Set within an enormous property that extends to over 600 acres, the golf course at Erin Hills only opened in 2006 but it has already hosted the US Amateur Championship in 2011 (won by Kelly Kraft) and the US Open in 2017, which Brooks Koepka won, equalling the US Open’s lowest winning score of 16 under par.
Robert Lang was the man behind Erin Hills and it was he who purchased enough land beside the small town of Erin, near Milwaukee, primarily to guarantee golfers solitude from the outside world but also to allow enough off-course space for any major USGA tournaments that might come his way. In October 2009, CEO and co-founder of Artisan Partners, Andrew Ziegler, purchased the Erin Hills property.
On a rugged landscape formed by glacial action thousands of years ago, little earth was moved when forming the course, resulting in one of the most natural layouts to be found anywhere in the United States. Make no mistake, though, Erin Hills is golf on an epic scale, a big course in a vast landscape, where the overall length can vary from a modest 5,434 yards to a whopping 7,845 yards.
On the advice of the USGA, several changes, mainly on the front nine, have been made to the course since it opened, with a ridge cut down on the opening fairway, the green on the second hole increased in size and the tough par four 8th extended to a par five.
Around 20 bunkers were also incorporated around the layout but the most significant enhancement was the elimination of the quirky, blind par three 7th hole - built in homage to “Dell,” the famous 5th hole at Lahinch - which was the second of back-to-back par threes.
The old holes 8 and 9 now play as 7 and 8 with the once-optional, par three “Bye” hole now completing the front nine. - Perhaps the designers always knew the routing would have to be altered so they kept a spare hole up their sleeves for such an eventuality?
Erin Hills is not for the faint hearted as it presents a stern golfing challenge but for those who want their golf game examined, this is as good a test as there is. Ten guest rooms are also available above a very homely clubhouse for visitors who wish to savour a full Wisconsin golf experience.
In having been on-hand and covering the 117th US Open Championship at Erin Hills I had the opportunity to observe the play of the world's best golfers. I had previously played the course in late '15 when the PGA Championship was hosted nearby at Whistling Straits.
A couple of comments having played the course and seeing the world's best handle the challenge provided during the US Open.
Erin Hills was properly set-up by the United States Golf Association (USGA) for the event. In years past the USGA would have been tempted to narrow the fairways to inane narrow widths and such an action would likely have simply caused the same kind of slog one has seen when US Opens are held as players cannot really recover but must simply hack a wedge back out to the fairway.
Providing players with much wider fairways worked very well -- allowing players to go full bore with driver as many times as they wished. Contrary to the naysayers who thought the final round total score from winner Brooks Koepka was ridiculously low -- the same course inflicted sufficient punishment to the top three ranked players in the world -- Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day -- all of whom missed the cut. The first time that has happened since the world rankings were started in 1986.
The key for Erin Hills is what was missing for much of US Open week -- wind. The course is set on rolling terrain and any type of breezes can impact play in a big time way as there's nothing really there to stop it from happening. Erin Hills also had some rain fall during the event and the "fire" in the fairways was doused so that players could take liberties in hitting drivers to the corners of certain holes and still know there balls would not scamper into the high deep grasses.
Part of the dilemma Erin Hills had to overcome was the poor conditions of the putting greens that were in play at Chambers Bay in '15 and the rules debacle the USGA handled -- or mishandled as the case demonstrated -- at Oakmont in '16.
The USGA took a clear page from the R&A in allowing the players to show their skills without making slight mistakes into draconian penalties.
It's important to point out that the trio of designers -- Dr. Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten - took what the site provided and did not attempt to bulldoze the site to the umpteenth degree. The Kettle Moraine area of Wisconsin is truly a fascinating geographical location and the impact caused when the glaciers retreated provided for a wonderful site where the land heaves and hoes in all sorts of manner with a pure sand base to work with. In many ways, Erin Hills is a good example of heathland golf located in America's heartland.
One of the virtues of Erin Hills was the decision made by Dr. Hurdzan to go with fescue grass on the tees and fairways. The club did its part as well by not having power carts after the initial season. Ownership went one step further -- closing off all play when the '16 season came to an end in October. The playing surfaces for the '17 US Open were nothing short of stellar.
