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 nearly 500 yards from the tips.
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. Thirty-seven bedrooms are available on property (including ten guest rooms above a very homely clubhouse) for visitors who wish to savour the full Wisconsin golf experience.
Erin Hills is the collaboration of Hurdzan, Fry and Whitten. Originally opened in 2006, significant changes occurred in 2009 to get the course Open ready. First impression is of vastness, it looks big and plays big. However, due to the topography and geology it tends to play hard and fast. This may change as the fairways are fescue today and they will be changing them out to bent later this season. There are only four trees on the course. It has more of an Ireland feel than Scotland, as one call tell from the logo. This is a purist’s course, walking only. There are a couple of hills that will get your heart rate up, but overall a pleasant stroll. Erin Hills is another Wisconsin golf course that has embraced ragged edge bunkers.
The first hole is a welcoming par 5. The hole tilts left and there are wetlands left, thus favor the right. This is one of the few holes were a running approach can be successful. Thus, the fairway bunkers on the right side, about 50 yards out, will keep the big hitters honest. My recommendation, get off to a good start and play it as a 3 shotter. It is rated as the number 3 handicap hole, which I strongly disagree with. The 2nd is a deceptive little hole, but still a great birdie oppty. It will feel like a dogleg right based upon the contours, but is actually pretty straight. A blind tee shot, big hitters may try to clear the right bunkers. If successful, they will catch the downslope and be inside 50 yards. A safer play is to the left to give yourself a view for your flip wedge. Mortals will have a blind approach to the smallest green on the course with a pot bunker right. Sadly, this did not prevent me from three jacking. The 3rd is the 1st long par four and what you see is what you get. Fairway bunkers squeeze the landing area on both the left and right. For the approach, I would advocate taking an extra club to avoid the angry and hungry looking bunker in front of the green. The 4th is another demanding par 4. Favor the left off the tee to avoid the fairway bunker right. If you thought the front center bunker on the 3rd looked angry and hungry check out the two on the 4th. The 5th plays much shorter than the yardage. Another hole with fairway bunkers right and left. I would favor the left off the tee. There is a gaping wound bunker front left center. In the redesign there is now fairway left of the green that makes attacking left pin locations much easier. The 6th is a long par 3 with an elevated green. This is a very deep green, so pay attention to the pin location. The 7th is a par 5 with over 20 bunkers sprinkled around. How this is the number one handicap hole is beyond me. Three mediocre shots and you are putting for birdie. The dogleg left is an outstanding golf hole. How big is your appetite? First things first, if you do not clear the ridge, you can pretty much kiss par good bye. If you are not far enough left off the tee, you will end up in the rough or worse. This is an extreme elevated green that slopes hard back to front, at least one extra club. With three bunkers guarding the front, long is better. The front side ends with a wonderful short downhill par three. This green is surrounded by seven hellacious bunkers. The green is eerily similar to what you find at Pinehurst #2. My advice is middle of the green.
The back starts with a bang. A 500 yard uphill par 4 should get your attention. A blind tee shot to an expansive fairway. If your drive can get down the hill you will be in good shape. Otherwise, play for bogey. The next three holes are your scoring holes. The short 11th is a slight dogleg left. A decent drive should leave you with a flip wedge to a green that slopes left to right. The 12th is an awesome golf hole. Another blind tee shot on this dogleg right, if you can crest the ridge you will have a short iron into the green. The fairway meanders right and then left with the green set into a cranny. If your drive is left you will have a blind approach. The 13th is a mid-length par three and is rated as the easiest hole on the course. Of course, I bogeyed it. The par 5 reachable 14th is another fantastic golf hole. A dogleg right with a plethora of fairway bunkers in play. The green is chiseled into a ledge with an extreme dropoff to the right. A good drive will create a conundrum, go for it or lay up? This is one of the more severely sloped greens on the course. If you miss right, you will end up at the bottom of the hill with a difficult pitch. I opted to lay up and thought I hit a good pitch but alas, I stayed in the middle of the green. Normally that would be a good thing. The pin was on the lower level right. Our caddy asked if I wanted to try to make my putt the normal way or the fun way. I opted for the fun. He had me turn perpendicular to the hole and putt off the green up the back slope, almost into the rough. Sure enough, once the ball got to its apex it shot back onto the green and whizzed by the hole. Sadly, I missed the four foot par putt, but no regrets. The 15th is another good risk reward hole, from an elevated tee, over a valley to an elevated green. Mega-hitters may be able to drive it, however it is well protected with fairway and greenside bunkers. I think the best play is pick your preferred yardage and wedge it close. It is my favorite hole, yes, I birdied. The last par 3 is short and uphill, take an extra club. The green is surrounded by a multitude of bunkers, be wary of the left side as some of these bunkers are not visible from the tee. The 17th is a slight dogleg left with another blind tee shot. Favor the right to give you a view of the green. If you are too far left, it will be a blind approach. This hole, is the number 8 handicap and it has no bunkers. The 18th is the mcgilla of mcgillas. From the tips 663 yards. There are all kinds of fairway bunkers and on your second shot favor the right side. The site of the famous Justin Thomas 299 yard three wood is immortalized with a plaque in the fairway. I still decided to play it as a 3 shotter and as pleased as I was with my par, I must tip my cap to my associate Moyo, who birdied.
