Course Review: Kapalua – The Plantation Course

With the ToC this week, now is as good a time as any to revisit my Plantation Course review from last year.

Kapalua (The Plantation Course) – Maui, HI (Architects: Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore)

Background

The Kapalua resort on the island of Maui began building the Plantation Course in the early 90s after architects Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore were hired for the job. Coore and Crenshaw shaped the former pineapple plantation (hence the name) on the side of a mountain so that it traverses up, down, and across the mountain it sits upon. The course provides visitors with stunning views of Maui, the Pacific Ocean, and the island of Molokai that rests in the distance across the sea. 
Plantation Golf Course View

Having previously hosted a silly season event sponsored by Cadillac around the Thanksgiving holiday, the Plantation Course has been home to the PGA Tour’s Tournament of Champions since 1999.

Layout/Scenery

The island of Maui is full of stunning views and scenery and so too is the part of the island that the Plantation Course…

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Course Review: Erin Hills

Erin Hills – Erin, WI (Architects: Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry, & Ron Whitten)

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Background

Bob Lang made millions selling greeting cards and then turned his passion to golf later in life. More specifically, he wanted to build a golf course that would host a major tournament in central Wisconsin. Lang sought out experts like Ron Whitten and executives at the USGA to get opinions on his dream. After showing his consultants the Kettle Moraine land he planed to build on, they were sold, and the USGA had a new project that could be the newest belle of the U.S. Open ball.

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Construction on Lang’s new love began in 2004 and the course officially opened in 2006 in Erin, Wisconsin. Erin is roughly 40 minutes west of downtown Milwaukee, but nowhere near a major highway. The course was originally built with quirks that were meant to mimic famous design characteristics of Scottish golf. It was immediately selected to host the 2008 USWAPL, the 2011 U.S. Amateur, and later scored the 2017 U.S. Open by beating out the redesigned Dubsdread Course at Cog Hill near Chicago. Being selected to host such tournaments was suprising because it made Erin Hills the first course to ever host USGA events and be owned by one person. Sadly, that person isn’t the man who dreamed it all up. Lang put so much into Erin Hills that he was forced to sell the course to Andrew Ziegler in 2009.

My first trip to Erin Hills came in 2008 on a rainy summer day. It was cold, wet, and down right miserable for playing golf. That didn’t matter. Erin held its own just fine. At one point my group decided that we were as close to the clubhouse as we were going to get. Why not dry off, get some food, and try it again in an hour? During our break Lang took the time to greet us, show us around, and talk about his dream. He made quite an impression on me. I was sad to hear he had to sell the course. I can only hope he still takes joy during that week in June of 2017 when his dream becomes reality.

Once Ziegler took over, he attempted to upgrade the conditioning of the golf course by banning motor carts and hiking up the greens fees to increase the maintenance budget. The lodge and pub built by Lang have been expanded on and the property now also includes a hotel and cottages.

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Additionally, the quirks originally built into the course have been removed at the request of the USGA. The 2nd green was about the size of a 2 car garage slab, it is now 40% bigger, but still looks tiny from the fairway. The original 6th hole was named the Dell hole. The green sat in a natural fold of the land and was not in the golfer’s vision from the tee. A white rock at the top of the fold was moved each day to align golfers to the hole location. This hole was completely removed. The 9th hole today was once known as the “Bye” hole. You played it in the middle of your round as a 150 yard par 3 that drops 70 feet from tee to green. With any wind in play, it is a tough shot. Your score on that hole was used to determine tiebreakers on bets once you finished your round. This hole is now number 9 and it replaced the old Dell hole.

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The original 10th hole was a long par 5 that has been changed to a longish par 4 and the green was redesigned. Several other smaller changes were also made, but they don’t impact the golf course nearly as much the ones I have described above.

Layout/Scenery

The cliche that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ rings especially true at Erin Hills. The golf course has very few trees on it and there will be less every year according to the caddie in the white had shown below. There’s also no true water hazards unless the junk in front of the 14th green has been filled by a recent rain storm. There is natural grass/fescue for as far as the eye can see. The long stuff frames the holes while the rolling terrain gives the track all the character you can ask for. To me, the look of Erin Hills is quite natural and spectacular.

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It is almost hard to believe that the rolling hills of this flat-ish area of Wisconsin is all the work of glaciers from thousands of years ago. And the fact that Hurdzan, Fry, and Whitten were forward thinking enough in their design to keep things this way and use the natural terrain is a credit to them, their vision, and their ability to construct a course. Well done. While I love the look of Erin Hills and how it plays, the layout itself is not without flaws. As you read above, the USGA felt the need to tweak some things, but I think there are still fixes needed to make this a true championship golf course.

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First hole first, I’d blow it up. You start your round at Erin with a demanding tee shot and a goofy hole. It’s awful. Hazard down the left, bunkers down the right, side hill lies. It doesn’t fit the rest of the course. And this is all after they tried to flatten it out and make it more fair than the original design. I also don’t like starting with a par 5 and ending with a par 5. Although, 18 will not be a gimmie birdie for any professional trying to make up a shot at the final hole of the U.S. Open. It’s tough.

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Outside of number 1, I have no complaints. I like the other changes they’ve made since Lang opened the course. I love how they used the land, and I love the open spaces that make the property feel so expansive. One of the first things you notice when you drive on to the grounds is how much more land is still unused. I think the USGA loves that too as they’ll use it for parking, corporate tents, etc. Perhaps the 2017 US Open will net Erin Hills enough cash to build a 2nd course.

