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ND GOLF: Warren earns high praise

Chris Khorey | Friday, August 26, 2005

In the past few weeks, the University unveiled the Guglielmino Center, the football team’s brand new practice facility. The building has been hailed as a dramatic step forward in the quality of athletic facilities at Notre Dame.At this same time, however, another of Notre Dame’s facilities has been quietly gaining national recognition as one of the top places to train or play in the country.The Warren Golf Course, the five-year-old home of the Irish men’s and women’s golf teams, was recently rated the 15th best university course in the nation by “Golf Digest” magazine.General Manager John Foster believes the course, which is located north of campus at the corner of Juniper and Douglas Roads, is still on the rise in the national picture.”I think we have the potential to be the top collegiate facility in the nation,” he said.In its relatively short history, the course has hosted several prestigious amateur events, including qualifiers for the Western Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur Championship and an NCAA Regional. Despite such success, Foster is setting his sights even higher.”We want to attract an NCAA final,” he said.One of the people pushing for more high profile events at the course is its benefactor and namesake Bill Warren, a 1955 Notre Dame graduate and avid golfer. Warren, who was not on the varsity golf team while attending the University, realized a need for an upgrade the golf facilities in the late 1990’s and offered to endow a replacement to the old Notre Dame Golf Course, which was located south of the Rockne Memorial.Warren envisioned a world-class course, a vision he has worked with Foster to bring to life.”Bill made it clear that the primary purpose of the golf course was to be top flight as far as university courses go,” Foster said.Warren has also contributed significant funds above and beyond his original endowment when the course has needed improvements.”Mr. Warren continues to make investments so we attain even higher rankings and a high status,” Foster said. “If there’s ever any thing we need, Bill has always stepped forward and helped us.”Unfortunately, the course was not an immediate success. In its first few years, the course was unevenly kept and golfers complained of, among other things, inconsistent greens and rocky sand traps.However, since Foster took over three years ago the course has undergone significant improvements. He hired Matt Zeilen in 2004 as superintendent and charged him with upgrading the facility.Zeilen had previous experience at several nationally recognized courses, including Shadow Creek in Las Vegas and Wingfoot in New York. “His resume told me that he knew what a quality product was and that he could attain that,” Foster said of Zeilen. “In his short year here, we’ve come 180 degrees.”Varsity golfers have also noticed the difference.”The greens are getting a lot better,” sophomore Jane Lee said. “The sand traps are fine grain now. They were a lot rockier last year.”Another improvement for varsity golfers will be a new indoor practice facility adjacent to the course. The building, which is being funded mainly by donations from the Rolfs family, is scheduled to break ground in September and be completed by mid-fall 2006.Foster said an indoor facility is key to building nationally competitive golf programs.”If you’re a cold weather golf team, in order to attract top players from across the country, they’ve got to know they can at least practice all year round,” he said.The old Notre Dame Golf Course still exists in an abbreviated nine-hole format, having been cut in half to accommodate new dorms on West Quad in the late 1990s. Foster said having two courses is a major convenience for both new and experienced players on campus.”It’s a unique situation in that we have a facility for people who are just beginning or don’t want to spend a lot of money, but then those who are more advanced can use the [Warren Course].”Both facilities are popular, attracting over 50,000 rounds of golf between them every year. Students, faculty and coaches all use the courses, and there is a tournament for Holy Cross priests every year.

ckhorey@nd.edu