Erin Hills: Q&A with course designer Michael Hurdzan

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 /

Erin Hills will prove to be a terrific U.S. Open host and could possibly host more major championships in the future. Lead designer Michael Hurdzan talks with Pro Golf Now about the gorgeous Wisconsin golf course.

Erin Hills, one of the most unique courses in the world, is set to host the 117th U.S. Open in June. The course that was carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago to create a beautiful piece of land will play as an excellent host. Much like Oakmont and Chambers Bay, Erin Hills features no trees and slick greens, making for a challenging U.S. Open venue. The beautiful Wisconsin course, which features Holy Hill as a stunning backdrop, was designed by Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten.

Mr. Hurdzan was gracious enough to take the time to chat with me here at ProGolfNow about Erin Hills and the design process that went into it. Some of the other topics we discussed were his favorite holes on the course and how the natural land affected the design process.

So without further ado, here’s my Q&A with Erin Hills lead designer, the legendary Michael Hurdzan. Enjoy.

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Colin Mieczkowski: How does it feel to know that your course, Erin Hills, is host to a major championship like the U.S. Open? It’s got to be surreal.

Michael Hurdzan: Well, it’s a surreal evaluation of 50 years of work on my part and we give recognition to people, who over those 50 years trust us to design golf courses for them, so I’m thrilled to death and I never thought it would happen while I’m alive and to experience this now is truly an honor.

CM: What was going through your guys’ minds when surveying the land that “nature carved out”?

MH: We knew it was about as perfect of a piece of ground one can hope for because of the undulation in it, the high places and low places and how perfectly they space between one another. In other words, you can have land that have lots of ups and downs but if they’re too close together or too far apart, they don’t work so well.

Turns out, that piece of ground was about as perfect as possible as far as the ups and downs, so our goal was to change that landform as little as possible because it was about as good as it can get, so we didn’t think moving a lot of dirt would make any improvement.

CM: With Dana Fry being a former player at the college level and Ron Whitten being a respected golf writer, how instrumental were these gentlemen in the design of this stunning golf course?

MH: We were all three fully involved, each with our own little biases, but there wasn’t anything that we ultimately didn’t agree on and so we would have discussions from different points of views and we arrived at what’s there now.

CM: Which hole would you say is your personal favorite at Erin Hills?

MH: I think the 12th hole is certainly one of the most unique. It’s a medium length par-4, not excessively long, but it’s the undulation and you have to hit a drive on top of the hill or over the hill and then the fairway goes to the right and then it goes to the left and the green sits in the valley.

I think that will be almost everyone’s favorite hole and certainly one of the best finishing holes in golf will be the 18th hole which is a big, long hole that’s 675 yards that plays directly towards Holy Hill where there’s an old monastery and it will be a real deciding factor in the tournament.

CM: Which hole(s) do you feel will have the biggest impact during the U.S. Open?

MH: I think number nine, the par-3. It’s a relatively short par-3 at only 165 yards but when the wind is blowing, that will be a very difficult par-3. It’s a very scenic hole but can be very difficult to play.

Then certainly there’s the 15th that can play as a driveable par-4, but if you miss the green, you’re going to be in some really treacherous bunkers. So, I think 9 and 15 are holes that people have to consider, but there are no weak holes out there.

CM: One hole that interests me is the par-4 17th, which features no bunkers. What was the thought process in the design of this beautiful hole?

MH: The interesting thing about that is that we wanted one hole that nearly didn’t have any bunkers on it, and the length of that hole, I think it stretches to about 475 yards, if the wind is behind the players, it really will be a very difficult hole and when the wind’s in their face, it will still certainly be a challenge.

There was a ridgeline that ran across the fairway halfway and so it forced you to drive the ball to the far right side of the fairway, so you can look around that ridge and see the green. That ridge has since been taken out so the hole really relies on length to challenge the good player.

CM: The contouring of Erin Hills is about as natural as they can get. How much of a factor did this play in when it came to placing hazards such as bunkers?

MH: It was key because we wanted to put the bunkers in the very natural areas if we could, which is into hillsides and areas that face some players so they had good visibility of those, so almost all of the bunkers are placed right into the natural slopes of the land that was there.

We also wanted to put the hazards so that if the person was aggressive and they read the slope of the land, you can actually land the ball somewhere on that slope and the ball can run into the bunker and actually, on many of those bunkers on the fairway side, the grass is mowed short to run into them.

CM: For the weekend golfer, what would be your architect tip in tackling Erin Hills?

MH: My first tip would be to play from the right set of tees. I think that if the player plays from the set of tees that is around 6200 yards, you can really enjoy the golf course.

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The second thing is that, since there’s no golf carts, you would have to take a caddie or walk and carry your clubs, but if you have a caddie, listen to your caddie because he or she is going to tell the line to play and it will help you a lot because there’s a lot of things that deceive your eye.

You think you want to play it one place but the best place to play it is not where your eye tells you, it’s either to the right or left of that.

The third thing is that the greens are so pure that you should just focus on getting the ball on the green and most of those greens you can two-putt or get the occasional three-putt, but just get the ball on the green.

CM: Finally, what was the funnest part of the design process for Erin Hills?

MH: I think working as a team for Dan, Ron and I, even though we weren’t all necessarily there at the same time, but we always collaborated on everything and it really was a team effort and I think it was the most enjoyable.

If we were to say what was the most enjoyable hole for all of us to design, it would have to be number nine, it’s just a wonderful little par-3.

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We here at Pro Golf Now would like to thank Mr. Hurdzan for taking the time to talk to us about Erin Hills. It’s going to be a real challenge for the best players in the world and we were thrilled to get a first-hand glimpse into the process. You can take a look at Michael’s other great designs at