Nov. 1, 2000
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – As fall folds into winter on the Notre Dame campus, the Warren Golf Course prepares to complete an exciting first season of operation that included playing host to a pair of intercollegiate tournaments, in addition to the Austin Carr Charity Classic and last week’s Future Collegians World Tour event.
The Warren Golf Course – which formally opened in mid April – has made a wide-reaching impact on the Notre Dame community during the past six months, due in large part to its close proximity, by the northeast corner of the campus. Built by the highly-regarded architectural firm headed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, the course consistently has drawn rave reviews from a growing base of repeat customers.
The word also has begun to get out on a national scale, as Golf Digest magazine recently heaped its praises on the Warren Golf Course with a one-page review of the facility while representatives of GolfWeek and Links magazines recently visited the course and conveyed similar high marks in their appraisals of one of the nation’s more unique university courses.
“We have been extremely happy with how the first season has unfolded, simply because of how happy our customers have been with the course,” says Brian Godfrey, the general manager of the Warren Golf Course after serving in a similar capacity at South Bend’s Blackthorn Golf Club.
“Our primary mission is to meet the needs of the student body, faculty and staff, alumni and the general public and we’ve been able to do that in a number of ways during these first few months. Our high percentage of repeat business and the feedback we have received shows that people like the course because it challenges them, but is not tricked up with a lot of gimmicks. There’s an emphasis on shotmaking and the course plays a little different each time you go out, based on weather condition and where you land the ball.”
Writers from the national golf publications have raved about the courses classic design, which is reminiscent of the walkable Irish and American course built in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“They have loved the subtle nature of the older style of architecture, as opposed to the in-your-face design that you see in so many of today’s new courses,” says Godfrey.
While serving a constituency of several thousand potential customers – from the Notre Dame and South Bend communities, one of the Warren Golf Course’s more noteworthy impacts actually has affected a small-yet publicly visible-group. Specifically, the Notre Dame men’s and women’s golf programs have begun to reap the rewards afforded by having immediate access to one of the nation’s premier college golf facilities.
“The Warren Golf Course has made a tremendous difference for our program, on a number of levels,” says 13th-year Irish men’s golf coach George Thomas, whose last three squads have come close to becoming Notre Dame’s first entrant into the NCAA Tournament since 1966.
“The convenience factor is obvious, as it allows the players quick and consistent access, while affording me the opportunity to observe them more. We also can play more qualifying rounds than in the past and that ideally will help prepare you better for tournament play while providing a good measuring stick for selecting your starting five.”
As a practice facility, the Warren Golf Course is second-to-none, with the two-sided driving range providing the varsity squad with its own ballstriking area. The practice complex likewise includes an approach area, a bunker green, additional bunkers and an undulating putting green.
“The practice area alone is of tremendous value, because it provides a varied regimen for each player, and there are even greater benefits from the course itself,” says Thomas, who joined with the rest of the Notre Dame golf community as hosts for a highly-successful BIG EAST Men’s Golf Championship last April.
“The course is very demanding due to the bunkers and undulating greens, so it takes precision course management to put up good scores. At 6,749 yards, it’s a little shorter than some courses but it ends up being much more challenging because many of those longer courses are more wide open. This course sharpens your ability to play a good up-and-down game and that’s the key to winning in golf, particularly on the college level.”
The Warren Golf Course has made a similar impact on the Irish women’s golf program, which played host to a 10-team Notre Dame Invitational in mid-October-with that event producing some of the top individual and team performances in the program’s 12-year history.
“The Warren Golf Course has made a dramatic impact for our program and gives a big boost to our recruiting process,” says eighth-year Notre Dame head coach Ross Smith, whose squad won the Notre Dame Invitational by 30 strokes, with the 935 total establishing the Irish 54-hole record.
“The course is an excellent showcase to display where our program is heading and it provides a great challenge for our players with their approach shots. Right now, we are a team whose ballstriking is close to where we want it to be but our scoring aspect still needs some work-and the new course should help us improve in that area.”
The Irish women were led at the Notre Dame Invitational by upstart rookie Rebecca Rogers (Roanoke, Va.), who became the program’s first freshman to win an intercollegiate tournament since 1989. Rogers’ 225 total ranked one stroke shy of the Irish 54-hole record, but included a Notre Dame record-setting 70 in the first round.
Rogers-whose impressive 79.67 stroke average through the first four fall events ranked second on the squad, just behind senior captain Shane Smith’s 79.33, is one of three freshmen who have been regular members of the Notre Dame starting lineup during the fall of 2000, with the others including Shannon Byrne (Arlington Heights, Ill.) and Jeanne Murphy (Alexandria, Va.).
“One of the most important aspects of our team this season is the competition for spots on the starting six. In the past, the top four or five spots would pretty much be set but this year we have 10 different players who are capable of being in the starting lineup,” says Smith, whose squad was set to conclude its fall season at last week’s Central District Classic (at River Wilderness in Parrish, Fla.).
“The three freshmen have been a big part of that competitive atmosphere and it’s really helped round our team into shape.”
