If you haven't heard yet, Erin Hills, site of next year's U.S. Open, is closed. It happened early this week. But it's not just closed for the season; it's closed for the next eight months. That's right, nobody gets to play this Mike Hurdzan-Dana Fry-Ron Whitten gem about 40 minutes northwest of Milwaukee until after the U.S. Open ends on June 18, 2017.
Owner Andy Ziegler has decided to forgo collecting the $265 green fees until then. (If you figure conservatively at four months at just 15 groups a day, that's more than a half-million dollars in revenue for green fees alone.) Guy Cipriano of GolfCourseIndustry.com spoke with Ziegler about the move.
The reasoning? To have the golf course at its very best for the TV cameras and worldwide audience. (By comparison, Chambers Bay closed to the public in mid-May prior to hosting the 2015 U.S. Open on June 15th.)
Certainly, Ziegler is thinking long-term. If Erin Hills shines bright on the world stage, it will vault towards the top of golf's bucket-list of courses. And Erin Hills will most surely get another major.
No doubt, the criticism surrounding the conditions of 2015's U.S. Open venue, Chambers Bay, might have influenced Ziegler. After all, the course, especially the greens conditions, were panned by players and critics alike, especially after the United States Golf Association prepped the course a little more on the brown side to run hard and fast.
But while Chambers Bay is a links course meant to be played as a bump and run course, Erin Hills isn't a links course, though it will certainly have that wind-swept look. It doesn't need to run firm and fast because it's really target golf after the tee shots. Getting the course green and pristine with the contrast of the high native grasses surrounding the fescue fairways will give Erin Hills a look like no other course in U.S. Open history. And since the bentgrass greens are elevated and well protected by cavernous bunkers, running shots up to the greens won't really be an option, so don't expect the USGA to prep the course like Chambers Bay. Plus, if it's windy, 8,000-yard Erin Hills will be plenty hard without having to trick up the conditions.
Of course, that doesn't mean the USGA won't try to make the greens as difficult as possible, but I wouldn't expect them to take them to levels they were at Shinnecock Hills (site of the 2018 U.S. Open) in 2004 when the seventh green almost became unplayable during the final round.
Of course, it puts pressure on superintendent Zach Reineking and his crew, but the added time and lack of play also gives them advantages they've never had. For example, they don't have to mow when the ground is wet before play each day. There will be no divots from daily play, bunker maintenance will be much easier, and tasks that might have been hurried in the late fall can now be done in the spring.
The result should be Augusta-like.