Score: 4.5

Conditioning

In my most recent course review I gave the Lawsonia Links course a break on any conditioning flaws thanks to Wisconsin’s short golf season. They get a break because they don’t have a high priced greens fee. Erin Hills is a championship course charging you top dollar and therefore you should expect tour quality conditioning for every round you play there from June to October. Expect to be disappointed.

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I’m not guaranteeing that you’ll get there and play unmowed fairways and slow greens, but that is what happened to us. After a week of perfect weather in the area I expected every blade of grass to be perfectly manicured and the course to be firm and fast. We played on a Sunday. The fairways appeared to have been recently top dressed and not mowed for close to 4 days. How do you not mow on a Sunday? The greens rolled at about a 9.5 or slower. That’s unacceptable to a golfer that paid $200+ to play there. There was also plenty of turf damage that looked like it remained from the previous winter of Polar Vortex. What the fuck? We played in September. I love the venue, but it wasn’t up to snuff for us and I don’t think the staff here wants to put in the work to make it perfect until it is U.S. Open time.

Outside of that, I will say that the conditioning is fair in other parts of the course. The bunkers are good, the fescue grass is playable, and the primary rough is not going to break your wrists. I also liked that the course generally will play firm and fast, except for the greens.

Score: 3.5

Value

Playing Erin Hills is roughly 40% cheaper than playing its big brother, Whistling Straits, up the road in Kohler. For that reason alone golfers playing it should perceive some value in a day on the course. Where Erin loses points is the conditioning I described above. There are no discounts or twilight rates. You’re paying $225 no matter what. The staff will also recommend getting a caddie that will cost you another $100. The loopers are pretty good here, but not worth the full $100.

Everything else at Erin Hills is reasonably priced. We had breakfast there and it was less than $15 per guy. It was pretty tasty too. The proshop items are also reasonably priced all things considered.

Score: 4.0

Service/Pace

As I noted above, when you play Erin Hills you have to walk. Whether that’s carrying your own or having a caddie, this element adds time to your round. Then throw in the 10,000 yards you walk, time to find balls in the fescue, and a few stops for photo ops and you’re going to play in 4 hours and 45 minutes or more. Things move pretty well because most groups have caddies to push things along, thank god.

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The service from the staff is top notch too. There were a few cute Betty’s in the pro shop and servers, starters, rangers, caddies, and other staff all over the grounds to help you with anything. One of the rangers even gave my hungover ass a ride from the 16th tee to the green after I actually found it in regulation.

Score: 4.5

Amenities

With Milwaukee only 40 some minutes away, you can find something to do with your time at Erin Hills besides golf if you want to. But why would you do that? The downtown scene can be fun and if the Brewers are in town it would be worth your time to see a game at Miller Park. However, if you can stay in Erin Hills’ hotel you have a plush room and great food right on site to enjoy.

The golf amenities themselves are top notch. Nice putting green, great range, caddies, etc. What I think they should do is build a grass short course for patrons to use. Playing the course takes a lot out of you, but you’ll likely finish with plenty of appetite left for golf. Going back out on the big course would be like eating another 5 course meal after you finished one, hence the need for another attraction.

If you’re up for something unique, you can always go up the road to Holy Hill to find god. Perhaps he can help you with your short game. Holy Hill is the church tower you see in the distance in some pics above. It sort of haunts you throughout your round. Apparently this is a Catholic shrine to Mary that is a registered National Landmark.

Score: 4.5

Difficulty

If you don’t lose a ball at Erin Hills, you’ll likely finish your round without a penalty shot. And you’ll have earned every fucking whack you took there because the course is god damn hard. It’s long and it requires precision to play to the proper parts of the fairways and greens. Missing a green is no picnic, and hitting it in the fescue is a half shot penalty or more. The key from the fescue is to not get too greedy with your recovery shot and to simply take your medicine. 

There aren’t any true forced carries at Erin Hills unless you go for the 14th green in two (its a par 5). This is doable from the middle tees, but not so much from the black box. What also makes the course hard are some of the elevated greens you must play to with longer clubs. That’s a tough shot. And of course, if you’re a true bomber, feel free to take a bite out of the 8000 yard tees that are available to you. I played this from 7600 yards the first time I saw it and felt like I played 10 par 5s because the course was wet. It is much more sensible from the 7176 markers.

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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. Erin Hills is hard and can be a bit unfair thanks to your ball bouncing off its intended path in the fairways or on the green. While it won’t penalize you with strokes from being in a hazard, it will penalize you almost everywhere else when you get off line. I don’t think a player that has a handicap north of 18 will find much enjoyment at this course, and that hurts the rating for this category.

Score: 3.5

Composite

As I noted when I rated Lawsonia in my last review, much of the ratings I gave were based on expectations. Having played Erin Hills twice and watched much of the 2011 U.S. Am there I think my expectations were somewhat unrealistic when returning to the course in 2014. The composite score reflects this. The scores are low, but fair. I’m not going to tell you not to play it, it is a championship track and if you’re with 100 miles of it and willing to pay the freight, go see it for yourself. However, if you never check this one off your bucket list, don’t lose sleep over it. It is a special place but lacks grooming and history of the company is has been lumped in with.

Score: 4.08

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Course Review: Lawsonia (Links Course)

Lawsonia (Links Course) – Green Lake, WI (Architect: William Langford)

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Background

Golfers travel by the thousands into the great state of Wisconsin to play golf at Lake Geneva, near Kohler, and at Erin Hills. Those are the destination resorts and courses that make the most noise to attract patrons to their tracks. A course that gets over looked as a Dairy State destination is the Golf Courses at Lawsonia – Links Course. Lost among its younger and flashier brothers, Lawsonia is a value packed experience back in time to play one of the greatest lesser known layouts you can possibly imagine. 

