You would be hard pressed to find another college football program with more tradition than the Notre Dame Fighting Irish of South Bend, Indiana. But just across Douglas Road within the borders of their utopian campus, the Notre Dame golf scene is heading towards their golden age thanks to an ambitious benefactor, two of the finest architects in the land, and a high-profile USGA Championship coming to The Warren Course at Notre Dame in 2019.
Midwest Golfing Magazine had the incredible fortune of receiving a behind-the-scenes tour of upcoming modifications with course co-designer Bill Coore of the design firm of Coore/Crenshaw, Director of Golf John Foster, and superintendent Matt Cielen. Ironically, our tour was conducted on May 1st, exactly 17 years to the day the Warren Course was dedicated to the public. When I mentioned that fact to the trio, they couldn’t believe how the Warren Course looks like it has been here for so much longer – a true testament to the design and continued care by their dedicated staff members.
“Our major focus from the beginning was to create a course that complements the remarkable history that has happened at this university,” began Bill Coore. “Secondly, we wanted to impart an old-world, classic feel, reminiscent of the great courses designed in the 1920s and 30s. We believe that allows players to make decisions on every hole instead of dictating to them how they should play,” concluded Coore.
Consider both missions accomplished, as The Warren Course boasts of a classic links design highlighted by square tee boxes, undulating greens with tightly mowed collection areas, and perfectly positioned native grasses. The 250 acre venue is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary and is one of the most enjoyable walking courses in the entire Midwest.
What golfers see before them is due to the generous benefaction of William K. Warren, Jr., Notre Dame class of 1956. The course is named in honor of his parents, and perfectly links three of his abiding passions – his family, golf, and Notre Dame. His generosity has continued throughout the years and has paved the way for The Warren Course to host numerous USGA, Western Open, and collegiate events since its inception.
On October 14th, 2016 the USGA announced they were bringing the 2019 U.S. Senior Open to South Bend, making The Warren Course at Notre Dame the first university course to host a U.S. Senior Open. Director of Golf John Foster, who has held the position since 2002, is looking forward to showcasing his property worldwide. “The championship will have an estimated $16-$18 million impact on the local economy,” began Foster. “The championship will be broadcast in over 50 countries, allowing Notre Dame to showcase the University to an audience who haven’t necessarily been tuned in to ND football on Saturdays in the fall. The response from the Notre Dame community and alumni base has been overwhelming and has been a source of great pride. The University of Notre Dame has shown it knows how to pull off a big time sporting event, we know this will be no exception,” beamed Foster.
During our tour with Foster, Coore, and Cielin, I was thrilled to learn the USGA is taking a minimalistic approach to course modifications between now and 2019. “We all like this golf course so much, I mean it is a really, really good golf course,” started Coore. “I have always felt this property looks like a private course that fortunately is public. It has the feel of a traditional course Champions Tour Players might have played their first couple years on TOUR. The USGA obviously agreed as this is the least they have ever done in terms of modifications made to a course,” ended Coore.
Of the minor enhancements being made, regular golfers will notice that a few of the fairway lines will be re-matched with the bunkers to mimic how the course looked in 1999. “The fairways had started to move away from the bunkers over time and it’s our job to get them back to where they belong,” stated Coore. “That sounds easy but the grass has changed over the years so we will dig up some of the existing grass and rough and make a few modifications over the next two years,” said Coore.
There is also a good chance the routing of the course will change to accommodate player access and patron traffic. But before and after the Championship, golfers will have the privilege of tackling The Warren’s version of Amen Corner, holes 16, 17, and 18.
The par-4 16th is positioned just right of The Warren Course’s stately clubhouse, and requires golfers to play over Juday Creek to a tight fairway guarded by a beautiful bunker complex down the left side. An uphill approach to a semi-blind green must be landed on the proper tier if a three-putt is to be avoided. At only 345 yards from the back tees, this is one of the best short par 4’s in America.
The penultimate hole at the Warren Course plays 565 yards from the tips and features a gorgeous, downhill tee shot that must avoid a small pond and wetlands on the left. A solid drive will leave you a relatively open shot to the green, but beware, any shot missed right, left, or long of the putting surface will require short game wizardry to make par or better.
Warren’s finishing hole is devoid of bunkers and plays inside a pristine parkland valley. The aforementioned Juday Creek creates a ravine that must be crossed off the tee and avoided down the entire left side of the fairway. A large, rectangle shaped green is highlighted by a large ridge down the center, so accuracy is a must with your approach shot. After putting out, make sure to gaze above to the clubhouse to be totally immersed in the Notre Dame experience.
As Coore walked the back nine with two colleagues and friends, Foster and Cielin, he put into perspective his 20 year love affair with the Warren Course the only way a humble man from North Carolina can do, by deflecting praise and being genuinely thrilled for those who spend their day-to-day lives making The Warren Course what it is today. “I am extremely happy for John and Matt and everyone affiliated with the course. What has been done since the course opened has a natural upward progression and the highs are getting higher and higher. I am most happy for Bill Warren, he loves this university so much and he has done so much for Notre Dame. He deserves to have the U.S. Senior Open at his course in 2019,” extolled Coore.
For more information on one of the finest public university courses in the nation, visit www.warrengolfcourse.com or call their pro shop at 574-631-4653.