Course Review: The Warren Course At Notre Dame

The Warren Course At Notre Dame – South Bend, IN (Architects: Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw)

Background

The Warren Course at Notre Dame opened just before the turn of the century to rave reviews. It was and still is one of few Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw designs that can be accessed by the public golfer. The course is named for William K. and Natalie O. Warren whose son gave generous amounts of dough to the university so that the course would be named in their honor. The Warren Course is consistently ranked by Golfweek as one of the top 15 collegiate golf courses in the country. It has hosted a U.S. Women’s Public Links Championship, several USGA Amateur Championship Qualifiers, and two NCAA Division I Men’s Regional Golf Championships.

You can find it on the North side of Notre Dame’s campus, not too far from the athletic facilities. If you’re heading to South Bend to play Warren and have never toured campus, plan for some extra time on your trip to do so. Touchdown Jesus, the Grotto, and the older parts of campus are worth seeing once in your life, even if you’re not Catholic or a football fan.

clubhouse

The set up of the facility is a bit strange as you’ll notice when you arrive. You park your car toward the front of the property near the practice range. You can of course drop your clubs at the bag drop, but that’s only about 100 feet from most of the parking lot. To get to the clubhouse you must be given a ride on a shuttle. It is possible this set up was specific to a busy football weekend crowd. There were also collegiate practice rounds being played for an upcoming tournament hosted by the Irish. When courses are that busy they sometimes do bizarre things that make more sense for the logistics of a busy weekend. As you can see from the photo above, the clubhouse is an attractive structure that blends in with the woodsie setting it sits in. The proshop is full of Irish apparel and various other trinkets marketed toward fans and alums of the school.

Layout/Scenery

If you’ve ever been to Indiana you know its largely flat as a pancake and is a complete bore to drive across, through, etc. I’ve been to South Bend a half dozen times in my life and always felt that this area correctly represented the topography of the rest of the state. In my visit to the Warren Course, I could not have been proved to be more wrong. Notre Dame’s golf course must sit on the only interesting piece of property that exists in the entire Hoosier State. There are rolling hills, subtle elevation changes, picturesque meadows, and even some nice little streams that can cause trouble as you navigate the course during your round.

A round here will start out a little slow as the opening holes don’t do much to catch your eye. You immediately notice the Crenshaw/Coore bunkering and green complexes, but there’s not much else to make you raise an eyebrow until at least half way through the first nine holes. After 6 holes you are routed back past the club house and enter a different part of the property that gets much more interesting. The Warren Course makes a loop up and across a plateau and through a rather mature wooded area to play its 7th and 8th holes.

The par 3 ninth hole brings you right back to the clubhouse in time to grab a snack or quick lunch before you start the back nine that follows a similar pattern as the front. The early holes are good, but not great, but the course closes with some flare and drama once you pass back by the clubhouse for 16, 17, and 18. The surroundings of the course provide for a nice mix of scenery and setting that make the course unique. There are holes that play through woods, prairies, marsh, and some that even feel links in style. At one point early on the front nine you can even see a chunk of campus and get a look at the Golden Dome. 

Everything about the Warren Course is subtle, from the clubhouse to the layout, that is its true character. There are very few ‘wow’ moments when you step on a tee to hit a shot, if any. The greens are interesting and strategic in nature. The bunkers are attractive and do wonders to frame what would otherwise be an underwhelming look. My only true knock on the layout is the way both nines start out a bit on the dull side. I know some golfers like that because it gives them a chance to get their sea legs under them, but I think the architects could have provided a more intriguing hole earlier on both 9s to wet your appetite. 

Score: 4.0

Conditioning

Even though Notre Dame is a private university with unlimited funding, the Warren Course that is part of the university is as public of a golf course as you’ll find. There are some perks for golfers affiliated with the Irish, but any old Joe can walk up and play at any given time. With that, you can’t expect the course to feel like a private club or be conditioned like one. Additionally, with all the outings it hosts for the school, collegiate events, etc. Warren sees plenty of traffic and action. While the course is well maintained it’s easy to see that it gets beat up a bit with extra wear and tear.

When I played the course it was clear that the fairways had a rough year. The starter mentioned that the severe heat of the summer put together with a bad batch of chemicals applied to the grass had done severe damage to the short grass. About half the holes’ fairways were burnt out from this blunder. Aside from that, the course was green and lush and had drained quite well considering the amount of rain that had recently been through the area.

The greens are fast and fun to putt, but because of the excess traffic you’ll notice a few more spike and scuff marks on them than other courses that get reviewed as well as Notre Dame’s course typically does. When a course does get this kind of traffic, you often see the bunkers being neglected by the clientele that plays it. That’s not apparent at all at Warren. The bunkers here are not only great looking, but they also are easy to play from, are well kept and maintained, and have a consistent sand that doesn’t typically bury your ball. The rough at Warren is just about right (in length and thickness) for the type of play the course tends to see. It isn’t overly penal, but you’ll notice some spots that are much thicker that you’d want no part of. It’s healthy but fair.