Like the historic Baltusrol Courses in New Jersey, the Lawsonia site takes its name from the farmer that worked the land well before we ever played golf on it (you didn’t know Baltusrol comes from a farmer named Baltus Roll?). As happenstance would have it, the farm land bordering Green Lake later became a golf course thanks to the design of Chicago’s William Langford, circa 1920. Langford and his design team aren’t as well known as some contemporaries of their time like Donald Ross, but they have over 200 courses to their credit (most of which are in the midwest). These include gems as the nine holer at Harrison Hills in Indiana and an impressive re-work of Skokie CC in Illinois.

William Langford and Theodore Moreau formed their design partnership in 1918 and walking the grounds at Lawsonia allows you to easily see the influence C.B. Macdonald’s early version of Chicago Golf Club had on them. The good news for golf nuts like you and me is that much of the original design on the Links Course has been preserved some 90 years later. While some holes have been lengthened to accommodate technological advancements in equipment, the design principles are not lost and cannot be ignored by anyone playing the course today.

The Links Course at Lawsonia has more quirks than a midget with turrets syndrome, and that is in large part what makes is so damn fun to play. The best example of one such quirks is the fabled 7th hole, which is a phenomenal short par 3 shown below.

The 155 yarder doesn’t look like much until you realize the repercussions of missing the green in any direction. Note where the man in red is shown in the picture. That is roughly a 15 foot rise up to the putting surface. Is that natural? Not a chance. The urban legend is that a railroad car was buried underneath the green to create the rise. That’s the kind of fun you’ll have playing Lawsonia.

Layout/Scenery

Though much of the land you traverse while traveling through Wisconsin seems like flat, boring farm land, the glacial movements of a billion years ago did a find job of creating some very interesting topography in some of the central areas of the state. You see some of this at Lawsonia, albeit aided by Langford’s willingness to move dirt and bury things. The routing at the Links course is superb. While you do begin your day with two mostly blind tee shots, most of the course is right there in front of you, or so it seems. In my mind, there isn’t a single hole or shot that you play here that mirrors one you’ve already attempted. Lawsonia asks you to hit shots into long par 3s, reachable par 5s, short par 4s, and long par 4s. There are opportunities to hit risk reward shots, but the golf course also allows you to hit a recovery shot from almost anywhere you could think about hitting a stray ball.

Aptly named the Links Course, there aren’t many trees in play and the course plays mostly firm and fast. There are also several opportunities to run shots on the the greens as you would expect on a links style track. While the Links course is anything but long, you will find yourself hitting some longer clubs to greens based on how the hole is designed. The greens Langford designed are some of the most difficult, subtle, and fun putting surfaces you’ll ever see. While you always have an opportunity to recover from a shitty shot, being out of position is usually a recipe for a bogey, and that is largely due to how the greens were built. I’ve never played 18 greens that were so incredibly difficult to get up and down on after being just a yard or two off the edge. As you can see from the pictures, Langford used several large banks and built up the land around the greens to create ‘hazards’ for the golfers mind and eyes to deal with.

 

You know how sometimes when someone tells you about a course, they’ll also tell you to bring a full dozen balls because you’ll lose so many? That isn’t the case here. There is no water in play that I can think of. Even if you hit it in the fescue grass, you’ll likely find it and be able to advance it. We played 36 holes and I think I used the same ball all day. The Links Course also gives you a few decent chances at birdies as long as you execute the proper shots and play to the proper angles. Getting above the hole will be no picnic for you either.

The fescue grass I previously mentioned frames the holes quite well for you from the tee and the fairway. Combine that look, with the rolling hills, antique design features, and well conditioned course, and you have an absolutely under-rated layout and design that any golfer would enjoy playing. That being said, you have to remember that when you get out of position and you’re facing a 15 yard lob shot over a 10 foot bank, you’re the one that hit the shot that got you there. Don’t be a hater, just take your medicine.

Score: 5.0

Conditioning

Wisconsin only has about a 6 month golf season, which means they also only have a 6 month growing season. Don’t show up at Lawsonia on May 10th and expect it to be in tour condition. That can’t happen. The nights are too cold in the spring for grass to grow and to have the course flush until around mid June. Still, from June to October you’ll likely be very pleased with how the course is groomed. It was meant to play firm and fast, and the week of 75 degrees and sun leading up to our visit had the course doing just that. 

It does seem to be a busy place during the peak of the season, so therefore you’ll find some wear and tear on the greens that you wouldn’t find at a private club. However, the staff has done all they can to give you a great experience while you’re at Lawsonia. You also might find a rock or two in a green side bunker, which is part of the ruggedness of the course. It didn’t bother me but it does knock the score down just a peg.

You also won’t find much of a primary rough at Lawsonia. That kind of grass wasn’t meant to be a hazard 90 years ago and the irrigation here makes it a moot issue to this day. As I also noted above, the fescue is there to mind fuck you and shape the holes, but it is playable to an extent. That’s how it should be. If you had to re-tee every time you hooked one in that stuff the course would blow.  While I noted that the greens show some evidence of excess traffic, they’re still very good and quick enough to make you take notice of some of the undulations that can be both subtle and severe.

Score: 4.0

Value

If you read this site regularly you know that I also recently reviewed the Straits Course at Whistling Straits that was part of the same trip we took to Wisconsin. When you get wallet raped in Kohler, coming to Lawsonia seems much more gentle. We played 36 holes for something like $110. For a course this good, that’s worth every penny. I think the rack rate is about $65 or so, but I wasn’t involved with any of the bookings, etc, so I can’t say for sure. Some of the rates go up a bit on the weekend, but no matter how you slice it, the Links Course at Lawsonia is one of the best values you can imagine for the quality of golf course you’re playing.

