The Warren Course at Notre Dame worthy of a truce

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Owen Wilson, Hutch to Ben Stiller's Starsky in the recent Hollywood spoof on the old 1970's TV detective show, had an earlier role in a 2001 movie that put his character in a bit more danger. In "Behind Enemy Lines," Wilson, played a military fighter pilot, who had to bail out of his Navy jet and drop into enemy territory. It's not good to fall behind enemy lines. You get shot at, you have to keep running from people, you get dirty, and it's just not much fun. But consider going behind enemy lines on purpose, FOR a purpose. It wouldn't be a military one; instead you'd be asked to muster up all the courage possible to, well, play a really good golf course.

OK, admittedly, this may be a little overly dramatic. But hey, Big Blue fans and Notre Dame fans are serious enemies.

Here's your mission, if you decide to accept it. As a Michigan golfer, considering your loyalty to the state's splendid golf courses and that proud sports tradition at the University of Michigan, you've been summoned to move across the state line into Indiana, to Fighting Irish territory, to The Warren Course at Notre Dame University.

Wear something green for you own personal protection.

Cross the Border

Not many Michigan golfers would consider a little road trip over into Indiana to golf. Why would you? There's plenty of golf in the good state of Michigan and then, of course, there's the Notre Dame factor. But forget any animosity you might have toward The Irish and remember this trip is about golf. And the Warren Course is golf of the impressive kind.

"We get a fair number of Michigan folks coming down here," says a weekend ranger at The Warren Course. "Some have even gone home with a few Notre Dame sweatshirts. They can't hate us that much."

No matter your loyalties, this university course has a lot going for it.

The Warren Course, named for oil company owner and Notre Dame alumnus Bill Warren because of his $7 million donation to build the layout, is just a 3-wood from the northeast corner of campus and built on a piece of University property that includes bluffs and wetlands, and Juday Creek, a 13-mile long stream that runs through almost the entire course. The creek became a defining part of PGA Tour member Ben Crenshaw's design. Crenshaw and his architectural partner, Bill Coore, saw the creek as a natural hazard that worked well with their plans for strategy and for beauty. Plus, the creek presented an opportunity. It had been polluted for years and the Warren Course project gave Notre Dame and Crenshaw a rare chance to improve environmental conditions. Juday Creek was rerouted and is cleaner than it's been in years.

Crenshaw's plan was to use all that nature had to give him on the property and if he could improve it, he would. The creek and the ensuing project set the tone for his more traditional approach to architecture. Crenshaw is a well respected historian of the game, and of course design and both are quite obvious at The Warren Course.

No Par

Wide fairways, big greens, rectangular tee boxes, a lake near the third and fourth holes and one at the 17th, plus a fair number of older trees give the course a park-like setting. Plus, it's set-up to be a walking course. There's very little waste from green to tee.

But the one thing that really stands out about this golf course is this - there's no par value. Although you will see some postings of par, it's not readily available. The idea here is to set your own personal par, a goal for each hole. Crenshaw borrowed the idea from Scotland's Muirfield. It takes a little getting used to when you're looking for numbers to correspond with the holes, but truly, you don't need them. Just hit it as few times as possible. Isn't that what we're all trying to do anyway?

The there are four holes on The Warren that particularly jump out at you.

No. 1 is a short-ish par-4, with a wide fairway, but with messy looking trouble on the left side. There are ten rough-hewn bunkers waiting to swallow Mr. Titleist. Think of the 10th as a short par-5 with Juday Creek diagonally crossing the fairway. The hole runs just 473 yards from the middle tees, but the creek forces you to consider a lay-up on your second shot. The 14th is a wonderful Redan hole measuring 175 yards from the middle. And 18 is a tester. It measures out to 415 yards from the middle tees and with the creek running across the fairway, you better break out the big stick to launch it.

Michigan natives who have bravely crossed over the state line to South Bend have made it back with a very nice golf story to tell. Many will even admit they had a good time, even in the shadows of ND's golden dome. Is peace at hand between the fans of the University of Michigan and the fans of Notre Dame? Well, I wouldn't go that far, but you might say The Warren Course is at least worthy of a ceasefire.

Fast Fact:

The idea for The Warren Course came when the original university golf course lost it's back nine to make room for four new dormitories and several athletic fields. The 70-year-old course remains open for nine holes.

Places to Stay

Morris Inn
Notre Dame Avenue
Notre Dame University (Hotel on campus)
Notre Dame, Ind.
(800) 359-4827

South Bend Marriott
123 North St. Joseph Street
South bend, Ind.
(574) 234-2000

Dave BernerDave Berner, Senior Contributor

Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons" and "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed." Follow Berner on Twitter @DavidWBerner

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