A Championship of a Different Kind for Notre Dame

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The Warren Course is just about ready to crown the nation’s senior champion in late June

If any college campus could be compared to Augusta National, it might just be the University of Notre Dame. With its attention to detail, symmetry, architectural and natural beauty and history, it offers… wait for it… a tradition unlike any other.

In a little over a month it will add to its story when the Warren Golf Course becomes the first university course to host a U.S. Senior Open. The 40th version of the United States Golf Association (USGA) Championship will be played in South Bend, Indiana from June 27-30.

“The Warren (Golf Course) at Notre Dame is just a fantastic place,” said Champions Tour player Rocco Mediate. “Lee (Janzen) and I played it last year after doing our PGA in Benton Harbor (Michigan). It’s just fantastic. I can’t wait to see how it’s set up.

“It’s a campus you can’t do justice talking about, you’ve got to see it. It’s really cool. And you can see a lot of it from the golf course. We’ve never had anything close to this cool.”

As the home to the Notre Dame golf teams and a host to NCAA Regionals in the past, the Warren Course has been building to an event like this. Benefactor Bill Warren’s father founded Southern Hills in Tulsa which has hosted three U.S. Opens and two U.S. Amateurs. Since opening in 2000, the Warren Course has hosted numerous USGA event qualifiers and even the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links in 2010.

“Notre Dame culture and USGA culture is very much alike,” said Warren Golf Course general manager and co-general chairman of the U.S. Senior Open John Foster. “We got comfortable with each other and then the golf course itself, they saw how well it held up to competition regardless of whether it’s an NCAA, a Senior Open qualifier or an Open qualifier and how it was a shot-maker, good-players course.”

This year’s U.S. Senior Open will play much different than last year’s won by David Toms at the Broadmoor, set at elevation in the Cheyenne Mountain foothills of Colorado Springs. The Warren Course is in more of a parkland setting on the north edge of campus. Designed by the team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore it has several characteristics of an old country club-style course with its green complexes and greenside bunkers making up for relatively generous views off the tee.

“These putting surfaces are small, tiny. They’re going to have to hit greens,” said Ben Kimball, USGA Senior Director of Championships. “When my colleagues were out there working on hole locations for the championship, if you’re around golf administration long enough, there’s a lot of ‘fours’ on our hole location sheet meaning everything’s pretty close to the edges. That’s not because we tucked the locations. That means the putting greens are small.”

Thus, Kimball expects the course to offer a “fair, yet intimidating” test at just over 6,900 yards for the nation’s top players and qualifiers over 50 years old (a field of 156 players). The course routing has been altered from the routing the public normally plays. Kimball said that should allow for ebbs and flows during the championship with pockets of both scorable and tough holes grouped together.

The fairway widths were brought in especially on championship holes 1, 9, 15 and 18 and the rough is expected to play at three-and-half inches or more. The 492-yard fourth hole will no doubt play as one of the toughest, a par-5 converted to a par-4 with a green that has a sharp run off in the front and to a hazard to the left.

Notre Dame football legends Tim Brown and Jerome Bettis are honorary chairmen for the championship. Brown won the 1987 Heisman Trophy and is in both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame. Bettis is a Super Bowl Champion (2006 with the Pittsburgh Steelers) and is also a Pro Football Hall of Famer.

The USGA is expecting attendance for the entire event (practice rounds begin June 24) to reach 125,000, which is about 45,000 more than Notre Dame Stadium’s seating capacity.

“These aren’t the same fans that are necessarily going to be here on Saturdays watching Notre Dame football,” said Foster, “so we have a whole new element of people we think we can reach with this championship.”

For ticket information including youth and military benefits, visit www.2019ussenioropen.com/fan-guide/.

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Matt Tevsh is a contributor to Midwest Golfing Magazine. He also is a contributor to The Packer Report.

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