The Fort GC in Indianapolis Shows Dye at His Natural Finest

By: Steve Habel

Usually just having the name of Pete Dye as the designer of a golf course assures its success, multiple accolades and a full tee sheet. But when a course is built on a piece of land like the one that became The Fort Golf Course in the near-northern city limits of Indianapolis, it doesn't really matter what architect's name is attached to it.

The Fort Golf Course

The Fort, which involves 238 acres of rolling hills and tree-lined corridors on the site of Fort Benjamin Harrison Military Reservation, bears the Dye stamp. But it relies on what Mother Nature bestowed on the property as much as the handiwork of arguably the greatest living golf course architect.

In 1996, the U.S. Department of the Interior approved the sate of Indiana's request to convert 1,700 acres of the 2,500-acre shuttered post into a state park and nature preserve. Native Indianan Dye and collaborator, Tim Liddy, were hired to revise the base's original golf course, which had become almost unplayable over the decades. The duo created a championship layout that plays to a par of 72 and 7,148 yards from its back set of four tees. From its tips, The Fort - which boasts all-bentgrass tees, fairways and greens - has a rating of 74.5 and 139 Slope.

The course features Dye's trademark wavy greens and has a nice balance of short and long par-4s as well as quartet of some the most demanding par-3s (including the 247-yard 17th) anywhere.

"There are changes in the topography out there that make you doubt you are in Indianapolis, even though the course is right on the edge of town," Dye said of the property. "The forests that line the fairways are all native hardwoods, and a stream that runs through the course makes the player think he's in a different world. And everything out there is natural."

The Fort's 3rd Hole

Dye & Liddy Leave Well Enough Alone

Dye and Liddy had a mission (apropos for an old military base) to make the new course more playable and easier to walk, without too much interruption of the endemic terrain. To that end, they evened out fairways, created multiple teeing areas and incorporated natural areas into the routing.

The revised layout is beautiful and a bit tricky, sporting deep ravines at one turn and wide fairways bordered by mature trees at others. There's also a great mix of green complexes, some of which are protected by deep bunkers and grassy swales and others with open fronts that allow bump-and-run shots.

Elevation changes create the need for assured club selection, with many tees raised and several greens significantly higher than fairways. Success here comes from the ability to recognize the slope of the terrain and find the level landing zones.

There are no residences along the course and there never will be as the track is surrounded by preserved land, all of which is owned and operated by the Indiana State Park system.

The Fort alternates between birdie opportunities and places where you're happy with par. The round begins with a fairly straightforward, 381-yard hole with a wide fairway that leans right to left. Two bunkers on either side protect the landing area and the elevated green at No. 1 is open on the right but well-guarded front-left.

If the player can't manage a birdie on the opener, the 323-yard par-4 second provides another great opportunity. Long hitters can drive the green over the sharp dogleg, but must contend with three bunkers in front and a drop-off behind.

The first real test comes at the 479-yard par-4 fourth, which plays downhill. Though the approach is tricky as fairway doesn't offer flat lies, the bunkered-left putting surface is open at the front.

The two par-5s on the front nine run consecutively at Nos. 6 and 7. The 511-yard sixth can be reached in two but beware the line of bunkers that protects the lay-up area. The left side is easier to access, but the right half provides a straight-on shot that doesn't involve a carry over sand. The seventh is a bit longer (542 yards) and has some trouble along the right of the second shot lay-up zone and around the green.

The Par-3 5th at The Fort GC

The 482-yard par-4 ninth can spoil a player's mood with its length, but the landing area is broad (though it narrows the longer the tee shot). Perhaps the best option on the approach is to play a low runner into the green.

The 311-yard 10th descends off the tee and then rises to the green. This hole sets the stage for the wild back nine, which plays 260 yard longer than the front. No. 11 is a 547-yard "S"-shaped par-5 that is initially wide but tightens in the landing area. A large hill left can be used to carom tee shots into the fairway, but a shot that flirts with the rough and ravine along the right provides an easier way to reach the green in two.

Take advantage of a great chance to score at the 582-yard par-5 16th as its massive fairway allows for one of the wildest shots in the round.

It takes a lot of skill - and metal - to tackle the 247-yard par-3 17th. The 474-yard closer has one of the few severe doglegs on the course. The safe option is to the right, but longer hitters can carry the bunkers and the bend along the left. The 18th green is protected by a large, narrow bunker at the right.

In 1998, The Fort Golf Course was ranked third among the listing of "Best Affordable New Public Courses" in Golf Digest. Today, it is considered one of Indiana's top public facilities. All levels of players will appreciate the variety in the design and the serenity of this unspoiled golf environment.

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The Fort is one of the seven courses that comprise the Pete Dye Golf Trail, named after the Indiana resident and all notable designs from the architect's storied career.

For additional information on the trail, see