Lawsonia doesn’t nickel and dime you for anything else while you’re there either. Range balls cost what they do anywhere else, merchandise is reasonable, and so is all the food you’re going to take down in Langford’s Pub in the clubhouse. Remember, you’re in the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin, the you should get some bang for your buck.

Score: 5.0

Service/Pace

There aren’t a lot of frills and extras that aid in your Lawsonia experience, but there doesn’t need to be. There’s a beer cart, there’s a restaurant, there’s a proshop, there’s a starter, you get the idea. Everything operates smoothly and efficiently as it should, and these happy cheese-heads do it all with a smile. The staff here has been doing this like pros for years, they don’t have to retrain staff like a resort would every year, they just keep on truck’in.

And the pace? It’s pretty damn good. What helps Lawsonia move along is the general fact the the course is so damn playable. You might spend some time looking for a ball or two in the fescue, but it doesn’t happen every hole. It also doesn’t get bogged down by tourists snapping photos and getting lost in the sites. Plus, this is a golfer’s course. If you’re coming to Lawsonia to play, you’re probably not some rich jerkoff playing golf to entertain a client, etc. You’re here for one thing, and the rest of the patrons are too.

Score: 4.5

Amenities

If you’re reading between the lines in this review, you’ve already figured out that Green Lake doesn’t have much to offer in the way of amenities like some of the other resorts in Wisconsin. Ahhh….but don’t assume so easily. Green Lake itself has plenty of dining options and a nice little town with just enough nightlife to get you in trouble. The lake can also provide you with other things to do if you aren’t one that wants to golf 36 holes every day you’re in town. Be warned though when choosing your lodging, if you rent a place on Green Lake the mother fucking fisherman will likely have you up at 6 am running their god damn outboards in the wrong gear as they scoot across the water to get to their favorite spot.

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Local bars and open water not your thing? Then reach out to the good people of the Foxtail. Our group of 12 refreshed at the house, had dinner, and clean up just in time to have the limo from the Foxtail pick us up for our evening of fun. No, the Foxtail experience isn’t going to compare to a Vegas strip club, but it is better than playing cards and starring at the walls with your buddies. Ask for Devine.

The amenities at Lawsonia are perfectly fine as well for all things golf. They have a locker room, but it isn’t anything to take a picture of, just good enough to take a shit in to rid your body of mud butt from drinking all that Miller from the previous night. Lawsonia doesn’t have a caddie program either, so they lose a half point there. What they do have is a 2nd golf course. We didn’t play it because I’m told it just isn’t nearly as good as the Links Course. Why slum it if you don’t have to? If you have played the Woodland Course, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

Score: 4.0

Difficulty

It is hard to imagine that such an old track like the Links Course at Lawsonia can hold up over time, but this one certainly does. Yet, it is playable for those of all levels as long as you know what tees you should be playing and don’t try to do too much when you are out of position. I don’t recall any forced carries that would be unattainable for high handicappers or women. There are birdie and/or eagle (I made eagle on number 5 the 2nd time around!) opportunities to be had if you execute the correct shots.

 

Golf at the Links Course at Lawsonia is really more of a chess match than it is a round of 18 holes. To me, that is the challenge, as well as the appeal of playing a course like this. This isn’t a place where I’d say to hide the women and children. A beginner learning to play golf at the Links would probably enjoy the game much more than a player of a similar ability learning on TPC Sawgrass (for example). 

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 Links Course at Lawsonia is fair, hard, and yet is absolutely playable for golfers of all levels. That is becoming a rare find with much of today’s golf course architecture.

Score: 4.5

Composite

When you have no expectations of a golf course when you get there, the grades you give it in a review can go either way on the scale. Having played Whistling Straits 24 hours before I played Lawsonia probably helped for me to see the subtle beauty and simple design virtues in what the course is compared to what it should be. Yet, all things considered, Lawsonia is a hidden gem that any golfer should play if they’re in this neck of the woods. If you’re an architectural nerd, you’ll love it. If you like golf that is fun, this is your place. If you want a great course at a good value, check….get here. I can only think of one type of golfer that wouldn’t enjoy Lawsonia – Links, and that’s the guy that likes to brag about where he’s played, where it is ranked, etc. If you’re that guy, go elsewhere. All others, add Lawsonia to your ‘to-do’ list.

Score:  4.5 (out of 5)

That’s a pretty high score for me to give. To put it in perspective, of the courses I’ve reviewed on this site, only the Plantation Course at Kapalua and Torrey Pines – South have received higher composite scores. Lawsonia – Links is in good company.

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Course Review: Whistling Straits (Straits Course)

Whistling Straits (Straits Course) – Kohler, WI (Architect: Pete Dye)

Straits at Whistling Straits

Background

While there are other tracks to play in Kohler, Pete Dye’s Straits Course is the money maker that everyone comes to see at Whistling Straits. The former airfield called Camp Haven was transformed into a championship golf course in 1998 thanks to the vision of Herb Kohl and Pete Dye. The Straits hosted the 2004 PGA Championship, the 2010 PGA Championship, and is scheduled to host the same event in 2015. It also is on the books as the host of the 2020 Ryder Cup. Dye’s design attempts to replicate a seaside links course set in the British Isles. It occupies 2 miles of the west coast of Lake Michigan and sits about 50 to 75 feet above the lake shore. Oddly, Scottish sheep are loose on the grounds  at all times, but somehow I missed see them. They are not to be used by golfers on lonely night you sick bastards.

