July 28, 2010

Summer in South Bend: Thoughts on Eddy Street Commons, The Mark, the ND-Miami series, and the Warren Golf Course experience at Notre Dame.

Can't believe we've been running this site for five years, and no one has dropped a review of the Warren Golf Course experience at Notre Dame!! Color me embarrassed! It's a slap in the face to Ben Crenshaw and the beautiful course that he built on the north side of the Notre Dame campus back in 2004. It's not like we don't mention Warren at least once a week on this site. The least we can do is write a piece on the joys of playing it. And no I'm not fixing for free greens fees or anything (ok, maybe a little. Specifically September 12 around 8:30am).

I went to a wedding in South Bend over the weekend, so I figured what better time to write up a Warren golf review than right now in the middle of the dog days of summer before football practice gets underway. Before getting to the golf, a few things to mention:

(1) Eddy Street Commons! Had a chance to check out the progress on Saturday after the wedding, and actually was fairly impressed with what I saw. A few places are open (Chipotle, Five Guys, a pizza place, satellite ND bookstore, fitness center, etc), and other things appear to be moving along. I won't say it's going to be the greatest entertainment district this side of Chicago or anything like that, but it's going to be a good project when it finally gets done. It's far and away the best real estate development that has been built in South Bend in ages, and the closest thing to an actual main strip that we have seen at ND. If you go up to South Bend, there's not exactly a slew of decent options for casual food other than Grape Road. You pretty much have on-campus options and dive bars.

Is this thing a little stale in terms of character?? I guess you could say that. It's a pretty generic development, but one that you see on a lot of campus areas these days. They have something very similar to Eddy Street Commons on the Ohio State campus with a lot of the same shops and with housing above the store fronts. I think college campuses like these projects because they are contained and predictable and easier to manage than a bunch of independent places.

Some mild questions/concerns though:

(a) When are the two planned restaurants actually going to be built??

We eagerly parked our car on Saturday and walked over to check out the new restaurants that we had been hearing about. One of the places is an Irish pub called Kildares. Sounds like a pretty good place. Probably a Fado/Claddagh type knockoff, but a place where you can get a decent sandwich and a pint on a Friday night or maybe get a bite after an ND game. Good safe Irish pub. Perfect fit at ND.

The other place is a little more intriguing (I think?). It's called The Mark. Here is the website for it and here's a description for The Mark on the Eddy Street Commons website.

Opening soon The Mark at Eddy Street Commons. A modern, upscale version of a classic American diner. Imagine an American diner with a vibrant big city appeal and you've hit The Mark. Quality food, healthier options and menu with a gourmet twist. The Mark will also feature a separate bar with a full selection of adult libations. The Mark will offer breakfast, lunch & dinner, 7 days a week.

Wait, are we still in South Bend?? No dirty floors or drinks out of a plastic cup?? We actually took a peek inside, and it seems to resemble a legitimate place. The sort of place you'd see in a nice outdoor shopping mall area in the suburbs, and there's a Blue Martini type bar in the main area (somewhere Tiger Woods just started looking into flights to South Bend).

Anyway, color me a little intrigued. Would I go there on a Friday night before a game?? Maybe. Would I eat there after a game?? Absolutely. I mean, I love the Backer, but it could be a fun new vibe in South Bend. Heck, if the team stinks, I might just go to The Mark on Saturday afternoons and pretend that football doesn't even exist. You know that Deutsche Bank Classic will be rocking at The Mark!

All I know is that they better make a good Old-Fashioned! I know two people who are eagerly looking forward to their first Old-Fashioned at The Mark, and will be bitterly disappointed if that thing doesn't meet their high standards.

And how excited are the USC fans going to be when they show up to South Bend in the fall of 2011 and see The Mark?? A place where they can finally feel comfortable. The shrimp cocktails, margaritas, West Coast Cocktails(!), cosmopolitans, chardonnays, and martinis will be flowing that weekend.

Only one problem. Neither place is finished! What the heck?? We peeked in and saw nothing but ladders. Both places were practically empty. When are they planning on finishing these two places?? Hopefully both are ready for football season.

(b) Is a sports bar going in?? -- That area is screaming out for a decent Jerome Bettis Grille 36 kinda place. Just begging for it. A good sports bar with decent food and a nice bar area with a ton of tvs. Yes, Between the Buns is the greatest sports bar in all of the land, but even their cocktails come in 32oz. plastic cups. The Buns is a great place, but it's a college bar. A school like ND that has so much passion for sports would be a great fit for a more modern and stylish sports bar. I know it would be in direct competition with Legends, but Legends isn't even really a sports bar (or fun for that matter).

I think Eddy Street Commons needs an anchor sports bar with good indoor/outdoor seating to really create some buzz in that entertainment district. Slap a celebrity name on it (Theismann??), and we're good to go.

