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Golfers, start your engines

Indy golf course lends itself to driving

By Steve Mills, Tribune Newspapers

7:36 PM EDT, September 3, 2013

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SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Many golfers no doubt come to the Brickyard Crossing golf course to play the four holes situated inside the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

And those four holes are an unusual treat, with such great views of the speedway that you'll consider knocking balls onto the racetrack just for fun, imagining what would happen if three-time Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti or this year's winner, Tony Kanaan, were racing by at that moment.

And, indeed, there are practice days in mid-May, before the race gets underway on Memorial Day weekend, when you actually can play as cars speed around the track.

But the other 14 holes on the course, all in the shadow of the grandstands, some of them adjacent to the track and some next to concession stands, are no less spectacular.

Brickyard Crossing brings together the engine muscle of the nation's most famous auto-racing track and the finesse of a golf course, a mix of speedway asphalt and fairway grass.

It is a challenging golf course of undulating fairways, blind approach shots on some holes and tough greens that should help make Indianapolis a destination for avid golfers, especially those looking for something a little out of the ordinary.

A round or two at the Brickyard Crossing course can be the highlight of a weekend in this sports-focused city, which counts the NFL Colts, NBA Pacers and Indians AAA baseball team among its hometown squads and will host the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament in 2015.

Just down the street from the golf course and inside the track is the Hall of Fame Museum, where you can inspect championship cars dating to the race's earliest days.

Add the city's restaurants to the mix, such as the famed St. Elmo Steak House, a popular spot for professional athletes and broadcasters and known for its shrimp cocktails, and Indianapolis can compete with the more traditional golf destinations.

For a less expensive but no less tasty choice, the Mug n Bun drive-in, a local favorite just south of the track, offers a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich that is quintessentially Hoosier, as well as homemade root beer and classic shakes.

The golf at Brickyard Crossing puts a premium on accuracy; leave your tee shot on the wrong side of the fairway and you will find yourself grappling with a blind approach to the green. That's what happens on the 3rd hole, a par 4 where it's tough to even see the green from the left side of the fairway, which is where my tee shot landed.

That makes the approach shot tricky; massive, deep Pete Dye-designed bunkers sitting behind and on the right side of the green are waiting to swallow errant shots.

After the 6th hole, you go through a tunnel that runs under the racetrack to holes 7 through 10, where pine trees dot the landscape and almost make you forget you're inside the speedway.

On the day I was on the golf course, workers were readying the track for the Brickyard 400, a NASCAR race, and you could almost smell the fuel and hear the thunder of the engines.

Bill Witek and sons Chris and Timothy were on the golf course, too, with their friend Jack Wheeler, all of them from the Indianapolis area. Wheeler had not played the course for years, he said, and the Witeks had never played the Brickyard.

Being inside the racetrack in the middle of their round, they said, was exciting.

"You're just amazed how big it is," Wheeler said.

But they also agreed that the golf course was a fine challenge without the added attraction of the racetrack, and they would play it even if it were situated elsewhere.

"It's a great course either way," Chris Witek said.

The golf course originally was built in 1929 and consisted of 27 holes, with nine crowded inside the track. Dye's redesign in the early 1990s brought the course to the modern era. Only four holes remain inside the track, so players never feel crowded.

The course has been listed on Golf Digest's Top 100 public golf courses, and in the past it has hosted PGA Tour players and tournaments. It generally receives raves from golfers and commentators alike who see the inside-the-track holes as a surprising element on an otherwise fine course.

Once back outside the racetrack, you stay close to grandstands and concession booths, where on a race day you could buy Indy Dogs or Brickyard Burgers. On the 13th hole, the green is nearly under the massive grandstands. After that, the course moves away from the track.

But the speedway is always in mind. From almost anywhere on the golf course, the grandstands can be seen, as can the massive Pagoda, which houses race control, safety and timing facilities as well as broadcast booths.

That juxtaposition of golf course and speedway should land the Brickyard on any golfer's bucket list.

If you go

The course: The Brickyard Crossing golf course is at 4400 W. 16th St., Speedway, Ind. (surrounded by Indianapolis); 317-492-6572; brickyardcrossing.com. Regular season rates are $100. After 4 p.m., twilight rates of $60 apply. The replay rate is $50. There are blackout dates for the Indianapolis 500 and two other events.

The museum: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum is open every day but Thanksgiving and Christmas. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from March through October and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from November through February. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children 6-15. Info: 317-492-6784, tinyurl.com/indymuseum

Dining: St. Elmo Steak House, 127 S. Illinois St., Indianapolis; 317-635-0636, stelmos.com and Mug n Bun, 5211 W. 10th St., Indianapolis; 317-244-5669, mug-n-bun.com

smmills@tribune.com