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|Everyone knows about the Indy 500 - but few know the host track is home to an excellent Pete Dye golf course, Brickyard Crossing. (Courtesy of visitindy.com)|
While Indianapolis Motor Speedway is most well-known for the Indy 500, don't overlook its golf course, Brickyard Crossing, 18 holes in and out of the most famous race track in the world.
What's the most famous golf course in the world?
It's a trickier question than it appears, but after careful consideration, my guess is the Old Course at St. Andrews.
Except that you could make a pretty good argument for the Pebble Beach Golf Links. While I try to ignore it, there is certainly a claim to be made for Augusta National, the home of the Masters. The bottom line is that when it comes to the most famous golf course, there is no correct answer.
Here's a much easier question: What is the most famous motorsports venue or racetrack on earth? No argument this time, because one temple of the sport stands head and shoulders above the others, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Indy just happens to be celebrating its 100th birthday this year, and in the past century, it has seen every kind of race you could imagine, from hot air balloons to stock cars to Moto GP two-wheelers to Formula One. The historic oval even hosts the finish of the largest half marathon on earth, when more than 30,000 runners each May schlep here from downtown to jog its long straightaways and nine-degree banked turns.
But the grand-daddy of all events is the Indy 500, not just the biggest day in car racing, but the biggest in all of sports - at least if you count by fans. Consistently the largest single-day sporting event on earth, the stands here routinely pack in around 350,000 spectators, sometimes over 400,000.
To put that in perspective, the three-hour race draws as many people as the single most popular golf tournament in the world - the FBR Open - does over four-plus days. If that does not impress you, consider that the annual NASCAR race held on the same track, the Allstate 400, is the second largest single day sporting event on earth, with around 300,000 in attendance.
You might imagine that a track that can hold 400,000 people - nearly twice the capacity of the world's largest stadium - would be pretty big. You would be right. The marketing folks from the Speedway like to claim that among the sort of random things you could fit inside the facility are Vatican City, the Roman Coliseum, all of Wimbledon, the Churchill Downs racetrack and Yankee Stadium (last year's model) - all at the same time.
Much to the chagrin of the Indy folks, when they built the new Yankee Stadium, they did it in the Bronx, not in the infield of the oval. The Coliseum is too fragile to make the trip, and my guess is that Vatican City is even less likely to relocate to the Midwest, regardless of the sponsorship offer.
So when the owners put aside hypotheticals and faced the real world decision on just what to fit inside the track, they hit upon a brilliant idea: Nine holes of golf. They could easily have fit a full 18, but much of the infield is devoted to massive garage complexes for the various motor sports teams, retail merchandising, food and drink outlets. (My favorite of which are stands draped in purple velvet to resemble a Crown Royal bottle, selling shots of whisky, adorned with signs ironically exclaiming something very much like "Crown Royal says Drink Responsibly.") There's even a small hospital for when someone makes an oopsie at 230 MPH.
So instead, in 1929, they built nine inside and another 18 immediately outside the track, called the whole shebang the Speedway Golf Course, and proceeded to do what the track does best, which is host big professional events. The PGA Tour came here from 1960 to 1968, and in that final year, the LPGA visited also. The Champions Tour battled here from 1994-1999. But the most important visitor of all was Indianapolis local Pete Dye.
It was Dye who gave us the incredibly fortunate opportunity we have today to play one of the most uniquely odd golf courses in the world. It is also rare among uniquely odd golf courses in that it is very good.
Many courses would rest on their laurels of simply being in the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - quite literally the auto fan's version of playing golf inside Yankee Stadium, or from a hoop's perspective, teeing it up in Boston Garden, or for the religious zealot, playing through Vatican City.
Today, you can play a very good golf course at the epicenter of auto racing's most hallowed ground for a very reasonable fee (under a C-note at prime time, twilight rate of $55 with cart). You can even play on race days, though they close the four inside holes (we'll get back to that).
But besides the setting, the cool thing is that even though the Speedway only hosts three races a year, there are many days when drivers practice, test cars, test tires and so on, so you have a good chance to hear the jet engine-like roar of the cars and the squealing of rubber while you stand over your putts.
How often can you say that? Think of the excuses: "I would have made birdie, but I got distracted by Danica Patrick."
When Dye arrived in 1991, the needs of motorsports had grown to the point where even more massive garages and facilities - and merchandising - were needed, so Dye tore the place up and gave us today's routing, with 14 holes outside, four inside, and nine vanished into thin air. It was renamed Brickyard Crossing, a play on the track's nickname, The Brickyard (before the advent of asphalt it was paved with hundreds of thousands of bricks, and a strip of these originals still symbolically represents the finish line).
A stream winds through the holes, frequently in play, and during the two years of construction, the track decided they needed to replace their internal safety barrier, a concrete and rebar wall about 4 feet high, 2 feet thick and 2.5 miles long. That is tens of thousands of tons of wall.
Faced with the prospect of crushing it all up and carting it away, they asked Dye if he could use any of the material for the golf course. The way he told me the story, he walked over to where they had just jackhammered out a section of the wall, studied its composition, asked about the weight and promptly announced, "I'll take it all."
Today, the original safety barrier can be seen lining both sides of the creek throughout the course, a place where auto racing and golf history converge.
Ten minutes away from the downtown of any major city, you would need very little reason to be convinced to play a course as good as Brickyard Crossing for as little as it costs, but the unique setting closes the deal. It's not just a Pete Dye-designed golf course in Pete Dye's hometown, it's a Pete Dye hometown course in the middle of the Mother of All Racetracks. The flags on the pins are predictably checkered, the golf shirt logo is remarkable similar to that of the track and the reasons to play here go well Beyond The Course.
August 11, 2009
Larry Olmsted has written more than 1,000 articles on golf and golf travel, for the likes of Golf Magazine, T&L Golf, LINKS, Golf & Travel, Men's Health, Men's Journal, USA Today, and many others. He broke the Guinness World Record for golf travel and wrote Getting into Guinness, as well as Golf Travel by Design. He was the founding editor of The Golf Insider, and the golf columnist for both USA Today.com and US Airways Magazine. Follow Larry on Twitter at @TravelFoodGuy.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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