I get asked often about my favorite golf city. It usually surprises people that Indianapolis, a city known more for its auto racing, always ranks near the top of my list of best golf cities. Indy is arguably one of the top five urban areas in the nation for golf, in terms of quality, accessibility and affordability.
Course architecture legend Pete Dye maintains a residence in the city. Dye or his proteges have designed many of Indy's best known courses, and Dye's architectural firm has renovated the city's municipal courses for a whopping $1 each.
Aside from the Dye-related courses, though, there are literally dozens of daily-fee options in the greater Indy area, so singling out a half-dozen or so favorites is bound to result in the exclusion of many other strong contenders.
Nevertheless, I'll pick my favorite Indy tracks based on their winning combinations of affordability, accessibility and challenge: They won't break your bank or your handicap, and you can almost always book a last-minute tee time. Best of all, you'll never be bored by any of them.
1. Eagle Creek Golf Club
The premier municipal complex in the city, renovated by Pete Dye's firm within the past 15 years or so, consists of two 18-hole courses -- the Pines Course and Sycamore Course. As popular as these munis are, sometimes the rounds can get long, but you can ride for less than $50 and walk for less than $30, so the price is always right. Before you relegate this municipal complex to the back shelf, consider that at one time it was rated as one of the top 25 public facilities in the nation, and it even hosted the 1982 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
2. Plum Creek Golf Club
Plum Creek Golf Club in Carmel is an underrated Pete Dye design that is generally open and forgiving off the tee. But careful planning and precision will leave you the best angles for your approaches, along with the best chance at scoring well. Huge, deceptively undulating greens challenge players of all levels. The final three holes comprise one of the best closing stretches in the area, culminating with the 423-yard 18th, which Dye has called one of the top 10 finishing holes he's ever designed. Rates top out at around $70.
3. Purgatory Golf Club
When Purgatory Golf Club opened in 2000 in Noblesville, about 20 minutes outside of Indy, the Ron Kern layout was billed as the longest east of the Mississippi -- 7,754 yards from the tips. Copious sand bunkers and a bevy of devilish details make Purgatory one of the more memorable and fun courses in the Indy area. Getting off the tee is crucial here, as is picking the appropriate set of tees. The 197-yard third hole is the best example of a classic Redan hole in all of the Indianapolis area.
4. The Trophy Club
Nationally acclaimed courses Bandon Dunes and Whistling Straits opened in 1998. Coming in right behind those paragons of modern American golf course architecture was The Trophy Club in Lebanon, located about 30 minutes outside Indy. Pete Dye protege Tim Liddy produced this stout, linksy track in his very first solo effort. The Trophy Club is characterized by slightly hump-backed fairways bordered by tall native grasses and spectacular greens complexes. Despite some of the best conditioning in the state, rates top out at just $65.
5. Bear Slide Golf Club
If you poll Indianapolis golf fanatics, one course that garners some of the most fervent adulation is Bear Slide Golf Club in Cicero. The 6,998-yard, par-71 Dean Refram layout boasts lots of readers' choice awards from lots of magazines, including often being voted the best public course in the state. Bear Slide is all about dense trees, heaving fairways and club selection. The two closing holes -- the 376-yard 17th and the 449-yard 18th -- challenge players with the two toughest tee shots on the entire course. The peak riding rate is less than $75.
6. Prairie View Golf Club
Prairie View Golf Club in neighboring Carmel is the only Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course in Indiana and boasts more major awards than just about any track in the area, including no. 1 public course in the state according to more than one major publication. The generous, artfully sculpted fairways meander around five lakes and along the banks of the White River. In case you wanted even more water hazards, there are also wetlands and a creek that runs through four holes, so bring extra golf balls. With rates topping out at less than $80, it's another prime example of the budget-friendly nature of Indianapolis golf.