Erin Hills' 18th hole features Holy Hill Cathedral in the background. (Paul Hundley/Golf Advisor) Erin Hills' fourth hole is a 439-yard par 4. (Paul Hundley/Golf Advisor) Some joke that Erin Hills' par-3 ninth is the shortest par 5 in golf. (Paul Hundley/Golf Advisor)

Erin Hills: Minimalist gem in Erin, Wisconsin, set to host 2017 U.S. Open



ERIN, Wis. -- The scene is Erin Hills.

Wispy fescue is waving on a wild prairie framed by rolls and dips that were created by colliding glaciers. A ribbon of green grass rolls up a draw defined by edges that on occasion funnel into bunkers that are roughly cut. Serrated edges mimic natural erosion that’s happened over the centuries.

The fairways are fast and firm. Wind is ever present.

The golf at Erin Hills is so competition-ready because it will host the 2017 U.S. Open. And make a note: If it experiences 30-mph winds, there will some grumbling by the PGA Tour pros.

The Open is scheduled for June 12-18, 2017 -- a first for Wisconsin. And if you want to play Erin Hills this year, do it before Oct. 3 when they close for the season. Next year the course will not open until after the U.S. Open.

Erin Hills: Built to host a U.S. Open

"The no. 1 goal was always to host a U.S. Open," said Rich Tock, Erin Hills' Ambassador to PGA Professionals.

Only six public courses have had that honor. There's Pebble Beach, Bethpage Black, Pinehurst No. 2, Torrey Pines South, Chambers Bay and Erin Hills.

"During the tournament, you will be able to see and hear the crowds easily," said Tock. "We have a five-mile highway that goes through the entire property, so a semi never has to drive on the fescue fairways."

That's a fairway saver when you know that temporary infrastructure is needed to stage a major championship. There's countless hospitality tents, grandstands, scoreboards, and on and on.

The golf course opened in 2008, and three years later, it hosted the 2011 U.S. Amateur.

This is a huge site covering 650 acres so many have expressed an opinion on how many tickets to sell each day. Some think 45,000 to 50,000 is possible. Since two-lane country roads lead to Erin Hills, the gallery will be brought in by shuttle buses.

Erin Hills: The layout

First of all, this is a walking only facility, but caddies are available and highly knowledgeable. Hire one -- you won't be disappointed. There's a lot of real estate, with it measuring 7,800 yards at par 72.

"There are a lot of people who will never get to play this course because of the walking-only policy," Tock said. That being older golfers, but it's important to the game of golf to have courses like this to remember golf's roots.

The original layout, designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan, his partner Dana Fry and Ron Whitten, has been tweaked as per USGA guidelines. There were some blind shots such as a par-3 seventh dell hole where those on the green ring a bell when they were exiting.

The USGA said no to a blind par 3, so the bell is still there, but the hole is now a par 5 of 607 yards. The third green has also been moved.

You would think this is a links golf experience -- it is off the tee, but approach shots can resemble target golf, many times to elevated greens protected by steep slopes and bunkers. The par-5 14th, a 613-yard beast, has a ski-slope false front. So call it a hybrid of traditional and links golf.

The most talked about holes are nine and 18.

No. 9 is a par 3 that measures from 135 to 165 with a 26-foot drop to a volcano green with bunkers cascading down in all directions. There have been jokes that this is the shortest par 5 in golf. If you land in the huge back bunker count on at least a double bogey. During the 2011 U.S. Amateur Championship this hole played the sixth toughest.

The 15th -- a 370-yard, par 4 -- provided the turning point in the afternoon round of the final match of the 2011 U.S. Amateur. With the hole set to play only 252 yards, Patrick Cantlay, who was one up, elected to lay up off the tee but hit an eight iron into the central fairway bunker. He lost the hole and ultimately the match to Kelly Kraft.

The finale is 663 yards of brute strength -- a three-shot hole for most mortals.

Erin Hills is not to be missed, even if your legs get heavy on numerous treks upward to a tee box, but you will enjoy the greens that are often sitting in saddles or cut into a hill.

If you miss a fairway, don't despair. You can find a ball in the tall fescue rough (or your caddie will), but just wedge it back in the fairway.

Tock remembers the day when he stood on the no. 4 tee box and could count 13 flag sticks. Sounds like the perfect setting to stage a national championship.

Erin Hills: Stay-and-play options

For groups, there are four luxury cottages, with all accommodations located right next to the clubhouse and first tee. The Lodge will remind you of an old Irish Country Inn and offers seven single rooms, a double room and two- and three-bedroom suites, as well as a Guinness-pouring Irish pub. Check the course's web site for packages.

If you want to stay in Milwaukee, book the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino -- a mile from the Harley-Davidson Museum. This contemporary casino hotel is two and a half miles from the Milwaukee Art Museum and five miles from the North Point Light House.

Sleek, sophisticated rooms feature flat-screens, pillow-top mattresses, mini-fridges, microwaves and complimentary wi-fi. Some rooms add whirlpool tubs, separate lounge areas and panoramic views of the city.

Jul 20, 2016



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David R. Holland

Senior Writer

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.


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