The Ultimate Golf Destination Right Here In The Midwest
By Ted J. Odorico, Editor/Publisher
Head West, young man! Or should I say Midwest? With 2020 behind us and spring just
around the corner, it’s time to start planning for the new golf season. I don’t know about you,
but I can’t think of a better way than to plan a trip to a great golf destination. The uncertainty
of the pandemic caused many to scrap any hope of planning such an adventure. Whether it’s
a couples getaway or the ultimate buddies trip, one can’t go wrong with French Lick Resort in
French Lick, Indiana.
It features world-class hotels, a casino to tempt even the savviest Las Vegas gambler, fine
dining and, of course, championship golf, boasting 45 holes by master course designers Pete
Dye and Donald Ross. Plus, the Valley Links Course, adjacent to French Lick Springs Hotel,
is a regulation-length, nine-hole course and a conversion of the original Tom Bendelow Valley
Links established in 1907. Just a 30-minute drive down the road in Jasper is Sultan’s Run
Golf Club, adding yet another championship course to the world-class offerings at French Lick
Resort. Sultan’s Run was designed by Dye disciple Tim Liddy and offers a parkland layout
featuring wonderful bunkering, hills and a waterfall located at the 18th green, making it one of
Indiana’s most gorgeous layouts.
But to truly appreciate this ultimate golf destination, you must first have an understanding of
French Lick Resort’s unique history.
Welcome To French Lick
French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs Hotels were the iconic symbols of great
economic achievement back in the early 1900s for rural southern Indiana. The region of
Orange County, with its small towns of French Lick and West Baden, became a famed
vacation and gathering place for wealthy and prominent society members.
In 1845, Dr. William Bowles built French Lick Springs Hotel, which drew guests from as far as
100 miles away to partake of the “miracle waters” from the sulfur springs that naturally
surfaced in the area. Five years later, another doctor by the name of John Lane saw the
success of French Lick Springs Hotel and decided to build his own health resort just 1 mile up
the road and named it Mile Lick Inn. He later changed the name of the hotel, and the town, to
West Baden Springs after the famous mineral springs in Wiesbaden, Germany.
Lee W. Sinclair transformed West Baden Springs Hotel into a sophisticated resort when he
assumed ownership in 1888. He added an opera house, golf courses, church, ball field and
double-decker pony and bicycle track. A fire ravaged the hotel in 1901, but Sinclair used the
opportunity to further transform West Baden Springs Hotel into a world-class facility. With a
$414,000 budget and a one-year timeline, Sinclair erected a hotel modeled after the grandest
spas of Europe, complete with the world’s largest free-span dome, which stretched 200 feet.
That same year, French Lick Springs Hotel also rose to international prominence after
Indianapolis Mayor Tom Taggart purchased the property. He expanded the hotel and added
luxurious furnishings and marble floors, designed two championship golf courses and started
bottling Pluto Water for national sale. During this time, Taggart became the Democratic National Committee chairman, and French Lick Springs Hotel became the unofficial headquarters for the Democratic national party.
During the Democratic Governors Conference at French Lick in 1931, Franklin Delano
Roosevelt rounded up support for the party’s presidential nomination; a year later, he became
the official Democratic candidate and won the presidency in 1932. While French Lick Springs
Hotel remained a functioning resort over the next 100 years, the same could not be said for
West Baden Springs Hotel. After the stock market crash of 1929, the hotel was sold to the
Society of Jesus for one dollar in 1934.
The Jesuits removed many of the building’s elegant appointments and operated it as a
seminary for 30 years. Northwood College was the next tenant, from 1967 to 1983, and then
the magnificent building sat unoccupied for 13 years
When a 180-foot, six-story section of West Baden Springs Hotel collapsed in 1991, it
crumbled further from its glory days. The once-lavish hotel—dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of
the World” by journalists when it opened—was reduced to a pile of rubble. It now had a not-
so-prestigious place on the National Trust’s list of 11 Most Endangered Historic Properties in
the United States. Luckily for the withering structure, help was nearby. Indiana Landmarks,
the largest nonprofit preservation group in the nation, partnered with philanthropists Bill and
Gayle Cook to make a permanent, positive impact on both the hotel and the depressed region
around it. In addition to pioneering medical advances, Bill and Gayle, along with son Carl, had
become revered leaders of the American historical restoration movement by acquiring and
rehabbing dozens of buildings throughout the state. They wanted their work to result in living,
breathing historic places that would be around for centuries to come.
French Lick Resort was the ideal target. Mr. Cook’s initial handshake on a multi-million-dollar
pledge for the stabilization and partial renovation of West Baden Springs Hotel got the ball
rolling on a much more ambitious plan than anyone could have imagined. Their investment
not only saved West Baden Springs Hotel but also restored French Lick Springs Hotel to its
The refurbished French Lick Springs Hotel and its new casino officially opened in November
2006, and the large part of the restoration of West Baden Springs Hotel started the next day.
When it was all said and done, it required about $600 million in renovations to create the
resort you see today. More than a decade after “The Save of the Century,” tourism is once
again thriving in the area.
Book the ultimate golf vacation and start your golf season right with a trip to French Lick