Where is Kohler? Well, let’s just say it is north of Milwaukee and south of Green Bay, or….3 hours from Chicago if you don’t have a lot of traffic fucking that up. Whistling Straits has a 2nd course, the Irish course, and both are part of the resort owned by Kohl called the American Club. If you’re going, you’re likely staying there because there isn’t much else to choose from for lodging options. And for you guys that are into course rankings, you’ll want to know that the course ranks number 2 by Golf Digest and number 4 by Golf Magazine for public tracks you can play. It is also ranked number 16 by Golf Digest and number 28 by Golf Magazine in the top 100 in the country.

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Layout/Scenery

If you’ve been to Wisconsin before, or driven through it, you probably have the impression that there isn’t much to see unless you’re a barn or dairy cow aficionado. Hey, who isn’t? That impression should change a bit if you’re near Lake Michigan on any part of your next trip to Badgerland. The area around the Straits doesn’t seem like much until you finally get a view of the lake. The course, the clubhouse, the whole deal together is really quite impressive. As with any resort course experience, your fun begins at the bag drop. You stop your car and are attacked by a group of bros from the caddie shack that will ask your tee time and get you all set up before you even have your shoes on. At that point, they might as well park your car for you, but they don’t.

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We started are day with lunch on the patio, which was just about perfect. It was 75 degrees without a cloud in the sky and barely a breath of wind. The course then leads you out away from the facilities to the lake, then winds back and forth along the coastline for 13 of the 18 holes you play. Such routing sounds nice, but it does tend to make several of the holes feel the same. You must walk the course, there are no carts allowed. And the little paved paths they’ve created to help with drainage are only slightly better than going rogue and traversing the long grass and hills that could easily lead to a sprained ankle.

The opening hole should be a bit of a gimmie, but you better know the right line off the tee. This is where the Straits course can play tricks on you. If you haven’t played it, you have to rely on a caddie to tell you what your line should be off the tee. It isn’t ideal and can lead to a few foul balls. At Whistling, that can be very penal as I found out on the first hole by finding a 3 X 4 pot bunker and having no play but to advance my 2nd shot 20 yards. After that first green, you walk to the 2nd tee and see the lake in all its glory. Get used to it, it’ll be there all day.

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There are no trees in play on the Straits unless you hit an awful tee shot on the 9th hole, but there’s plenty of other design features to give you trouble. I mentioned the pot bunkers, the greens are psychotic, and some of the fairways look like a tiny ribbon across the horizon. The par 3s here unfortunately all play a bit and look like the same hole, but at different lengths. The par three 12th hole is a bit unique because there is a back right portion of the green that is about 10 X 10 and would make for a very interesting shot if it were ever used. The par four 6th hole’s green is similar in this regard too.

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Everything you see on your walk around the Straits is a part of the experience of playing the course. You feel like a tour pro even after you make an 8 because you have a caddie to blame. Walking along the lake shore is a very tranquil experience even if you’re make doubles like Michael Moore eats Twinkies. Where the course loses points in this category is the overall artificial feel that it has.

I can’t quite pinpoint what it is, but much of the course feels fake. Part of it is Dye’s design and the millions of cubic feet of earth that he moved and brought in. As Dustin Johnson knows, there are bunkers on almost every hole that were placed there just to have a bunker, or just to give the course a look. There are about 1000 on the course! What is the point? If you actually hit a ball in them you’re already so far off line you aren’t going to save par. Why punish the average player more? A pro won’t be in them either. I think if they took half of these out and only kept those with purpose the course would have a cleaner and more natural look.

Score: 4.5

Conditioning

You won’t find the Whistling Straits greens to be overly fast. The staff here can’t get stupid and cut them at a speed of 10.5 or more or they’d be asking for trouble with their pace of play and fairness of the golf course to the amateurs playing it on a daily basis. Still, they aren’t slow and they are in good shape when you consider the amount of play that comes across them. The rest of the course, for as rugged as it looks, is manicured perfectly. The fairways play firm and fast and have natural fescue grass that makes the ball sit up nicely. The sand base under the fescue keeps the ground feeling firm.

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The bunkers are all pretty well maintained too because 95% of the time they’re being raked by a caddie. You will find some waste areas that don’t have rakes and may have some foot prints in them. Don’t hit it in those spots and you won’t have to worry about them. The practice facility is up to snuff with the course, but the tee is probably mowed a bit too low and the hackers that can afford to play here chew it up pretty well. Overall, it is tough to complain about the conditioning here, but for $400, you should probably get faster greens and a practice range you can eat off of.

Score: 4.5

Value

I’m not going to beat around the bush on this one. There is no value in playing the Straits course for $400+. Once you tip the caddie, you’re out well over that. And there’s also no price breaks. You can save $100 if you play at twilight, but you likely won’t finish because the pace of play isn’t very good. If you do play at twilight, the good news is you don’t have to take a looper.

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That being said, this is a championship course that is worthy of being taken off your bucket list. Playing it once for that price tag is probably worth it if you’re a course chaser. Plus, you can scout the course for a future PGA and Ryder Cup!

Score: 2.0

Service/Pace

Lets start with the positives. The service. From what I can tell the Kohler folks do a pretty nice job of hiring decent looking college age girls to serve you booze and bring you food and drinks on the course. They’re not stripper-like, but they’re not old hags you see at some places. The overall service at the Straits is pretty damn decent too. The caddies are knowledgeable, but likely not worth the $100 you pay them. The shop staff, bag staff, course staff, etc….all of them were top notch. I can’t say enough good things about those people. But that’s what you should be getting when the price tag is this high.

