Crooked Stick Just Got Tougher—Fore Real

Grip it and chip it! New traps loom large.
When the vast list of course improvements recently made at Crooked Stick Golf Club in preparation for the 2016 BMW Championships (September 8–11) was released, it wasn’t the bunker additions or course modifications that were first out of the mouth of Tony Pancake, director of Golf & Club Operations at Crooked Stick. It was the improvements to the practice area. During the same tournament at Crooked Stick in 2012, the practice tee couldn’t hold the Tour Players’ drives. Nets and cranes sullied the backdrop looking out from the Clubhouse, and fans watched as the pros routinely drove the ball into the mesh wall lining the back of the practice area.

According to Pancake, the practice area “is the biggest area of improvement on the course. Not the most noticeable, and it won’t affect the scoring, but for our members, it’s a much-needed improvement,” he says.

The most dramatic improvement? The lake, says Pancake. Famed golf course designer (and Carmel resident) Pete Dye decided to create a lake lining the left side of the 17th  green where there was once a deep bunker. Using the natural clay already there, water is drawn from the lake lining the 18th fairway to create this small but potentially menacing water trap that, at first glance, appears as if it has always been there. “Construction for this went quicker than anticipated because of the clay at the bottom,” says Pancake.

Of the watery hazard, Pancake adds, “Greenside bunkers don’t bother the players much, and they can get up and down easily. But with water, players can’t hit the ball very far out of that. It adds another dimension to the finishing holes that will add excitement to the tournament.”

A wise man once said: “Great men plot points.” Heeding that old axiom, Pancake and his staff used satellite images to plot the players’ drives from 2012’s Championship when it became visibly obvious that the players were consistently out-driving the fairway bunkers on holes 7 and 10 that were intended to protect and impede the landing area. Due to the findings of those points, seven new bunkers were added along those fairways in the direct path of the landing area, which should increase the difficulty of those holes and require more length and accuracy off the tee to master.

The highest-impact improvement the players will experience came with the addition of “over 8 miles of drainage to the course and the renovation of 90 bunkers with a new drainage system to reduce the amount of recovery time in case of nasty weather,” says Pancake.

Pancake, now in his 13th year at the Stick, smiles when he mentions the brand name of the bunker drainage system. “Billy Bunker—Google it,” he said. “It’s a great system that keeps the bunker from becoming contaminated with dirt (during downpours) and allows the water to flow through.”

But that wasn’t all. Even the sand in the bunkers was changed. “The new sand is from Best Sand out of Ohio,” says Pancake. “They provide for many Midwest courses. The sand is angular in shape, facilitating drainage and providing a firmer playing surface. Instead of taking two days to dry and a lot of work to dry them, we don’t have to work on the traps at all, allowing us to concentrate our efforts on other parts of the course.”