Naysayer: Conversation With A Starter

Indiana is filled with incredible golf courses, some of which have only gotten better, while others seems to have lost something along the way.

I love to play golf. I love to talk about golf—just ask my sons. Basically, I love everything about golf except my scores recently. I’ve loved the game since I was 12 years old. My mother used the golf course as a day care for me, dropping me off in the morning and letting me play as many holes as I could before she picked me up in the afternoon. I’d carry my clubs (a steel shaft Jack Nicklaus Golden Bear starter set—which I still have) no less than 36 holes a day.

Recently, I was waiting for my tee time at Eagle Creek’s Sycamore course and chatting with the starter behind the first tee. He noticed my partner’s Purdue hat and started talking about the courses in West Lafayette, and of course, the Purdue course came up. When I attended the university, Pete Dye’s masterpiece, the Kampen-Cosler Course, was simply named the North Course and looked quite different. It was long and lacked character but was a great place to practice long woods and irons. But in 1996, Dye took the property and turned its flat, boring landscape into a completely new ecosphere and a nearly impossible course for amateurs like me. But it’s a great track for the college game. In fact, this week, the Boilers host the NCAA Regional tournament there. This is not the first time they have hosted the NCAA in West Lafayette.

The starter and I chatted about how unlikely it had been for Northwestern to win the Big Ten Golf Championship at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio back in April. “They played out of their ass,” he said. Purdue finished in a tie for third, with Indiana placing sixth. Purdue’s All-America golfer Herman Sekne entered the conversation. A native of Oslo, Norway, Sekne was awarded Big Ten Golfer of the Year and first-team All-Big Ten for the third straight year. He ranks 18th in the PGA Tour University and 21st in the World Amateur Golf Rankings (WAGR).

He’s even on pace to break his own school record for stroke average with 70.27 strokes per round so far this year and has 18 top 10 finishes in his 36 career events. Unbelievably, Sekne has just four double bogeys (or worse) in 468 holes this year. That is an amazing stat. I have at least that many per round so far this season.

We then talked about the Trophy Club, located in Lebanon off State Road 52. The course was in excellent shape when I played there last fall. The undulation and sheer perfection of the landscaping made it seem like I was playing on a PGA-worthy course. I have not played there yet in 2024, but it is on my list.

By this time the first tee was calling, and we parted ways. But not before the starter and I discovered that he was a student at North Montgomery High School in Crawfordsville while I was a sports editor at the town’s Journal Review. He mused that he probably had clippings of some of my writings in his scrapbook. It made for a true “you know you are old” moment!

Eagle Creek is my favorite course in the city. The original Pete Dye–designed 18 holes opened in 1975 and were wooded, undulating, had elevation, and were nearly impossible—which I loved. When another nine holes designed by Tim Liddy were added in 2001 to eliminate overuse by overplay, the course lost some of its personality, in my opinion. The new holes integrated into the layout were not in the stoic Dye tradition. They have a more modern, cleaner layout with traditional flat bottomed traps guarding greens instead of pot bunkers, and they don’t have the same feel as the original layout. Quite honestly, they provide a break from the intense Dye layout.

The Legends Golf Club in Franklin is another course I’ve been playing since it opened in 1991. Depending upon the tees you use, it is a very comfortable course lengthwise for any golfer. When I played a couple Saturdays ago, the fairways were beautiful, and the greens putted true even after a drenching rain a couple days prior, though the play was slow. But in the course’s defense, it was the first round of golf I’ve played on the weekend for probably decades. But my foursome had a great day, the conversation was great, and my golf game was really super average.