U.S. Open: Erin Hills, USGA’s field of dreams

Jun 17, 2015; University Place, WA, USA; USGA flags on top of the first hole grandstand during practice rounds on Wednesday at Chambers Bay. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 17, 2015; University Place, WA, USA; USGA flags on top of the first hole grandstand during practice rounds on Wednesday at Chambers Bay. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports /

Here’s a look at first-time U.S. Open host, Erin Hills – a USGA rookie venue

Erin Hills, host to the 117th U.S. Open June 15-18, 2017, will be the first golf course since Pebble Beach in 1992 to play as a par-72 in the U.S. Open. But this young golf course is a world away from the well-established, tried and tested Pebble Beach track.

Erin Hills may well be golf’s “field of dreams.” It’s certainly no Oakmont, or Pinehurst #2, or even Shinnecock. It’s a public course situated on what used to be grazing land that opened about ten years ago, and it’s a U.S. Open rookie venue.

Just imagine standing on the tee box and gazing out over this vista as you contemplate how to share your tee shot, or your approach!

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Whether it’s that mythic “field of dreams” or the players’ worst nightmare has yet to be determined. The course is a bit of a monster. It will play 7693 yards from the tips for the U.S. Open and, depending on the setup for any given round, could force even the big bombers to use fairway woods to get to the par 5 greens in 2.

Bunkers and hazards are going to challenge players just to escape rather than advance. Fairways pitch and heave and roll. And then there’s the wind, which will surely blow.

All told, Erin Hills is going to be a contest against the environment of the track as much as it will be a contest among the players in the field. There’s going to be much to avoid just to get the ball onto the putting surface.

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According to golf.com the course also doesn’t have many, if any flat lies. The course architects aimed to keep the terrain intact and preserve a natural environment Golfworld’s Ron Whitten has described as the “the glacial folds of Wisconsin’s kettle-moraine topography.” The course also has fast, bentgrass greens which the players will have to account for as well.

The winner of the 117th U.S. Open will be the man who can best navigate through deep fescue and water hazards, be able to withstand the wind, stay out of the rough stuff, read the greens, and adjust to quickly to changing conditions. The course is designed to befuddle. If the hazards such as fescue don’t get you, the fast greens can really trip you up.

First Impressions

That said, the players are already taking preliminary looks and liking what they’re seeing.

Erin Hills opened in 2006 and was designed by architects Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten. The course just seems fit in its natural environment. The greens are clean and crisp with a clear midwestern feel. The thick surrounding rough makes it feel like you’re looking out over the endless expanses of the midwestern plains.

The USGA spoke with caddies who have and currently work at Erin Hills and the caddies gave their advice about how to approach the thick grass on the course:

GolfDigest.com said that Erin Hills is “absolutely one of the prettiest settings in the Midwest, with characteristics of an Irish or Scottish countryside course with rolling hills and omnipresent fescue grass.” A lot of golf course designs in the United States have been beginning to stem from Scottish courses. Examples would not only include Erin Hills, but courses such as Bandon Trails in Oregon.

Erin Hills looks natural and clean, but the thick rough and fescue, as well as the bunkers and hazards, may be the deciding factor between who wins next month and who goes home empty-handed.

Next: Top 20 U.S. Open Triumphs

I’m looking forward to watching the players’ reactions to Erin Hills as they begin their preliminary visits and play their practice rounds.