The team’s leadership again has come from its captain Smith, a native of St. Petersburg, Fla., who transferred from SMU prior to her sophomore year. Smith’s steady play during the past two seasons has yielded one of the top career stroke averages (82.00) in Irish women’s golf history, including a 239 to help the winning cause at the Notre Dame Invitational.
Other veteran leaders for the Irish women’s squad include junior Kristin McMurtrie (Calgary, Alberta)-whose third-place 139 at last spring’s Snowbird Intercollegiate set the Irish 36-hole record-along with senior Danielle Villarosa (Verona, N.J.), junior Lauren Fuchs (Louisville, Ky.) and sophomore Priscilla Ro (Falls Church, Va.). Sophomore Terri Taibl (Elm Grove, Wis.)) had an impressive fall of 2000 debut at the Notre Dame Invitational (tying for fifth at 235) while her classmate Shelby Strong (Stillwater, Minn.) could be on the verge of cracking the starting six.
In addition to last week’s Central District Classic, the Irish women faced a rugged fall schedule that opened at the NCAA Fall Preview-which was held on the El Campeon at Mission Inn course, in Howie-in-Hills, Fla.-followed by the ever-challenging Michigan State Invitational and the annually rotating Lady Northern Intercollegiate (held this year at the University of Minnesota).
“This fall will provide a good measuring stick for our program and events like the NCAA Preview and District Classic are the kind of competition that we want our young players to experience,” says Smith.
The Notre Dame men likewise faced a challenging fall schedule while being led by junior Steve Ratay and senior Alex Kent, a 1-2 punch that could prove more than up to the task of filling the big shoes left by 2000 graduates Todd Vernon and Jeff Connell (who left Notre Dame with the programs top-two career stroke averages in the last 30 years).
Ratay opened the season at the Wisconsin Invitational by tying for medalist honors with impressively consistent rounds of 71-70-71. His top finish helped the Irish post a solid fourth-place showing, but Notre Dame slipped to ninth at the Minnesota Invitational (Ratay was 14th) and 11th at the Northern Intercollegiate (held at the University of Illinois, with Ratay taking eighth).
The Irish men’s fall season closed with an unusually collection of low scores at the annual Legends of Indiana Intercollegiate in Franklin, Ind., as Notre Dame shot 873 to come within four shots of the Irish 54-hole record, yet managed just an 11th-place finish in the 13-team field. Kent, a native of Asuncion, Paraguay, and brother of former Irish great Willie Kent, turned in an impressive 210 to set the Irish record for best 54-hole score in relation to par (-6), but it wasn’t enough, as the closely-bunched scoring saw Notre Dame finish just 10 shots out of a top five finish.
Despite what appeared to be an up-and-down fall campaign, the Irish nonetheless posted an average four-man score of 298.67 that stands just shy of the team record set in 1999-2000 (298.29).
Ratay, a cousin of Irish women’s basketball star Alicia Ratay, and, like Murphy, a native of Arlington Heights, Ill., led the Irish in stroke average during the 2000 fall season (73.50), narrowly edging Kent’s 73.92. The Ratay-Kent tandem could prove to be the most successful at Notre Dame in 45 years-since Joe Grace and Charles Thurn both averaged under 74 strokes per round during the 1955-56 season.
“Steve Ratay has done an outstanding job as our team captain and is following the legacy left for him in that area during the past two seasons by Brad Hardin and Todd Vernon. As a player, Steve is as good as anybody out there and likewise is one of the more dedicated individuals I’ve ever known,” says Thomas.
“Alex Kent is a great complement to Steve and is the type of player who could win any tournament he plays in, due to his overall talent, a great swing and his international experience.”
Ratay’s excellence has not been confined to the golf links, as he is a strong candidate to follow in Connell’s footsteps as an Academic All-American-with Ratay owning a 3.81 cumulative grade-point average as a computer science major.
Sophomore Brandon Lunke (San Antonio, Texas) cracked the starting lineup this fall and closed with a solid 223 at the Legends of Indiana while another Texas native-senior Pat Schaffler (Dallas)-also had some steady results in his first regular action as a starter, including a 220 at the Legends.
The Irish men’s lineup saw more fluctuation this fall than in recent years, with senior Adam Anderson (Plankinton, S.D.) and a pair of freshmen-Peter Rivas (New Orleans, La.) and Gavin Ferlic (Granger, Ind.)-each competing in two of the four events.
“We are definitely a more talented team than some of our finishes this fall might indicate and I expect us to really pick things up during the spring season, when the automatic NCAA Tournament bid will be up for grabs at the BIG EAST Championship,” says Thomas, whose squad is eager to welcome injured freshman Andrew Kent-the talented brother of Alex and Willie -to the fold.
“We are right on the edge of being a very good team and you can sense great things happening around Notre Dame golf during the past few months, in large part due to the excitement surrounding the new course. Someday we hope to host big-time invitationals and NCAA Regional tournaments at the Warren Golf Course, so this is an exciting time to be involved with Notre Dame golf and we’re really looking forward to what the year 2001 has in store for this program.”