HARTFORD, Wis. – A course with no water hazards and relatively few trees will host the U.S. Open for the first time.
The U.S. Open – well known for punishing players – won't need such hazards to defend par for the USGA the week of June 12-18. The Erin Hills Golf Course 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee will rely on intricate, plateau greens; thick rough and fescue lining the fairways and a treacherous collection of bunkers to do the job instead. If the weather holds true, firm-and-fast conditions will throw golf balls into all sorts of interesting spots and wild lies. Just which Open is being held in the Badger state – the U.S. Open or The Open Championship?
The tee shot will be paramount. If players drive the ball in the fairway and stay out of the rough, they've got a chance to hit controlled shots into greens with some difficult slope. Photos don't do justice to the difficulty of some of the bunkers at Erin Hills Golf Course. There will be times when players must hit their balls backward or sideways.
The brains behind Erin Hills Golf Course are Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry – two long-time design partners who remain friends despite a split several years ago - and Ron Whitten, the architecture writer/editor for Golf Digest. None of these men tried to impose their will on the group. Each added enough collaboration to make the Erin Hills work, although tweaking has been constant since the golf course debuted a decade ago. Holes have been changed and green sites recalibrated. A controversial par 3 with a blind tee shot was removed.
The rolling site is vast, perfect for the pageantry of a modern major championship, but that will make it a long walk for everybody, players and spectators alike. Its back tees can stretch to 8,000 yards, although that won't be necessary. Length isn't the issue at Erin Hills. For example, the par 3 at no. 9 is the shortest hole on the golf course with a variety of tees ranging from 135 yards to 165 yards. Surrounded by some of the golf course's most punishing bunkers, the ninth hole played as the sixth-hardest hole at the 2011 U.S. Amateur Championship during stroke play. Another hole to watch is No. 15, a par 4 that was drivable during the final round of the U.S. Amateur won by Kelly Kraft.
Erin Hills, also a host of the 2008 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links won by Tiffany Joh, has been closed for play since last fall, meaning conditions on the greens, tees and fairways should be as pure as they've ever been for the best players in the world.
Storylines heading into the second major championship of 2017 are intriguing. Can Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy recover from recent injuries to contend? Jason Day, Justin Rose and Jordan Spieth remain prime contenders. Maybe Phil Mickelson can pull off a surprise victory, joining the prestigious club of golfers who have achieved the career Grand Slam.
Will any controversy pop up, like the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay? The setup by the USGA and the inconsistency of the greens were heavily criticized by players that week. The USGA will likely err on the side of caution to keep Erin Hills from suffering heavy criticism in its U.S. Open debut. Tune in to catch the TV coverage on Father's Day weekend.
If you're looking to play the walking-only course after the U.S. Open, Erin Hills is scheduled to reopen July 1. Green fees will cost $280, rising to $295 in 2018. The caddie fee is $55 per player. Erin Hills functions as a standalone resort where guests can stay in the dorm rooms above the clubhouse or in nearby cottages. The Irish Pub & Terrace is a great place for casual food and fun after the round. What a thrill it would be to play the golf course just weeks and months after the pros.