers. “Pete did that intentionally. He wanted people to see the whole green.” For the green and bunker, Pete once again conjures a Seth Raynor feel. “I cut the dirt down around it on the front and the sides so it would look that way.”
Hole NO. 8
Working with the lake as the hole’s defining feature, Pete hugs the fairway tight to the water. “When you stand on the back tee, you’re shooting right down the barrel—and you can see the green. You hit a good drive and you think you’re safe, but then you’ve got to flirt with the water again.” To which Alice adds, “There is no other second shot to number eight. It’s an island green; there’s no option.”
Pete creates a Ross-style green—and slopes it dramatically from back to front. He removes any chance of bailout to the right with a long, flat bunker, which he stretches some forty yards back toward the dogleg of the fairway. More than two decades pass before Pete installs a buttressing of now-familiar upright railroad ties hard to the green’s edge.
Hole No. 9
With one hole to go, Pete changes direction a final time, turning the par-five ninth hole southward toward what one day will be the clubhouse of “the finest golf course in this area.” The intended routing of the hole is quite a bit different than what is built, says Alice. “Pete’s original nine green was to the left of today’s practice chipping green. About that time, the USGA was changing the length of par fives from 450 yards to 470 or so. I measured the hole and it came out being too short. Well, Pete was gone, so I just kinked the green around into the woods. I thought it looked neat tucked into the trees, paying no attention to the fact that bent grass needs a lot of sun. Pete came back and there it was. We had a little argument." “When I came back,” adds Pete, “Alice had moved everything around—and I was madder than hell. She had it all screwed up! I said: ‘Nobody can grow grass in that area. It’s too dense (with trees).’ So we got in there and knocked down a few. And we’ve been knocking down trees in there ever since.” The decision about where to place the green is made for him, so Pete fashions in the densely-wooded area what he calls “an old Ross-style green—similar to a lot of his.”
Alice, Pete and Otto. Working the course as a team.
"Life is not fair. Why should I make a course that is fair?"
50 years in…
Greeting members in 2014 are a host of undertakings to celebrate and commemorate 50 years at The Stick. Custom-designed 1964 tee markers embellish teeing grounds. The pro shop creates a members-only line of “1964” logoed apparel and merchandise. For new members, an orientation program is initiated, with the intent of sustaining the club’s heritage and guiding principles into a second half-century. Conducted by the professional staff, the program educates those new to the club on Crooked Stick history, traditions, and values.
Golfweek’s Best: Modern Courses (1960-present) for 2014 ranks Crooked Stick – one of Pete Dye’s 10 designs on the list – at number 80.
The Crooked Stick of mid-2014 appears for all the world stronger and more vital than ever, full of a youthful vitality that belies its half-century age.
Fueled by little more than hope, in the beginning, Crooked Stick struggles, yet does not fail. Instead, it takes hold and the club finds its footing, rising slowly, surely, splendidly from ordinary Midwest farm dirt.
Calendar pages turn. Decades pass. Success builds upon success. Hope grows into real and genuine, then meaningful, and finally: enduring. In so doing, the club pauses for reflection…and revelry.
A sunny Saturday – May 17, 2014 – welcomes more than 400 well-wishers to the club’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. They gather in the spot where Gene Pulliam, Robert Sweeney, Bill Wick, Ike Cummings, and Pete Dye drew together more than 50 years earlier with an idea: “To create the finest golf course in this area.”
Joining for the gala are a gallery of Crooked Stick VIPs: 17 past club Presidents or their family representatives, 14 Crooked Stick “Wall of Fame” members, 14 current and former staff, five Superintendents, seven Golf Professionals, a U.S. Open Champion, and Founding Members. In attendance are founders “Buck” Bradley, Alex Carroll, John Claycombe, Bob Dyar, John Holliday, and Pete and Alice Dye.
In the clubhouse, historic club memorabilia and photos decorate the Dye Room. Outside, just behind 18 green, a familiar couple takes its place among the gathering and for all time.