Much of the flow of Erin Hills is in a east-west and west-east pattern. There are a few exceptions -- the opening hole, the par-3 9th and par-4 10th are examples routed differently. To the credit of the design team -- the course does provide for birdie opportunities -- the par-5 1st and the short par-4 2nd clearly gives an opening -- one which Koepka seized during the final round.
The long par-4 3rd proved to be a real challenge for the best players at the US Open. The greensite located above the players and having sufficient contour but not becoming overly so. I really like how the edges of a number of the greens were caught to fairway height -- thereby propelling errant approaches further away from the pin location.
The dog-leg left par-4 8th is a first rate hole. The bend in the fairway is countered by the manner in which the land falls to the right. Power players can take on the bend of the hole but anything pulled will be severely penalized as it should. The green is another well done location -- set on top of a ridge and mandating proper adjustment to both trajectory and distance.
The most controversial hole for the US Open and likely for everyday play centers on the par-3 9th. I personally like the hole -- you play from an elevated tee and have to be prepared for the crosswinds which routinely blow -- either right-to-left or left-to-right. The design team created some of the most demanding bunkers possible but given the fact that most players were using short irons and even wedges I find it completely appropriate. The demands of the 9th at Erin Hills were no more difficult than what players encounter when playing the renowned "postage stamp" hole at Royal Troon. But professionals are quick to howl when such a hole exposes them so blatantly.
The inner half of holes at Erin Hills is well done. A top tier mix with land changes happening over and over again. Players need to shape shots accordingly and when done successfully can result in ample rewards. One of my favorites is the spectacular par-4 12th. Here you face a daunting tee shot from a visual perspective. The hole bends to the right with a huge mound of deep high fescue awaiting the errant shot to that side. Strong -- and accurate players -- can reap the benefit of "speed slot" if the tee shot is shaped accordingly. The bowl-shaped green is nicely done and if an approach is played well a good birdie opportunity is present.
The par-5 14th is a brilliant hole -- daring players for the ultimate risk in attempting to get on the green in two strong blows but providing enough pushback for those failing to execute at a top tier level. The green design is especially well done -- tilting to the right and featuring run-offs for any approach that is not properly played.
The short par-4 15th received plenty of attention and rightly so. The USGA provided different tee locations and while the hole was birdie-fest on Saturday's 3rd round when the wind was non-existent -- the same hole was utterly devilish on Sunday's final round with the wind howling and into the player's faces. Koepka showed plenty of courage in going deep with his approach to a pin tucked hard to the right side. His birdie there effectively sealed victory for him. Having a short par-4 in the mix was a real plus in so many ways. The 15th has numerous challenges and decisions to make no matter what the tee box is. On Sunday's last round -- it was the 15th that played the toughest.
The final three holes at Erin Hills played easy for Sunday's final round but that doesn't mean the architecture was poorly done. The par-3 16th features a very narrow green bracketed by narrow and deep bunkers. The long par-4 17th demands a well-hit drive that turns from right-to-left. Although it's not likely appreciated to the fullest degree -- the greensite at the 17th is one of the best at the course - especially on the front right where the fall-off for anything not played in a first rate manner will fall quickly away.
The long par-5 18th is not a super demanding hole -- especially when the prevailing wind is from the west. Much was made of players getting home in two shots but what many don't realize is that while the hole had a much easier pin location for Sunday's final round -- the location for Saturday's 3rd round showed a completely different side. When the pin is cut towards the far left the margin for error is magnified significantly with fall-offs awaiting the mishit.
The thing about Erin Hills is that there's plenty of elasticity for average players to enjoy the course. If played from the appropriate tees the enjoyment factor can be accomplished. I have covered 30 US Opens and played all of the key courses that have served as host to the national championship of American golf. Erin Hills showed much in its debut and clear lessons were learned should a return visit happen in the not so distant future. Credit the USGA in providing for a stage in which rewards were certainly doable -- just look at what Justin Thomas did in round three versus what he did in round four.