(2) I went to an event the other night in Columbus with Coach Chuck Martin of the Notre Dame football staff. Couldn't have been more impressed with him. Very intense guy, high-energy, looked like he would tear a guy to shreds for making a mental mistake. The perfect coach to add to our defense. Sounds like he has really been working the DBs hard, and had some good things to say about Walls and McCarthy and others.

You can really tell that he is thrilled to death to be coaching at Notre Dame. I know all these guys say this stuff, but he grew up in Chicago and rooted for ND. And his brother went to ND. I'm always happy to have a guy who is going to drink the kool-aid and really be able to state with enthusiasm to recruits what makes ND a special place to play football. Anything better than the Willingham era is a good thing on the recruiting front.

These guys just really believe in Brian Kelly. All Coach Martin did for the entire speech was talk about BK and the type of program that he is going to run. Say what you want about Kelly, but he's been successful for 19 years at three different schools. I don't know what the secret is, but some coaches just know how to create successful programs. Martin is absolutely convinced that Brian Kelly is that type of guy.

Anyway, I left with a really good feeling that we have the right guy in Brian Kelly (I know, I know. Fool me once....). I would also not be surprised at all if Chuck Martin is a head coach somewhere else in 3-4 years.

(3) Great news on the Miami-Notre Dame front. We already wrote at length on this rumored game a while back, so I don't really feel the need to rehash it. I will say that I'm glad the game has been finalized, and I think Jack Swarbrick deserves a ton of credit. I'm impressed with what Swarbrick has done in the last 6-8 months in managing the football program. Good scheduling moves, managed the Big 10 rumors really well, good hire in Brian Kelly, and he has taken positive steps on the Res Life and training table stuff in terms of program management. ND football is slowly moving back in the right direction.

2012 is a phenomenal schedule. There are a slew of fun and interesting games to apply for in the ticket lottery. Overall, 2016 and 2017 look good now with Miami, and 2013 looks strong as well. I would love to see another good home and home in 2014 and 2015. Maybe Texas??

Swarbrick listened to the fans, heard the roars for a better product, and made it happen with Miami. At the very least, he is a MASSIVE upgrade from the Kevin White era. Kevin White would have been hiding under his desk if the Miami AD had called. We might have a good one in Jack Swarbrick.

4. Terrell Eldorado (that's really his middle name?) Owens! Between Pacman, TO, Chad, Matt Jones, Tank Johnson, Benson, Dunlap, and Rey Maulauga, training camp is going to be an absolute circus this year. Might have to get down to Lexington in August to see all that.

Is TO old?? Yes?? Is too much being made of this? Yes. Are the statements that Chad and TO are the best receiver duo in the league ludicrous?? Absolutely. Neither of those guys is even a #1 WR these days. Chad is basically a glorified possession WR.

But is it a good signing?? Yes, I think so. It's a one year deal. TO averaged 15 yards a catch last year. Top 20 or so in the league. He's still a big play threat. As a #2/#3 WR (depending on Antonio Bryant's health), I'll take that all day long. Plus, he gives the Bengals some depth. Instead of throwing Jordan Shipley into the fire, he can be a 4th or 5th option this year.

The biggest question for me is if the Bengals are even planning to throw the ball this year. Carson threw like 17 times a game last year. Can Carson even handle a 30-35 attempt type game anymore?? He hasn't been the same since that elbow injury. Color me skeptical.

Either way, I like the move. The Bengals have been to the playoffs two times in twenty years and got humiliated both games. I just want to see them win one playoff game.

It looks like they are going all in this year with a good defense, good running game, veteran QB, and some aging WRs making one last run. The Bengals have somehow completely stolen the thunder from the Reds in the span of two days. I'm excited to see what happens. THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE! Still think Pittsburgh and Baltimore are the favorites in the AFC North.

Back to Warren though. If you haven't had a chance to play a round at Warren, it's an absolute treat and one of the best values out there in terms of getting bang for your buck. A great university course that is extremely playable and yet challenging at the same time.

I've actually noticed in recent years that a lot of colleges are really ramping up their effors to develop their campus golf courses. I know there are some classic older courses at Duke and Stanford and other places, but Purdue has two nice Pete Dye courses now, Georgia has a Robert Trent Jones course that was done with Davis Love III, Wisconsin has an RTJ course, Texas has a new course/club I believe, and I can't even imagine what T. Boone Pickens has put together at Oklahoma State. Actually, I can. Best college course in the country apparently. No wonder Rickie Fowler and every other stud young gun in the country ends up in Stillweater these days.

Seems like colleges realize that it's good for the team, the students, employees, alums, and the town to have a nice golf facility on campus. It has become an integral part of all these colleges to have a championship course.

My thoughts on the Warren golf experience:

The Wind

You first notice the wind when you park your car and your car door almost comes off the hinges when you try to open the door. Absurd!! No wonder they built those giant wind farms off I-65 in Indiana.