Seated next to sons P.B. and Perry Dye, Pete and Alice focus attention on club officials who unveil a draped form standing before them. Surrounded by a lifetime of friends and family, the Dyes come face-to-face with familiar figures – golfers Pete and Alice of the 1960s – rendered in bronze. The statue marks the club’s recognition of the couple’s primary and unending contributions to Crooked Stick.
“It’s kind of emotional for me,” says Alice who stands to address the crowd. “It’s nice to know we’re going to be here in some form.
“We’ll be down here,” she continues, gesturing to the figures. Then, pausing to gaze skyward, she says, “And eventually, we’ll be up there, looking down and keeping this club going. We’re very proud of this. Thank you ever so much.”
“Here we are!” adds Pete, standing next to him and his wife in bronze. “We really love Crooked Stick. It’s come a long way.”
Festivities move to dinner, followed by remarks from Lauri Merten, 1993 U.S. Women’s Open winner at Crooked Stick. She shares recollections of her triumphant week more than 20 years earlier.
“It’s great to be here,” says Lauri. “Reliving it with the Dyes and you is a special moment. I wouldn’t have missed this.”
Merten recounts her run-up to victory – a string of not-so-stellar play ahead of the Open, including the week before. “I missed the cut by 10,” she says. But as history records, her game falls into place. “In the first round, I shot 71. It felt like I’d shot 62.”
Starting the final day five strokes back, Merten fires a Sunday 68 to capture her major. “I have some good memories here,” says Lauri. “Thanks Pete and Alice for everything you have done for golf. And all the members of Crooked Stick, thank you for having me. I feel like I want to be a member here.”
Video monitors spring to life and The Golf Channel’s Brian Hammonds appears on screen as the host of a Crooked Stick 50th Anniversary video presentation. “You have created a world-famous golf club,” says Hammonds, standing at water’s edge in front of six green. “Something that should make you very proud, especially when you consider just how far you’ve come in these 50 years.”
Over the next few minutes, Crooked Stick notables of the previous half-century speak, reliving memories and wishing the club well:
“We wanted a club that was for golfers. And we wanted a course that would be challenging for them”.
– Alice Dye.
“A lot of the members were my age. They were between 35 and 45. And a lot of them were good golfers. And so, that’s (who) joined out at Crooked Stick…”
– Pete Dye.
“Pete’s concept of the ground is incredible. My mental picture of him is driving a bulldozer…himself, just to get it right. And he had to do it about three times. But he had an image…a concept of what he wanted to have.
–Alex Carroll, a founding member.
“The promise was: it was going to be a championship club with a limited membership. And it was going to be a golf club on a championship course. And with that promise, I joined.”
– Curt Miller, member since 1967.
“This club is special because it’s made up of members who very much appreciate the history and traditions of the game…”
– Kent Frandsen, member since 1978.
“I wear that logo on my shirt, my golf bag, and my hat. And I’m really proud.”
– Wayne Timberman, member since 1969.
“The guys that started this club…they started (it) based on the game of golf and everything that the great game of golf demands. And I think the strength of Crooked Stick is that we haven’t lost our way.”
– Don Fledderjohn, member since 1970.
“Winning the Solheim (Cup) at Crooked Stick was probably the most exciting thing I’ve done in LPGA golf.
Being the captain of such a great team and going to a great golf course…it was very exciting.
Pete Dye did a great job with that golf course.”
– Nancy Lopez
“Congratulations Crooked Stick on your 50th anniversary. You guys have a special place in my heart.”
– Fred Funk
“Great golf course. I got to meet Pete Dye for the first time there as well – which is pretty cool.
So yeah, good memories.”
– Rory McIlroy
“Happy 50th anniversary Crooked Stick. I miss you and love you. Special memories for me.”
– John Daly
As the evening ends, Alice offers words from the podium. “Very few architects in the world get to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their golf course,” she says. “And this is the first time I’ve ever had a club celebrate the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking. But I understand why they moved it up. They wanted to make sure we’d be here!” she jests.
The crowd beams in appreciation as Pete Dye steps forward to add an exclamation point to the historic celebration. “I love Crooked Stick and everything that happened here over the years,” he says. “When I first started, I never had any wild ideas that it was going to end up 50 years later and have all the championships you’ve put on here. The club has surpassed anything I’ve ever worked on.”