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.
Date: June 16, 2020