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Now the bad, the pace. When we pegged it on the 1st hole the group in front of us was nowhere in sight. By the 2nd fairway we began to wait on them on every shot. It wasn’t their fault, the guys in front of them waited, and the guys in front of them waited, and so on. I hear Pebble Beach is the same way. When tourists get on a difficult golf course, they don’t play ready golf and they don’t know where they’re going. Plus, they take pictures the whole fucking time (I only do it when I have to wait). We played in 5 hours and 15 minutes and were told that was decent. I can’t imagine how bad the pace could be on a rainy day with a full tee sheet. Fuck me.

Score: 3.5

Amenities

The American Club has everything. Fine dining, fine wines, a spa, great golf, caddies, great practice facilities, other great golf courses, and on and on and on. What don’t they have? I can’t think of anything. The food is pretty good and the pro shops have everything you could want with the Whistling Straits logo on it. If you go, bring extra money for shopping because you’re going to spend another $300 in the shop on merchandise.

If I was going to deduct a point in this category I’d do it simply because there isn’t much else around the resort to talk about. But then again, why leave the resort? I’m also fairly certain there is no strip club within 60 miles of the joint, but I’ll give them a pass for that. We found one the next night on our trip anyway, well, it found us I guess. And then there’s the granola bars. Oh my. So fucking good there must be crack in them. They’re about $5, but will keep you going all day. The ingredients are as follows:

Mix
2 C brown sugar
¾ C light corn syrup
¼ C honey
1 C butter
1 1/8 C peanut butter
1/1/2 T maple syrup
Mix separately and add to above
2 t salt
6 c quick rolled oats
¾ c wheat germ
Rough chop and add to above
1¼ C cranberries
1¼ C raisins
1¼ C apricots
1¼ C sunflower seeds
1¼ C pecans
Grease bottom only of a 9″ x 13″ pan. Bake in 350°F oven for 20-25 minutes. Cool
and cut into 3½” by 2″ bars.

That’s weird, I don’t see crack listed. Try one if you’re in Kohler, just because.

Score: 5.0

Difficulty

Like almost any Pete Dye course you can think of, the Straits course is overly difficult to play when it doesn’t need to be. The water doesn’t come into play and there’s a good chance you’ll finish your round without a penalty shot, but you’ll be cursing your wedge game to the hilt when you take four shots from 50 yards away from the green because you hit it on the site of a hill in a pot bunker that has no business being there. The course also has some forced carries that don’t leave the shorter hitters many options to bail out from attempting. And there are way too many blind shots to call this place ‘golfer friendly’.

Because the Straits plays firm and moderately fast it doesn’t play extremely long unless you’re playing a set of tees you don’t belong on. Also, I didn’t play on a day with much wind. While I didn’t find the course to be easy, I can only imagine how much harder it would be with a good 20 mph wind beating on you off the lake.  And fellas, this isn’t a place you bring your wife to see the sites. She’s not going to enjoy the difficult walk or the challenges of hiking up the hills to play her foul balls. Don’t bring her.

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 Straits Course gets knocked because its almost too hard for everyone. Hide the women and children. And if you’re a 3 handicapper playing from over 7100 yards, you’re not breaking 80 your first time around the track. Book it.

Score: 2.5

Composite

Low grades aside, the Straits course almost lives up to the impossible amount of hype it receives. It’s good and it is a true experience that you’ll want to knock off your bucket list. If you’re a value golfer, just get it out of your mind that you’ll ever go there and play. You won’t pay the freight and you won’t want to so you also won’t enjoy it. If you’re looking for a similar experience at half the price, give Arcadia Bluffs a try on the other side of the lake. In my opinion, it is a better golf course and almost identical experience, minus the major championship history.

Score: 3.5 (out of 5)

If you didn’t get enough of the Straits here, check out the review by the Itinerant Golfer on his site. He’s got great pictures that are way better than mine, and he even saw the fucking sheep. Enjoy.

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Course Review: Forest Dunes

I made my annual pilgrimage to Forest Dunes today (@ForestDunesGolf) and had to revisit, slightly edit, and upgrade some of my reviews and scores that make it up. The bottom line, this place is fantastic and a must play if you’re in Northern Michigan.

Forest Dunes – Roscommon, MI (Architect: Tom Weiskopf)

Background

Built on property once owned by the founder of General Motors and Detroit Mafia families, Forest Dunes was born into existence in 2002.  Designed by major champion Tom Weiskopf, the (appropriately named) course will take you on a journey through the hardwoods, pines, and natural sand dunes of Northern Michigan that you’ll never forget.

Forest Dunes has captured several prestigious awards in its brief history. The course was ranked number 99 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 of 2011-2012, ranked number 20 in Golf Digest’s 2011-2012 Greatest Public Courses, and ranked number 87 in Golfweek’s 2012 Best Modern Courses.

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Where is Roscommon, Michigan you might ask? Well, it’s absolutely in the middle of nowhere. Roscommon has one stop light and one watering hole that you can find a drink in, but that’s part of the beauty of Forest Dunes, you’ll just have to…

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Course Review: TPC Deere Run

Last year I posted my TPC Deere Run course review in anticipation of the John Deere. I’m re-blogging it today ICYMI.

