Trapped in Purgatory

The BIG Boppers

–The Hoosier Times, Sunday, August 26, 2001

Some of Elkhart County’s monster hitters took on Indiana’s new monster golf course near Indy

Randy Foster stood on the first tee at Purgatory Golf Club in Noblesville and looked down the fairway, which waited to host his golf ball. The safe play is an iron off the tee and a short iron onto the green of the dogleg left hole. But, Foster looked left, where the green sat more than three football fields away. There was no fairway on this direct line–just tall grass and sand traps.

“What would it take to drive the green?” he asked. He got an answer and turned toward the ball, saying, “Well we didn’t come here to hit an iron off the tee.” The three-time Indiana long drive champion launched his ball toward the green but pulled it a bit to the left and somewhere into the wasteland.

“The temptation is for long knockers to hit it over all that stuff” and try to drive the green, said course designer Ron Kern. “That’s me,” said Foster, who got out of trouble to par the hole. Kern said the first hole is the easiest and the only par 4 hole fewer than 400 yards at Purgatory, which owners say is the longest non-mountain par-72 course in the world when played off the longest tees at 7,754 yards. Purgatory has six sets of tees. Foster was one of six “long knockers” from Elkhart County whom Purgatory owner Mike Merchent invited down to test the year-old course from the maximum distance.

No course in Elkhart County plays longer than 7,000 yards and Purgatory also features 125 sand traps.

Foster was joined by five other Elkhart County golfers who stepped up to the tips and blasted 300-yard-plus drives all over 218 acres of Hamilton County. Rob Stats, assistant pro at Bent Oak Golf Club, who played high school golf at Northwood High School, said the key at Purgatory is keeping the ball in the fairway. “Nick hit 11 fairways and I hit two,” said Stats of fellow Bent Oak golfer Nick Sweazy, who had the best score of the six golfers with a 77. “When you hit the fairways it plays shorter said Stats. “For Nick it played 7,000 yards-for Matt it played 8,000,” he said, needling Concord High School sophomore Matt Dutton, who shot an 87 and joked about visiting “at least” 15 of Purgatory’s sand traps.

The golfers sat around Purgatory’s snack area after their round a few weeks ago and talked about Indiana’s newest challenge with Kern and Merchent. When asked if they’d come back and play it off the longest “Purgatory” tees, Stats said yes and Foster said he’d do it to see if he could play better.

Jon Everingham, who plays at Maplecrest Country Club in Goshen, said he’d play off a mixture of the blacks (7,268 yards) and blues (6,782). “I’d get too frustrated off the tips. It’s too hard,” he said. Stats said he was surprised how much roll Purgatory’s fairways give. “I wouldn’t play from the up tees. I expected to hit 3 and 4 irons but I was hitting 5 to 8 irons” after his drives, he said. It helps if you can hit it somewhere between 300 to 350 yards off the tee.

The sixth hole is a 434-yard par 4 that turns to the right. Standing on the tee, it looks as if the fairway disappears with traps on both sides. Everingham put his tee shot into hyperdrive, clearing all the traps and landing about 350 yards down the fairway. He had a short iron into the green. Sweazy hit his drive 334 yards on the same hole, but bombed one a bit over 350 yards on number two.

Kern asked if any of Purgatory’s holes intimidated this group of big hitters:

Foster mentioned the aforementioned sixth.

Everingham voted for the second hole, with a long carry over a pond.

Stats offered the 16th, where traps line both sides of a tight fairway, which looks like a little ribbon of green. “It’s completely lined with bunkers and the landing areas narrow so much all you see is sand,” he said.

Dutton said the 13th was tough-a 741 yard par 5- knowing it was hard just to reach the fairway. (The tee box that makes the hole 741 yards long is the seventh on that hole, there’s another that makes it only 624 yards.)

When asked which holes intimidated him, Ben Kitt, who played golf at Central High said, “Pretty much all of them.”

As for their favorite holes, some of the same numbers popped up: Foster mentioned number two, with the same huge carry over water that intimidated Everingham.

“It’s a great driving hole,” said Foster, a few hours after he crushed a drive on the hole and it still barely cleared the water. “Oohh-that’s a long carry,” he said as the ball landed safely.

Dutton liked the looks of 16-once you get past the lines of bunkers. “If you look back, you don’t see any trouble,” he said.

Everingham thought the 11th hole was beautiful, with a rock wall fronting the green.

Stats liked Purgatory’s signature hole-the 173 yard par 3. It’s surrounded by a bunch of bunkers and some seem as big as Elkhart County. He also liked the par 5 18th with a choice of two fairways off the tee.

Kitt voted for number three, a 197 yard par 3. “I like the way it looked,” he said.

Sweazy picked the 12th hole-the longest par 3-, 235 yards with a lot of water to carry.

Even though Everingham would avoid the Purgatory tees in the future, he said he enjoyed the course. “You play courses around Elkhart County and it’s driver, wedge; driver wedge, driver wedge. It’s interesting how much Purgatory makes you think and how you use all your clubs,” he said. He also like playing with Kern. What better guide than the man who designed the course?

“I remember we got to one hole and Ron said, “This was supposed to be a let up hole- but I got carried away,” said Everingham.


What if you’re not a big hitter?

So you don’t hit it 350 yards off the tee? Two other accomplished Elkhart County golfers also tried Purgatory Golf Club from different sets of tees for people who don’t have a bazooka in their golf bag. Bob Dutton has been a single digit handicap his whole life. He had he vision that became Bent Oak Golf Club in Elkhart and built the course. He played off Purgatory’s white tees- just under 6,500 yards. Elaine Marohn has won nine consecutive women’s club championships at Elcona Country Club and three Elkhart County women’s titles. She played off the green tees at 5,683 yards, the longest of the two sets of tees Purgatory rates for women.

They both enjoyed the course. “It’s a great risk-reward course. For the sake of hitting fairways, I’d back up one set of tees,” said Dutton. “It’s extremely clear you need course knowledge. Without guides you wouldn’t know where to hit it,” said Dutton, who played in a group with course architect Ron Kern. Marohn said, “It’s very user friendly for women. It’s very playable from either set of tees for women.” Marohn’s favorite hole was the par 5 13th, which plays 741 or 624yards off the back sets of tees, but 490 off her green tees. It’s a very fun par 5,” she said shortly after recording a par on her way to an 85. Dutton said No. 11 is very picturesque but his favorite hole was the sixth. Why? He holed out his approach shot for an eagle on his way to shooting an 82.