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Rich Golf Heritage Is Par for Course at Brickyard Crossing

Tuesday, September 5, 2017 Paul Kelly, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Brickyard Crossing Golf Course

While the IMS asphalt is hallowed ground in racing, the manicured grass of the tees, fairways and greens of Brickyard Crossing Golf Course – located on the grounds of the Speedway – also has an impressive heritage of its own.

History swirls around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway almost faster than a 230-mph Indy car. It’s part of the fabric and DNA strands of a racetrack that opened in 1909, has hosted 101 Indianapolis 500-Mile Races since 1911 and played host to most of the biggest names of global motorsports in the last 108 years.

While the IMS asphalt is hallowed ground in racing, the manicured grass of the tees, fairways and greens of Brickyard Crossing Golf Course – located on the grounds of the Speedway – also has an impressive heritage of its own.

Brickyard Crossing will host a major touring professional golf series for the first time since 2000 when many of the best female golfers in the world will play in the Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim LPGA event Sept. 7-9. All 144 players in the field will compete on a unique layout, designed by renowned golf course architect Pete Dye, that features four holes inside the IMS oval and 14 outside the backstretch of the oval.

And if those holes could talk, what stories they could tell – all the way back to the opening of the course in 1929.

Carl Fisher and James Allison, two members of the four-man original ownership group that built IMS in 1909, were in the process of selling the facility to a consortium led by American World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker in 1927. Rickenbacker sought the advice of Fisher and Allison about other ways the vast Speedway property could be used to generate revenue, and the co-founders recommended a golf course.

Rickenbacker, an avid golfer, heeded that advice and spearheaded the creation and construction of the Speedway Golf Course, which opened in 1929. The original Speedway Golf Course layout featured nine holes inside the IMS oval and nine outside of the backstretch, near Turn 2 of the oval.

While IMS closed from 1942-45 due to America’s involvement in World War II, the Speedway Golf Course remained open to play during that time. In May 1945, Hollywood legends Bob Hope and Bing Crosby conducted a war bonds rally at IMS with other entertainers, followed by a charity golf exhibition at the Speedway Golf Course.

Once Tony Hulman saved IMS with his purchase in November 1945, the course became more and more popular with Indianapolis 500 drivers during the Month of May in the ensuing years. Drivers received complimentary greens fees during May for many years, with some drivers playing golf nearly every day.

A golf tournament for Indianapolis 500 drivers took place annually for years on the Monday after Bump Day. Lloyd Ruby was a perennial contender for victory, often challenged by Bill Vukovich Jr.

Other Indianapolis 500 drivers who were avid players at the Speedway Golf Course included Louis Meyer, Wilbur Shaw, Cliff Bergere, Chuck Stevenson, Rodger Ward, Jim Rathmann, Jack Turner, Bob Veith, Sam Hanks, Tom Sneva and Bobby Rahal. Parnelli Jones also was on the course often during May, with Hollywood star James Garner serving as his frequent playing partner.

Professional golf first came to the Speedway Golf Course in 1960 with the debut of the 500 Festival Open. The tournament took place during Indianapolis 500 Race Week, attracting most of the top players on the PGA Tour due to its large purse and unique location and date on the calendar.

Paul Dye served as the chairperson of the inaugural PGA Tour event in 1960 at IMS. He also would play another huge role in the history of the course more than 30 years later when Dye – then known by his nickname “Pete” – oversaw the complete overhaul of the course into what is now Brickyard Crossing.

The 500 Festival Open was contested eight times at the Speedway Golf Course from 1960-68, with legendary players such as Doug Ford, Billy Casper, Dow Finsterwald and Gary Player among the winners. Golf icons Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer also played in the tournament. Steve Weaver, who currently serves as the starter at Brickyard Crossing, worked as Nicklaus’ caddy in the tournament in 1962 and 1963.

Legend has it that Nicklaus wasn’t pleased one year with the sounds of roaring engines while playing a tournament round on Carb Day. So that year, at the Indianapolis 500 Victory Celebration, driver Chuck Stevenson wisecracked that Nicklaus was welcome back to IMS and the tournament the next year because his putting didn’t bother Stevenson’s driving on the racetrack at all.

Speedway Golf Course also made fun headlines in 1964 when The Beatles appeared on the putting green for a whimsical photo op while in Indianapolis for a performance at the State Fairgrounds.

The Beatles

The look of the Speedway Golf Course changed in 1965 when nine more holes were added to the nine holes outside the oval, creating a 27-hole layout with 18 holes outside the backstretch and nine inside the oval.

One LPGA event took place at the Speedway Golf Course before the Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim, the 500 Ladies LPGA Classic in June 1968. Hall of Famers Mickey Wright and Kathy Whitworth dueled for the victory, with Wright emerging victorious. Weaver continued his reputation as “caddy to the stars” at Speedway Golf Course, carrying Whitworth’s bag that week.

In the early 1970s, the IMS Museum moved from the corner of 16th Street and Georgetown Road to inside the oval. That forced the removal of some of the original nine holes in the infield, and nine redesigned holes were built in a smaller, “executive” footprint.

But the biggest facelift in the course’s history took place in 1992-93. Renowned golf course architect Dye, a longtime resident of the Indianapolis area, redesigned the entire course, which was rechristened as Brickyard Crossing Golf Course. Bulldozers converted the flat, 27-hole course into a spectacular, rolling, 18-hole layout featuring four holes in the IMS infield and 14 holes outside the backstretch. Spectator mounds created impressive vantage points for golf fans, with the intention of welcoming back pro tournament golf.

It didn’t take long for the grandeur and challenge of the new layout to attract professional golf again. The Senior PGA Tour, now known as the Champions Tour, played an annual event at Brickyard Crossing from 1994-2000.

Winners included Isao Aoki, Simon Hobday, Jimmy Powell, David Graham, Hugh Baiocchi and Gil Morgan. The event also earned national and global golf attention when the legendary Tom Watson made his Senior Tour debut there Sept. 10, 1999, just six days after he turned 50 and became eligible to play.

Other legends who played in the Senior Tour event at Brickyard Crossing included Lee Trevino, Fuzzy Zoeller and Chi Chi Rodriguez.

Since the last Senior event in 2000, Brickyard Crossing has played host to many state- and regional-level tournaments for amateurs and pros and also has earned distinction as being named one of the 100 best public courses in America by Golf Digest and Golfweek.

And now many of the top female players in the world are ready to write another chapter in the impressive, rich history of golf at IMS.