I stepped into the Wolf’s den. Save for a few golf balls and a dead cell phone, I came out relatively unscathed. Okay, the cell phone incident actually happened at a different course, but that’s a different story.
If you’re in the know of golf courses in the Tri-State, you probably know Wolf Run Golf Club outside of Indianapolis. The course currently ranks 67th on Golfweek’s Best Modern Courses and was designed by Steve Smyers. Mr. Smyers is a very competent golfer who has held numerous positions within the USGA.
Wolf Run’s founder, Dr. Jack Leer, essentially let Smyers go nuts on this property. Simply put: this course doesn’t mess around. Seriously. The original vision of this club was for male-only, highly-skilled players. The shortest tees on this course play 6200 yards. These tee boxes are white; not red.
In fact, the legend is someone once complained about the lack of “red” tees on the golf course. Surely they thought “red” tees was synonymous with “women’s” tees. Well, the club took the suggestion under advisement and indeed came up with red tees… behind the existing black tees. Yes, at Wolf Run, the red tees are actually the furthest back tees.
While there are female members at the club, the club is predominantly male. However, during my play, I saw female players from IUPUI’s (Indiana University – Purdue University – Indianapolis) golf team practicing there. The club is open to all players now, but I would say if you’re a female mid-handicap player, you’re probably starting your hole from the beginning of most fairways.
I played 3 rounds of match play over a weekend at Wolf Run. My first impression of the place was “Holy shit!” There is simply no letting up at Wolf Run. Every shot requires your attention. Some shots are harder than others, but I wouldn’t call any shot easy.
Despite all that, the course is surprisingly playable for mid-cappers like me. Well, maybe I should clarify that statement: If you can keep it relatively straight, you’ll be okay. If you spray the ball 75-100 yards off-target, Wolf Run will be unplayable for you.
Aside from the infamous 13th (more on that later), the longest forced carry is maybe 120 yards. While the heroic shot is always an option, there is almost always a safer option to lay up.
The first hole is a great example of this. For the better player, one can try to hit a driver and draw the ball around and over the deep bunker complex to the left. However, there is plenty of room for the fairway. Given that most higher handicap golfers slice the ball, the rough to the right of the first fairway will keep your ball in play. For the next shot, the less-skilled player can easy opt for the wider part of the fairway on the left and try to get up-and-down for par. The better player, assuming they avoided the massive bunker complex, can go for the green.
It should be said that the greens at Wolf Run are relatively small. Given that my home club has fairly small greens, I didn’t feel out of place. However, after playing a couple courses during my trip with massive green complexes, I understood how this could un-nerve some players. Holes 7 and 16 have two of the smallest greens I have ever played on. The former is a short par 4, and is target golf tee-to-green; playing a mid- to long- iron tee shot, then a downhill carry over Eagle Creek to a tiny green.
The later is a drop-shot par 3 and has certainly the smallest green I’ve ever played. That being said, even though it only played 87 yards during my plays and was only a 3/4 sand wedge at most, it was still an exhilarating shot. Despite it’s length, there is some bit of strategy on how to play it. The first two times, I flipped a wedge safely on the green. However, there is a slope to the right of the green and the green itself slopes right-to-left towards Eagle Creek. The third time I played, I hit to the right of the green, only to watch it bounce and roll on the green, being closer to the pin than I had in my previous rounds where I actually hit the green with my tee shot.
The stretch of 12-15 is, by a wide margin, the toughest consecutive 4 hole stretch I’ve ever played. The 240 yard par 3 13th gets a lot of attention, and for good reason. It’s an incredibly difficult par 3 for any golfer; but especially anyone who struggles with getting the ball high and in the air. There is a kick-plate to the left of the green that isn’t visible from the tee, but can help the ball get close to the hole. Otherwise, do what I did; blast a fairway metal to the middle of the green, watch it go down the swale in the back, and try to get up-and-down for par.
Looking at my picture of 13 and comparing it to Darius Oliver’s picture from Planet Golf shows an interest contrast in maintenance. It appears in the past the grass around the bunkers was more maintained and cut down. I can tell you when I played, you wanted no part of the grass on the hillside. Finally, almost as an F-U to the golfer, the grass at the bottom right of the hill, which could be maintained as fairway to offer some bailout, is all thick rough. Really, you can’t be short here. To sum up 13, the tee-sheet given to participants in the 2016 Wolf Run (NCAA) Intercollegiate event said, “This hole is here to intimidate you.”
If you can get out of 14 and 15 in 8 shots, consider yourself lucky. 14 appears easy off the tee even at 440 yards. However, the hole doglegs considerably to the right and has a carry over water where short just isn’t an option. There is a layup spot which will allow a wedge in for an up-and-down par. For players like me, a higher-risk long-iron to a narrow green will be required.
The first time I played 15, I called it a bullshit hole. On my third time, I pared it, and I consider that par my single greatest golfing accomplishment of 2016 thus far. The hole plays 445 yards from the tips and starts downhill. The optimal play is a low draw that starts at the right side of the fairway and uses the slope to eventually find the middle of the fairway. After that, you’re looking at a 200-ish yard shot up-hill. While there is some area across the creek to layup, it’s a narrow green complex that’s guarded by a large hill on the left and a bunker and a drop-off left.
I was very intimidated by Wolf Run during my first play, but I found I liked the course more and more with each subsequent play. I would say if you have the opportunity, try to play it more than once over a day/weekend. More so than most courses, you’ll understand the lay of the land better and know how to play certain shots better.
For those playing with a member, there is a nice little lodge on-site; complete with Golden Tee and a night putting green. The severe slope on this green makes for some interesting putting competitions.
Would I want Wolf Run to be my day-to-day course? No way! Much too difficult for me and too many opportunities for lost balls. That being said, I found it to be a very enjoyable challenge; one that I wouldn’t mind taking on from time-to-time. In fact, mid-handicap me went 3-0 in my matches that weekend and I got to bring the Mashie trophy home to Cincinnati!
I feel I owe it to Stan Burton, the owner of Wolf Run, who treated my group exceptionally well during my stay, to shorty address the rumors of Wolf Run’s “demise”. Yes, the property is in the middle of a potential transaction that would likely close the course. However, the course is very much open, and will be open at least through Labor Day 2017. You can read more about this here: http://www.reporter.net/news/local_news/wolf-run-sold-pending-due-diligence/article_6c082951-cdd3-5a95-b840-90e8b2b4ff78.html