Wisconsin is blessed with some superlative golf courses. Erin Hills should be near the top of the list. Perhaps, its only weakness is the par threes. The backside is tremendous. Make sure Erin Hills is in your itinerary.
Erin Hills was always going to be made or broken by its scope; “made” in the sense that glaciers sculpted a wondrous Midwestern landscape. It seems unfit to rely upon the go-to adjective of “rolling” to describe the fairways here; “rolling” waves make for a fun day at the beach with a boogie board. No, the fairways at Erin Hills “crest,” the type of stuff that big-boy surfers ride to glory. Epic stuff. On the other hand, the scope of the course’s design could also work to break it; is it truly a masterful piece of design worthy of the U.S. Open, or is it an unfortunate testament to the current brawn of the PGA Tour?
Simply put, it is not the latter. I see this complaint frequently associated with this Erin, but am unable to confirm. Your correspondent played in winds crossing 30 mph, and managed to make it to near green-level on every hole. This isn’t a testament to my strength, but simply some light wisdom in choosing tees. My caddie confirmed that many scratch golfers (of which I am not) opt for the 7,800-yard tips when a happy 7,200-yard option exists. Playing such a monstrous distance does in fact derail the course’s intentions (again, unless you’re a pro). Three of the four long holes here should be considered matchplay eagle options for those who have struck a good tee shot from the appropriate tee; playing from the tips takes three over 600 yards. Consider No. 14, a risk-reward gem at 508 yards from the blue tees...but extended 106 yards from Blue to Black, eliminating both its purpose and potential for you or I.
The moral: Don’t buy into arguments that this course is a monster. Check your ego along with your clubs when you drive up, and enjoy the round. Hurdzan and associates have provided areas to miss on nearly every hole (the exception is the course’s finest short hole, the pearl-necklaced No. 9). I would counter that Bethpage Black—another course that emphasizes carried approaches rather than run-ups—could merit some lessons from Erin Hills; muscular courses play better when wide fairways create options of attack.
There are some foibles; obviously Erin was never going to be “true” links golf, but some room for ground attack would be nice. So holes play uphill or have here raised greens...partially decided by the landscape, but likely based upon founder Bob May’s hellbent desire to host an Open. Similarly, the emphasis on aerial attack occasionally results in repeated tactics; consider, for example, Nos. 3 through 5, all Par 4s featuring similar centerline bunkers ahead of the green. The distance from the green varies between these hazards, but not enough to allow the mental differentiation such large installations deserve. I came away from the stretch with only a lucid memory of No. 4, where the final bunker is used in true “Lion’s Mouth” fashion...a great hole diminishing its less-great (but not poor) neighbors. For what it lacks in links-style run-ups, it has a healthy number of blind tee shots—a flavor appreciated by this reviewer if not others—highlighted in particular at No. 12; it’s only too bad the one-time Dell hole has been replaced.
Erin Hills was always going to made or broken by its scope; in this review, the magnitude of the property itself tipped the final decision from 4.5 to 5; those 30-plus mph winds created rolling waves in the sea of fescue, a sight unmatched to my knowledge in American golf. There are a few hackles to be had, but Erin Hills lacks many comparison points on this end of the Atlantic.
Erin Hills is one of those courses I find to be terribly overrated. It’s just long for the sake of being long without any of the redeeming features you would normally find in a championship course. Save your money and go to Kohler instead.
The 2017 U.S. Open highlighted the roller coaster glacial landforms of this central Wisconsin layout, but as the course was soft and the wind was not blowing, the scores went low, with Brooks Koepka tying the tournament scoring record when all was said and done. With a little wind and some firmness to the greens, Erin Hills is an entirely different animal. The hole corridors are pretty wide and forgiving, and the tall fescue rough is a welcome relief compared to most unmowed areas, as it’s sparse enough to find many a ball that would otherwise be lost, but it’s a tough test nonetheless under those conditions. Even small misses are severely punished by the slopes leading up to many of the greens. The sheer magnitude of the rolling hills on many holes you just have to see to believe; it’s a much more difficult course to walk than you might think.
Memorable holes include: #2, a spectacular short par four with fantastic options: attack off the tee to a blind fairway, or lay up short of the mound and leave a blind approach, #8, a very difficult long par four that plays over not one but two enormous valleys, #9, a testy short downhill par three, #12, a par four that threads the player between two large mounds on both the drive and the approach to the saddle-shaped green, #14, a reachable par five with a massive false front on both the front and right of the green, and #15, a fun short par four that requires precision with every shot from tee to cup. There isn’t a bad hole on the golf course, and with the wind up and a light rain falling over the last few holes, it was definitely a challenge.
We played this course as the first round on a trip to Wisconsin that included later stops at Lawsonia Links; I had expected Erin Hills to be the star of the trip and I’m glad we played it because it really is a great course, but for the money I’d play Lawsonia any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Played July 16, 2015
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.