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Seniors chase cash and fame under the Golden Dome

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Just a couple of weeks ago the 40th U.S. Senior Open was held at the Warren Golf Course on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana. It is literally on the campus, only 2000 yards from the famed Golden Dome. The Fox telecast of the Open showed plenty of glorious footage of the campus for everyone to marvel at. It is a big layout with so many beautiful buildings, but folks are shocked to learn there are only 8,500 undergraduate students.

This was the first Major professional tour tournament ever held on a college golf course.

The Warren Course was built with the generous benefaction of William K.

Warren Jr., Notre Dame class of 1956, and named in honor of his parents, William K and Natalie O. Warren, and opened in the fall of 1999. When I was a student at Notre Dame (class of 1964) I knew that the university had a lot of land but could not have envisioned a championship links-style golf course on the largely wooded land in the northeast portion of the property.

The Warren Course has hosted the 2010 U.S.

Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship, four NCAA regional golf championships and 10 USGA championship qualifiers. But the U.S.

Senior Open required a whole different infrastructure, monumental grounds modifications and reconfiguration of the order of the golf holes. I played the golf course a couple of years ago, just after the announcement of the Open was made, and then I walked the course for the Open and was stunned at what they had done.

Your intrepid reporter was provided with media credentials, thanks to the efforts of the staff at the Bulletin. I have not personally been to a major professional golf tournament since the 1985 U.S.

Open at Oakland Hills C.C. (Birmingham, Michigan), three years prior to moving here to the wonderful town of Las Cruces. But I was equally stunned by the number of tents, small and big temporary buildings, patron-friendly pathways and comfort accommodations, parking, transportation and firstaid services. They turned the venue into a small village! I give both theUSGA and the University of Notre Dame superlative marks for the job they did. Some folks might think the golf course was “too short” for pros of that quality, but that would be mistaken. True, Steve Stricker won at 19 under par, followed by Jerry Kelly and David Toms both with 13 under and tied for second. Both Stricker and Toms shot 62 on their first round.

The course was set up as par 70, turning two par 5s normally into long par 4s.

However, the cut was one over par, with 60 players making the cut; which means 96 of arguably the best senior players anywhere didn’t break par +1. The setup by the USGA with the Audobon certified Warren Course was close to 7,000 yards with the bent/poa greens stimping 11. Fairways are bent/poa and the 55 acres of native rough a bluegrass/ fescue/rye blend.

The course was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and represents a striking reminder of the classic, walkable Irish and American courses built in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Winding its way through 250 wooded acres, the course incorporates traditional elements of links to the past, while it is built on subtleties rather than special effects.

Two years of construction included fairway linealterations, new driving range tee and target greens, the redesign and addition of four fairway bunkers and some expansion of greens. The greens are big. The bunkers are big and deep, with the edges left with fescue overlapping. If a player hit it into the deep fescue rough wide of the fairway the search of the errant ball was similar to Carnoustie.

Accuracy counted big all week. Having played this course six times, from tees not nearly as far back as the USGA put them, I can tell you that it’s a difficult driving tract. And watching these skilled seniors hit it long and high was impressive. My next report on the tournament will include impressions on how good these guys really are.

Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership who works with PGA professionals and young golfers to enhance their performance.

He partners with coach Herb Wimberly as the principal instructors at Performance Golf Schools. Contact Blanchard at docblanchard71@gmail.

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