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U.S. Senior Open Welcomed Fans In New Ways

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Mark another first off the list of many that have taken place this year at the University of Notre Dame.

The conclusion of the 40th U.S. Senior Open at the Warren Golf Course on Sunday — won by Steve Stricker with a record-breaking 72-hole performance (62-64-66-61=261,-19) — marked the latest in a series of historic events held on campus over the past year, though it was the first to hit the schedule nearly three years ago. 

October’s Garth Brooks concert and the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic in January each were groundbreaking in their own right. The former marked the first concert inside Notre Dame Stadium while the latter became the first hockey game played inside the venue. Later this month, the stadium will host international soccer for the first time as Premier League power and 2019 Champions League champion Liverpool Football Club takes on Borussia Dortmund as part of a summer friendly tour of the United States. 

While the football stadium has been the centerpiece in each of those other campus events — and, indeed, Open participants had the opportunity to tour the stadium and home locker room during player registration early in the week — the Open provided a unique look at a part of campus fewer people get to experience.

The Warren, a 70-par, 6,943-yard course, was designed by architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and opened in 2000. Despite its relatively young age, the pros in the field were impressed by the resemblance it bears to much older venues.

”What struck me is how mature the golf course is for being a fairly new golf course,” said David Toms, who finished tied for second (62-67-70-68=267, -13) after winning last year’s tournament. ”It looks like a historic golf course to me. The whole place in general looks like it’s been here for quite a while. I’ve always enjoyed playing historic venues and old-style golf courses.”

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Notre Dame and Warren Golf Course officials got right to work in preparing the course once it became official in October 2016. In addition to the minor structural modifications, the course also was rerouted to facilitate fan traffic during the tournament. 

“The past few years, we’ve built multiple bunkers, created drainage, added all the materials we need to add to make it work,” said Tony Springmann, Turfgrass Operations Specialist at the Warren. “There was a green position where we added a section of green space; just slight modifications here and there. Little projects, but they all add up.”

The tournament has provided not only a chance for Notre Dame to make history with the Warren becoming the first collegiate course and the first public course to host the U.S. Senior Open, it also was the latest opportunity to introduce the University to an even wider audience. Estimates figured roughly 100,000 people would visit the area during the week, to the tune of $20 million for the local economy. Those numbers are similar to the impact of a home football weekend.

“Notre Dame is so recognized for football and football games, but we’ve really expanded and broadened our capabilities and our welcome,” University President John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. told Golfweek earlier this week. “We have Premier (League) soccer coming in this summer. We have some concerts, and this just rounds out that welcome for Notre Dame, but also for the region and the city, as we become a destination for so many.”

“Just the way the community embraces the university, and maybe it starts with the sports programs, but it’s much deeper than that,” said Kirk Triplett, who finished fifth (64-68-71-69=272, -8) and whose son, Conor, graduated from Notre Dame in 2018. “Everybody is kind of proud of the people that go there, and I’m certainly proud of my son for having gone there. He got a great education, and I know he’ll be coming to South Bend for the rest of his life for all kinds of events. It’s a neat community, and I’m happy to be just a little tiny part of it.”

U.S. Senior Open Facts & Figures

  • Notre Dame football legends and College and Pro Football Hall of Fame members Jerome Bettis and Tim Brown served as honorary chairmen for the U.S. Senior Open.
  • With about 100,000 visitors to the area throughout the week, the economic impact of the 40th U.S. Senior Open is estimated at about $20 million to the local economy.
  • Players from 34 states and 19 countries participated in the 40th U.S. Senior Open, including 128 players from the United States.
  • Steve Stricker became the first champion in the tournament’s history to post the lowest score the first three rounds (his fourth-round 68 was bettered by Scott McCarron’s 64). His 19-under 261 bested second-place David Toms and Jerry Kelly by six strokes, tied for the largest margin of victory in tournament history. 
  • Additionally, Stricker’s 261 marked the lowest 72-hole score in Open history, while his 36-hole (126) and 54-hole (192) scores were also records. He was the third wire-to-wire champion and eighth making his first Open appearance.
  • Stricker played 57 consecutive bogey-free holes – from hole 6 on Thursday to the 10th hole on Sunday – and registered just two for the entire week, which matched the championship record by Craig Stadler (2004).
  • Former Notre Dame golfers Ben Albin and Miguel Delgado served as caddies during the tournament. Both 2019 graduates, Albin caddied for Brad Lardin, while Delgado was on the bag for Mark Mance.
  • Golfers boasting Indiana connections included Tony Soerries, a Granger native who has won two Indiana Opens; Chris Smith, a Ball State graduate from Peru, Indiana, who won the 2002 Buick Classic; and Jeff Gallagher, another Ball State grad and two-time Nationwide Tour winner. While both Soerries and Smith missed the cut, Gallagher finished in a tie for 17th place with a two-under-par 278.
  • Former PGA Tour member and current PGA Tour Champions golfer Kirk Triplett boasts a Notre Dame connection in son, Conor, a 2018 graduate.
  • Golf legend Jack Nicklaus was in attendance to watch his son, Gary, compete in his first U.S. Senior Open and catch up with fellow Ohio State and Notre Dame women’s golf head coach Susan Holt. The younger Nicklaus finished in 55th place with a seven-over 287.
  • Nearly 2,200 people from 44 states and five countries were on hand as volunteers to accommodate the 156 players over the course of seven days at the Warren Golf Course. From helping to facilitate player registration beginning Monday to updating manual scoreboards through Sunday’s final rounds, volunteers were vital to the successful operation of the tournament. Each volunteer worked four days in four- to six-hour shifts, totaling over 40,000 volunteer hours.