Indy Star, Pick your Difficulty

Indianapolis Star Review,

“Whatever else, Purgatory Golf Club is aptly named. It is hellishily hard, and the devil is in the details.

“Take the tees, six sets of them. From the tips, Purgatory tumbles and winds 7,754 yards. You want heartache? Play it back, from the weeping-and-gnashing-of-teeth tees. Owners Mike and Tenna Merchent have researched it; they don’t know of a longer par-72 golf course in the world.

“Of course the most forward tees, the golds, measure a cozy 4,562 yards. There’s something here for everyone.

“The par-3 12th is a good example. From the back, it stretches 235 yards. Up front, it’s 89 yards. Either shot plays across a pond, a carry of about 185 yards for the talented or the macho, about 40 yards for the less empowered or less daring.

““It’s the only forced carry on the golf course,”” said Mike Merchent, the dircotr of golf. “We thought everybody should be challenged once.”

“That’s Purgatory’s primary appeal: It is punishing but playable, all at once. Pick your tees. Select your line of play. Then have at it. You get what you ask for.

“Purgatory’s most striking features are it’s mounding and bunkering, and the combinations in which they are presented. The bunkers have an irregular, rough-edged appearance. Splatter-bunkers you might call them.

“Golf course architect Ron Kern incorporated features he admired in the work of two past masters: Alister Mackenzie (Cypress Point, August National, Crystal Downs) and George Thomas (Bel-Air, Riviera).

““We tried to combine art and function,” said Kern.

“He placed some bunkers as aiming points, some purely for visual effect. Others are there to evoke anxeity, dictate strategy and wreak havoc. Altogether, the bunkers number 133 and you might expect to spend some time playing from them. Why else would 600 rakes be distributed about their perimeters?

“But again, the bunkers are playable. Most are shallow. All are filled with crushed limestone, whose density affords few buried lies and encourages golf balls to roll off slopes and into clean lies on flat bottoms.

““Hell’s Half-Acre,” the par-3 17th, is unusually striking, a hill-top green that appears to float, an island in a sea of sand. The surrounding bunkers actually cover two full acres.

“Ron Whitten, Golf Digests highly regarded golf course critic, was particularly smitten with Kern’s bunkering, but he is favorably inclined toward the entire package.

““Purgatory Golf Club is what every course should be,” he wrote in the magazine’s May edition, ”a visual experience as well as a playing challenge. It’s more heaven than hell.”

“Members of Golf Digest’s golf course ratings panel began calling to arrange tee times the day Purgatory was added to its list.

“They will find a well-thought out golf course with a variety of interesting features: like the reverse terrace on the eighth green and the ”Bill Diddle hump” that commands entry to the 11th green.

“Diddle was an Indiana native who designed golf courses all over the Midwest. He was a mentor to golf course architect Gary Kern, Ron’s father, and a hero to Ron.

“There may not be a tougher hole on the golf course than the par-4 16th, from the back, a 474-yard gauntlet between dramatic bunker lines that plays uphill and into the prevailing wind.

“From the green, Merchent suggested a look back. None of the travail was apparent.

““Mackenzie thought you should be able to play a hole and turn around and not see any of the obstacles you faced,” said Merchent. “This is a tribute to him.”

“Not much was left to chance at Purgatory. Kern said he spent hours and hours studying the plans with which Donald Ross built one of his masterpieces, Seminole Golf Club in North Palm Beach, Fla. Kern was particularly intrigued by the range of angles and lines of play Ross incorporated in his design.

“Purgatory emulates that philosophy.

“For all of the thought and care that has gone into Purgatory, lack of rain has had its effect. There are a few bare spots in fairways and the fescue that will give the extensive mounding a shaggy look. No. 5 green is not yet up to the standards of  the other putting surfaces, but, overall, turf conditions are quite good and improving.

““We were hoping for a good spring to fill in the fairways and grow in the rough,” said Merchent. ”We didn’t get it.”

“Purgatory isn’t cheap. Green fees are $65 every day, including cart, which is near the top of the pile among central Indiana’s daily fee facilities, but Merchent is confident the public will find it darn well worth it.

““We think we have a very good golf course and we’re using 10-minute (intervals between) times and trying to make it an enjoyable experience,” he said. ”We don’t expect people to play here three times a week. We hope they’ll consider it kind of a special occasion and play here three or four times a year.””

Pick your difficulty at PurgatoryIndianapolis Star, May 17, 2001