TPC Deere Run – Silvis, IL (Architect: D.A. Weibring)

Background

Located in Silvis, Illinois, the Quad Cities region, TPC Deere Run has hosted the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic since 2000. The course was featured as one of America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses by Golf Digest, as well as ranked fifth in the state of Illinois by GolfWeek Magazine. It is built on the site of a former Arabian horse farm and designed by a native boy from Illinois, former tour pro D.A. Weibring.

Are you wondering where exactly Silvis and the Quad Cities are? It’s about 2.5 hours west of Chicago and sits on the western border of Illinois, or the eastern border of Iowa. In other words, it’s in the absolute middle of nowhere.

Layout/Scenery

Getting to Deere Run is half the fun. I doubt many golfers actually line up a trip to the Quad…

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Course Review: Harbor Shores

The Seniors are playing a major at Harbor Shores this week. I reviewed it in December and it received the lowest score of any course of reviewed.

Harbor Shores Golf Course – Benton Harbor, MI (Architect: Jack Nicklaus)

Background

Less than 90 miles from Chicago resting on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan, Jack Nicklaus was hired to design a golf course that would someday host major professional championships. The end result of this project is Harbor Shores Golf Course which has already hosted the 2012 Senior PGA Championship and will again host the same tournament in 2014, 2016, and 2018. Three holes play along the shore of the big lake, while several other holes play along, across, and through the the Paw Paw River and various wetlands.  

According to the Harbor Shores website, over 3 million square feet of dilapidated buildings were demolished and over 140,000 tons of waste material was removed from portions of the property and river to make the various parcels suitable for use. The project is technically a non-profit development, but…

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Drive, Chip, & Putt Wins The Day

That Is How You Grow The Game

When Golf Digest’s controversial cover was released this week featuring Paulina Gretzky, the magazine and those associated with it defended the cover choice as a way to grow the game. We were told that putting a non-golfing sex symbol on the cover might make someone only casually interested in the game pick up the magazine and perk their interest. Bullshit, the only thing that got perked was some frat boy’s dick. If you really have an interest in growing the game, do more things like the USGA and Augusta National did over the last 12 months.

About a year ago during the Masters the USGA and ANGC announced the creation of the national Drive, Chip, and Putt competition. The big deal in the announcement was that the finals would be held the Sunday before the Masters at Augusta National. It sounded cool at the time, but it was hard to grasp until we all saw it come to fruition this morning on the Golf Channel.

So Cool

If you missed it, I can’t say enough good things about what TGC aired from 8 to noon today. They showed girls and boys from different age groups on the greens, on the range, and in the short game areas competing to win their individual age groups. Rich Lerner, Peter Jacobson, Kay Cockerill, and Curt Byrum were on the call and they nailed it. Kids were interviewed, had features done on them, great replay and graphics were used, they even had bios of the kids…..it was exceptional television for any golf nut.

I figured when they made the announcement they’d simply trot out a few kids and let them whack some balls and call it good. Instead, these kids got to perform the putting part of the championship on the 18th green. Kids would hit 3 putts from lengths of 6 feet, 15 feet, and 40 feet. The 15 footer hit from right about where you’ve seen Schwartzel, O’Meara, and others hole putts to win green jackets. The winners names were displayed on the giant scoreboard shown above that is just off the 18th green in between the 10th and 18th holes. Pictures of the winners in green jackets were taken during award ceremonies. And to top it all off, former Masters champs like Adam Scott, Fred Couples, and Bubba Watson were on hand just to check things out. They had no obligation to be there, but after watching early portions of the event on TV, all three players made their way to the grounds to take part and meet the kids.

By the way, these kids are damn good. Several of the ladies are 2 handicaps or better and have committed to play college golf before they even enter high school. Most of the boys featured were scratch or have a plus index. Almost all of them putt without an ounce of fear, which makes an old three-jacker like me envious. There’s not doubt we’ll see a handful of these young champions again at Augusta in the years to come, however they’ll be playing for a little more than a 6 inch tall trophy.

As the competition aired on TGC several plugs were provided for the 2015 version of Drive, Chip, & Putt as registration for next year is now open and underway. Something tells me after this morning’s telecast the USGA will have a huge increase in applicants. Eat your heart out Golf Digest.

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Augusta Virgins Take Note (Re-visited)

THE FOLLOWING WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED ON MARCH 15, 2013

I know most of you are thinking that due to the title of this post and my warped sense of humor this entry will have something to do with Tiger or Adam Scott ascending upon the town of Augusta and it’s young, virginal women. That simply isn’t the case. Instead, I’m providing you with my anecdotal to-do list for those of you heading to the Masters for the first time this year. I hope you find it helpful.

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The Church Of 18 Holes

September 2, 2010 was my lucky day. I played 36 holes at two top 100 golf courses and returned home to find an envelope casually included in the pile of mail my wife left out. I noticed the Augusta National logo on it immediately and my heart raced. I felt like the kid in Willy Wonka finding a golden ticket. This was my letter from Augusta National Golf Club (ANGC) telling me I’d been given the opportunity to purchase 4 practice round tickets at $36 each. 364 days later I became a father, and if you ask me, that’s one of only a handful of life experiences that tops going to the Masters for your first time.

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Making your way to ANGC just to watch a practice round sounds silly when you read it. What is all the fuss? But anyone that has done so understands the religious experience a golfer has as they enter the grounds. Everything you’ve ever heard or read about the place lives up to the hype.  After much anticipation, you clear security and the merchandise area and the course finally comes into view for you. No blade of grass is out of place, no cloud is in the blue sky above and the large scoreboard on the first hole tells you exactly where you are. You almost have to pinch yourself to make sure you aren’t dreaming or didn’t die and enter heaven. No bullshit, it’s that good.

