Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

From the Editor

You know you’re in for an “old timey” golf experience at the new golf course at Notre Dame (IN) when you notice the ballwasher on the first tee. The brand is Old Henry, a type where you place the ball (or balls) inside the circular rubber cylinder and you crank around it until it comes out clean. It’s just one of many neat touches befitting a classically designed golf course by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. The official name of the course is The William K. and Natalie O. Warren Golf Course at The University of Notre Dame. The Warrens donated a princely sum so that the golf course-located just across the street of the main campus-would be named in their honor. And for sure, Notre Dame got their money’s worth because the course as well as the entire facility is exemplary.

Crenshaw and Coore are well-regarded architects known for a minimalist philosophy for moving dirt and preserving the natural landscape. Both are devotees of the traditional golf architecture of Seth Raynor and C.B. MacDonald where “bump-and-roll” greensites predominate. The duo’s work at Barton Creek in Texas and Sand Hills in Nebraska has drawn well-earned acclaim. No doubt the same will be said for their thoughtful labors at Notre Dame.

First some general impressions of the layout. Set over 250 acres, the golf course is generally flat yet has lots of looks and character to it. Nicely complementing the campus, it’s an eminently walkable golf course. In fact, walking and pull carts are encouraged here. And to fully appreciate the nuance and sublets of the design, it’s indeed most desirable to walk this golf course. Like many classic and old-styled layouts, greens and tees are generally close by-again to enhance walking and a faster pace of play.

The greens themselves are moderate in size and are sloped mostly from back to front. Most greens are open-fronted allowing for run-up shots. However, most too boast Donald Ross-ish false fronts whereby mishit or weak approach orf chip shots will tumble backwards off the putting surface. Tees are old-fashioned too, being long and rectangular in shape; no five or six tee pads -so prevalent in modern design-will be found here. Instead, there are simply three sets of tees-gold, blue and green-in homage to Notre Dame’s school colors. Bunkers sport rough natural edges, are low profile and are strategically placed. The fairways are bentgrass while the roughs are golden and picturesque fescue.

In my opinion, there’s not a weak or misplaced hole on the course. The routing has a wonderful flow to it. The first hole is a shortish par four that gets play moving and is followed by a tough 462-yard dogleg right second hole. It should be noted here that one of the idiosyncrasies of the new ND course is that there are no pars listed on the scorecard. Yardages and handicaps yes; but no pars. According to Brian Godfrey, the Director of Golf, only Muirfield in Scotland shares such a scorecard oddity. It does make for some interesting banter and quips in one’s foursome. (“Nice par, er four there, partner!”) According to Godfrey, the no-par-on-the-card came about due to nature of some of the longest holes at ND. From the back tees, the longest holes are 462, 518, 495 and 480 and as such one may argue that only two or three are true par fives while these holes middle tees are 443, 495, 473, and 462. As such, there would be several 5/4 confusing designations on the scorecard. No matter. Your aggregate score is all that counts anyway.

The one-shotters (can’t say par-3s) are all deftly bunkered with lots of movement in the greens. For example, the 143-yard 4th hole is encircled by bunkers and has such a rolling, rumpled green you swear some huge Irish defensive linemen are buried beneath it. The shorter the hole, the more the designers seemed to have placed a premium on exact iron play and putting. The three-shot holes are all reachable in two shots. The 518-yard 5th hole usually is played downwind but it requires accurate fairway shots to reach the putting surface, guarded by a nifty pot bunker in the front of the green. The 495-yard 10th hole is a favorite on many of ND locals, including our amiable host Mike Seamon. It’s a classic risk-reward “par-five” (sorry) where one’s second shot must negotiate over and around a creek that cuts diagonally across the fairway and toward the green. Going for the green in two brings the creek into play if one’s shot heads too far left. Regardless of the outcome, it’s a superb golf hole. My favorite is the 345-yard 16th hole, an intriquing uphill short hole with Juday Creek running across the driving zone. Crenshaw and Coore pose some beguiling strategic options off the tee here. One can carry the creek easier down the left side yet bunkers and trees as well as a sharper angle to the green will confound one’s second shot. A drive down the middle or slightly right off center offers the best angle to the elevated and undulated green, which is fronted by a bunker. But this angle demands the biggest carry over the creek and wetlands. Decisions, decisions.

There are only a few quibbles with the new Notre Dame golf course. The conditioning of the fairways is not the best due to some agronomic problems in the grow-in but this should steadily improve as the course matures. The greens, however, are very good. The short pins used at ND look nice and suggest the Old Sod but don’t lend much for one’s depth perception. Our group had trouble discerning where the pin was located on the green. Different color flags or some other means should be used to give players a better sense of hole location. Most importantly, I would urge thoughtful consideration of one more set of tees on certain holes. I know this might be heresy for the classic-minded design team who studied the yardages carefully. But higher handicappers will be frustrated by the longer holes—even with the “no-par” relief on the scorecard.

But the positives overwhelm these slight reservations. The golf course offers a winning, playable experience where one’s golf ego—even on an off day—will never be badly bruised. The late 1800s styled clubhouse (that looks like it’s been restored not constructed) is an understated gem, offering food and beverage, a well-stocked pro shop and vintage photos of former ND golf teams on the walls. There’s a putting green and ample practice range as well. Best of all for visitors to South Bend, the green fees are less than a ticket for a football game. ND admirably falls in the affordable price golf niche where weekday walkers pay only $35 and only $10 more on weekends. ND alums and staff are given slight discounts off these rates. But religious members from the order of Holy Cross, who oversee the famed University of Notre Dame, have gratis privileges at the course.

After a delightful day at The Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame, let me just say there’s never been such a stronger inducement for entering the priesthood.

For more information, call 219-631-4653.

Terry Moore

Return to the Michigan Golfer Sept./Oct. 2000 Issue Page
Return to the Michigan Golfer Home Page

You can contact us at clubhouse@webgolfer.com
Copyright© Great Lakes Sports Publications, Inc.