There's nothing like standing at the putting green and knowing that every shot you hit on that course is going to be into a three club wind. And by "into," I mean that literally. That course somehow works out so that every shot you hit out there is into the wind. Just a very difficult thing to have to deal with, especially on some of those long par fours on the front nine.

Why is it randomly so windy at Warren?? I feel like I ask that every time I'm there. It's in the middle of a random farm land in northern Indiana, and yet I always find myself standing at the tee with my shirt blowing back into my face like I'm at Carnoustie or the 7th hole at Pebble Beach.

I always seem to forget about the wind at Warren until I show up. Make sure you work on those knockdowns and low bullets off the tee before you show up there to play.

The Layout

We have affectionately come to describe Warren as "The House that Ben Built" in honor of course designer, Mr. Ben Crenshaw. I don't believe I've ever played any other Ben Crenshaw courses before, but the man loves the links design. If you go to his website, that's about all he does. Relatively few trees in play, kind of an open layout, tough approaches and greens, always windy.

Overall, the course is in really good condition for a public course. The greens are in good shape and roll well, the fairways are green, and the bunkers are in good shape.

Who is the head groundskeeper at Warren anyway?? What does he do with his time on fall football Saturdays?? Considering the abomination that is our football turf, could he be persuaded to take over as the head groundskeeper on the football field as well?? Anything has to be better than the sloppy mess of chewed-up sod that we've been trotting out the last couple years.

For you right-to-lefters out there, Warren is a pretty good place to play if you hitt a pull hook...err...draw. Lots of holes that shape right to left and look good to the eye at the tee. Kenny Perry would break the course record at Warren.

If I had one tweak to the Warren course, I'd like to see them eventually add a pond to one of the par 3s. Maybe 14 or even 9. Actually, a pond on nine would make that a potential signature hole with the clubhouse in the background.

The Setting

In terms of a setting, does it get any better than stepping onto the second tee box and seeing that golden dome gleaming off in the distance?? It gives me goosebumps every time! There aren't many views of campus on Warren, but you really feel the ND lore out there. Heck, the sign for the third tee is dedicated to Lou Holtz.

Honestly, that's my favorite part about playing Warren. The course is great, but the setting is what it's all about. Who am I kidding?? I'm a swayer! I knock the "Welcome to ND" crowd, but I might as well be a founding member of that group. I guzzle the ND kool-aid as hard as anyone. Heck, I was a proud part of that group that gave an extended standing ovation to the team after losing AT HOME to an 8-4 USC team. Where's the bookstore?? I need a new v-neck!
The Challenges

Warren has almost no water in play as a hazard, and there really isn't even much in the way of woods or out of bounds. Piece of cake, right??

Well, Warren makes up for it in two ways: some nasty heather rough and a slew of well-placed bunkers in the fairways and on the greens.

I don't think I've ever played that course where I didn't plop at least 1-2 balls into the heather off the tee. Some of the tee boxes just line you up to go right in it. If you get in that stuff, good luck finding your ball.

The bunkers are another subtle little challenge. Lots of fairway bunkers, and the 5th and 16th holes have two little pot bunkers in front of the greens that are just scary enough to spook you into mishitting your approach. 16 is like a 300 yard hole, but I've doubled that hole mutiple times from the middle of the fairway just trying to avoid that little pot bunker. Just a great little test.

Even the greens are positioned to trip you up. You might find yourself on the green, but good luck with that putt over two rideges into a crowned hole location. Big drive, big five.


I make fun of the whole "classy" thing on this site quite a bit. The whole "Welcome to Notre Dame" stuff is just so overdone and contrived at this point, and it has made our football program into a caricature of our former selves. We're like the Chris Berman of college football programs. We've become so obsessed with being "classy" that we forgot what classy even is.

But in all truthfulness, there is still one place on campus that I consider to be genuinely classy and doesn't feel the need to jam it down our throats at all times: Warren Golf Course. Just a first class operation over there. Great entrance, great little practice area, great clubhouse, love the Warren Grille, a great staff of people that just seem to be happy as can be to be out there. And they don't overdo the ND thing. It's there, but it's not overdone.

So there it is, the Warren Golf experience. It's really a fantastic course, and I'll be the first to admit that I've come to enjoy playing Sunday morning rounds at Warren as much as the tailgating or the game or any of the ND football weekend activities.

Already looking forward to my next trip. Definitely going to make an annual trip to Warren in the summer, and I really want to play in that Saturday morning shotgun start on football weekends some time. How great would it be to saddle up to the Warren Grille for a breakfast sandwich at 8:30 am, play 18, walk directly to the parking lot with your clubs, tailgate, and then head to the game?? Stay tuned for "The Decision" if you want to make plans to meet up for a random November home game and play the shotgun start on Saturday morning.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post, thanks!

I finally got an accurate progress report on The Mark and Kildare's. I'm living in Eddy St. Commons starting August 7th and they keep telling me both will be done soon... doubtful... I also agree that a killer sports bar would be amazing in the commons... maybe someone could convince GT to open up "Golden's"