Unfortunately, no other Midwest site is on the US Open rotation of courses through at least '26. Clearly, the facility is blessed with 600+ acres of land and the mechanics for setting up the course can be refined if and when a second US Open returns. Erin Hills is no cheap ticket to play -- greens fees are roughly $230 and that doesn't include the optional caddie.
Erin Hills was a risky proposition when the course was selected back in '10 to host the most prestigious event in America. But, all in all, the facility held up well and from a design side is a testament to the collaborative nature Dr. Hurdzan, Fry and Whitten knowing how to adroitly use what Mother Nature provided and doing so without overplaying their hand.
by M. James Ward - Winners and losers at Erin Hills - 2017 US Open
The Erin Hills Golf Course is a hybrid set on rolling hills with a flavour somewhere between links and farmland. There are no trees to separate holes in this very natural layout set on a rugged landscape, and the views throughout the entire course are breathtaking. The fairways and greens are firmly protected by fescue grasses and/or a series of bunkers. The greens are huge and highly undulating. When you are on some of elevated teeing grounds or greens, you can see 360-degree views of the surrounding course. Erin Hill is a large-scale, wild, and windswept course. Although the course appears quite orthodox, each hole is very long and quite challenging, and the course offers each player a stern test of golf. This course hosted the Nationwide Amateur Open in 2012, and was selected for the 2017 US Open.
The relatively short par 3 165-yard 9th is nice. The green, sloping from the center to the right, is deep, elevated, and surrounded by seven bunkers. The long par 4 504-yard 10th is a dogleg to the right. Although the tee shot is blind, the ball will probably land safely since the fairway is quite generous. Long hitters will get an extra bonus, as they will be able to hit long enough to catch the downhill fairway. The green is wide and is double-tired. Approaching becomes difficult when the pin position is on the right, two guard bunkers placed in the right front of the green will come into play.
The finishing 663-yard 18th is straight for the first 400 yards followed by a dogleg to the left for the last 200 yards. This is a very long and difficult hole. The fairway on the second shot slopes to the left, and the third shot is uphill. If players hit towards the left side of the green, they may find their ball rolling down to the bottom of a long slope. There are six bunkers that protect the green’s front side. To read more about Erin Hills, click here to visit my website.
I played Erin Hills on a recent trip to Wisconsin. The course if about 50 miles from the Kohler resort on lake Michigan, and it's not very hard to take in both destinations on a trip to this area. I really enjoyed the course and it should make an excellent venue for the 2017 U.S. Open
The course is set in rolling farmland and apparently very little dirt was moved in the construction. The holes have a nice rolling feel to them. The fairways are defined by thick and tenacious fescue rough, and if the wind is up and the rough is thick the best players in the world will struggle with this course.
The green complexes are brilliant and the approach shot often has to be very precise to get close to the hole. The routing has the holes running in almost every direction so that the wind has a different effect on each hole.
The course has a nice combination of short and long par 4's and the par 3's can be played at slightly difference differences offering up a nice variety of strategic options. Holes 2 and 11 can certainly play as driveable par 4's which seems to be the fancy of modern championship golf course setup. A couple of holes were somewhat undistinguished, specifically 5 and 17, which keep me from giving the course a 6 ball rating, but this is a great layout that is enjoyable providing you play from the correct set of tees. There are 6 sets of tees, from a women's gold tee at 5082 yards to the back tees of 7800 yards. I would let the excellent caddies guide you to the proper teeing ground.
Erin Hills is a nice layout that will probably move up in the rankings as the years go by. I would make every effort to play here and enjoy this fine layout. Read my full story here: The Wisconsin "Pearl" Golf Trip
Located 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee, the architects uncovered, rather than manufactured, the most impressive holes they could find on the property. The length of the course is barbaric from the black tees (7,823 yards) and even from the blue tees, it takes a foursome five and half hours to get round. So this place isn’t for casual players looking to enjoy the countryside for an afternoon while waiting for a Packers game to commence. Click the link to read Fergal’s full report on Erin Hills.