Tickets First, Mission Impossible

Most of you are golf nuts, like me, so you already know how hard it is to get tickets to the Masters. Thursday through Sunday admittance has become nearly impossible unless you’re in the know or have dead relatives on the ticket list. Once upon a time practice round tickets were easy to find, however, increased demand for them caused Augusta National to move to a lottery system to disperse the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday tickets.  When I first entered their lottery they asked for my social security number (seriously), home phone, employer, date of birth, if I I was a democrat (joking) and a few other personal bits of info.  My guess is they used this data to profile potential patrons by checking credit scores to ensure they were less likely to sell their tickets to scalpers and be more likely to spend money on Masters merchandise. It seemed like I was giving them a kidney just to get on the list, but it also seemed ‘worth it’.

In recent years the Masters has moved their lottery system online and even made Thursday/Friday tickets available. I’ve yet to hear about anyone ‘winning’ 1st and 2nd round tickets. If you’re curious about the online lottery, check out the ticket section of the Masters website for more information.

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Who To Take/Go With?

It doesn’t matter who you go with. Good friends and family will obviously make it more memorable to you, but I’d go with Hitler, Sadaam, and Martha Burk if they gave me an invite. If some vendor/client through work offers to take you and you find him to be as annoying as jock itch, ditch the fucking prick by losing him in the crowd and watch the action by yourself. You’ll never be alone because 25,000 other people will be wandering this wondrous place doing the same thing as you.

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Play With Your Balls

If you’re coming to Augusta from north of the Mason-Dixon line you’ve likely just had a long winter and you’ll absolutely have to schedule a few rounds during your trip to the Masters. If you don’t play you’ll regret not taking advantage of the mild spring weather and southern courses in peak conditions. Additionally, all your thoughts of Augusta National will get you so golf-horny that you’ll have golfer blue balls if you don’t get 36 in at some point on your trip. There aren’t a lot of course options in the area unless of course you’re tight with the membership at Sage Valley or Augusta Country Club. For the budget conscious there is a fun muni that I enjoyed (on different trip) right in Augusta that the Augusta State University golf team calls home. They jack the rates up a bit that week and tee times are still hard to come by so book your round early.  For those looking to spend more freely, the Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, SC (just across the state border) opens its doors to golfers willing to pay the freight for Masters’ week. The Palmetto Golf Club is a popular attraction, even at that price, because it was designed by Alister MacKenzie (co-designer of ANGC with Bobby Jones). If you can’t get on either of those, try the Cocks…..errrrrr…. home of the USC Gamecocks golf teams, Cobblestone Park, which is about an hour away near Columbia, SC. I’ve played it twice and enjoyed it, but don’t expect many amenities, they’ve been working on their clubhouse for what seems like a decade. If you’re driving to the tournament, play different courses on your way to help break up the drive and rid yourself of golfer blue balls.

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Cash Money

Bring plenty of dough, but you won’t need it for food and beverage. Sandwiches for the patrons are about $2.00 each. Drinks are cheaper, besides beer, but even the beer is cheap. I had at least 5 drinks and 3 meals in one day on the grounds and I doubt I spent $20.00 total on food and beverage. What you will need your funds for is the merchandise area. You’ll want to buy everything you see, and you should. There’s something for everyone. Sure they have shirts, hats, pullovers, etc….all the stock shit, but there’s so much more……shot glasses, playing cards, stuff animals, money clips, coasters, sweaters, stuff for your wife…whatever, and it’s all made for the Masters. Buy early and often.

Hotel-Motel

There aren’t many in Augusta or even near by. Like the golf courses, the ones that are there raise their rates this time of year. Don’t sweat it, just plan on getting a room about an hour+ away and book early.

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Read This

Phenomenal book about Augusta National experiences. I bought it based on the Itinerant Golfer’s review on his site and it has not disappointed. Even if you’re not going, it’s worth the read. While you’re there check out his other book reviews for additional reading pleasures, he’s got good taste.

Click-Click

Last I knew they still don’t allow phones at the Masters, not even for practice rounds. Leave your phone in the car because you can’t even have it to take pictures. Remember that old digital camera you have somewhere in your house that you thought was obsolete? Well, pull it out and put it to use. The pictures you take during an Augusta practice round will become your golf porn. You don’t want to leave the premises without a shitload of them. If you’re attending Thursday through Sunday: 1. Fuck you, I’m jealous; 2. You won’t need a camera because you can’t use it anyway.

To Par 3 Or Not To Par 3

Tough call on this one. When selecting practice rounds in the lottery system, remember that the Par 3 contest is Wednesday. It would seem to be a patron’s dream to attend, but it also means the big course gets shut down early and many of the stars go home to rest. If you want to see more of the players on the course, opt for Monday or Tuesday tickets.

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More Pimento, Please

Try the famed pimento cheese sandwich. Just do it. I wasn’t sure what to think of these things as they look like something the poor kids would bring for lunch in grade school. They’re fucking delicious. I’m hooked on them. The recipe I’ve grown to like is 1 part mayo, 3 parts Swiss cheese, with ample amounts of sliced pimento thrown in. Spread on white bread. Enjoy. The ANGC does not make their recipe public.

Go To The Range

If you have time, see the practice facility. You might not appreciate it like I did, but it is simply the greatest practice area ever built in golf. The club acquired property in fairly recent years and built this Nirvana just for the tour pros that come here every spring. It is immaculate. You’ll likely notice it after you pass through security and are walking to the  course. If you don’t appreciate it’s aesthetics, you’ll at least be in awe of the shots you see the players hit.

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21 days to go!!!!!

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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.

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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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