Score: 3.5

Value

The Coore/Crenshaw tag alone on some golf courses can make the average green fee start at right around $200 or more. That’s not the case at the Warren Course. The most you can possibly pay here for a round with a cart is $70. That’s a great price for a really good golf course. You can walk for $50 and, as previously noted, there are price breaks for alums, students, faculty, etc.

Because the green fees are so affordable I doubt you’ll find a better deal on sites like Golfnow or its peers. Why would you need it? Food, range balls, and anything else you’d need while on the grounds is/are also fairly priced. If you’re coming here from either coast or even nearby Chicago this might be one of the cheapest rounds of golf you’ll have played in a while. The courses website will also lead you to some of the stay and play packages that include rounds and rooms at about 80% of the normal rate. That kind of price, those designers, decent conditions, and a fun course to play….yes, there’s plenty of value there. Perfect score. 

Score: 5.0

Service/Pace

Again, this is another area where the fact that Notre Dame is a private institution with a public golf course benefits the golfer. The staff here are employees of the university and they represent it with pride. They do everything they can to accommodate you and make your experience here enjoyable. My group showed up late with tee times for 12 golfers on one of the busiest days of the year. We were hungover and wearing the team colors of a rival. This was our last day of a 3 day golf trip and because of car trouble, injuries, and other obligations our group shrunk to only 4. The staff didn’t bat an eye. They were happy to roll with the punches and use the open times as starter times.

What the???? I figured they’d charge us for at least one of those times we should have cancelled, but no….they smiled at us like we were the King of England and provided us with anything we might need and even apologized to us for the course being so busy that day. That is outstanding.

 

Have I mentioned the course was busy? Even with everything going on at Warren that day we still didn’t have any issues finishing in just over 4 hours. Because of the simplistic nature of the design and the proximity of the holes, there’s no excuse to play a round here in anything over 4:15.

Score: 4.0

Amenities

South Bend isn’t much to anyone from a big city, just a typical Midwestern town that (outside of Notre Dame) has a blue collar way of life to it. You won’t find many 5 star hotels and restaurants so don’t seek out golf in this area if you need those things to have a great time. There are several sports bars and chain hotels to choose from, but if you’re planning on coming for a football game too you’ll want to book your times and rooms well in advance.

The Warren Course has all the basic golf amenities you need. The range and practice area are great, but I didn’t notice any area that is dedicated to helping the golfer extensively practice his/her short game. There has to be such an area for the golf teams to use, but those aren’t accessible to the public. As a public daily fee facility you can’t expect there to be a caddie program here, and there isn’t one, but because of what the course is and where it is this will not result in any kind of deduction of points in this category. 

Where Warren does lose a few points is the food/beverage/restaurant area. Their site says they’ll host any 140 person event you can think of, which probably means a wedding or corporate event, but after seeing that part of the facility I can’t see it being that attractive of an option for such an event other than your typical golf outing. The food in the snack shop at the turn made me feel like I was visiting my grandparents in their retirement home. No, it didn’t smell like urine, but there was a cafeteria feel to it instead of the casual, subtle golf vibe you get from the rest of the place. 

Score: 2.5

Difficulty

The Warren Course isn’t overly difficult in any way, shape, or form. There are only a handful of holes that have water hazards in play. While you certainly can hit a shot or two into the natural grass that frames several holes, you typically find it and can advance the ball some 100 plus yards toward the hole. The greens are kept at a nice speed and aren’t too undulating. They’re also very true which gives you a chance to hole putts as long as you can keep your approach below the hole. 

The course doesn’t play especially long unless you’ve picked a set of tees you’re not comfortable with and there are not many forced carries of hazards. As I noted above, the rough isn’t thick and the bunkers are easy to play from unless you just hate being in the sand to begin with. During my round there the wind in Northwest Indiana was pretty calm until later in the round. I assume that most days it would be more of a factor than what we had to deal with and would make the course more difficult. 

Per usual, this rating isn’t based on a 5 being “way too hard”. I’m rating a course a 5 when I’d say it’s playable and enjoyable, but not easy, for players of all levels. The Warren Course is a good mixture of all these components. Golfers of any skill should find enjoyment in playing it.

Score: 4.5

Composite

If you and I were shooting the breeze and the Warren Course came up, I’d tell you that it’s worth playing, but only if you have other plans to be in the area. It is not a destination course. However, if you plan on taking in an Irish football game, by all means you should reserve a time and check it out. Additionally, if you’re passing through Indiana on an east/west drive down 80/90, it would behoove you to plan your trip so that you can sneak in a round at Notre Dame.

Score: 3.92 (out of 5)

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