Erin Hills is situated in rural Wisconsin, approximately thirty minutes north of Milwaukee. This links design, constructed on former farmland, is scheduled to host the U.S. Open in 2017. A preview of the facility occurred when the U.S. Amateur was played there in 2011. There is not much to recommend the location aside from the golf course, although the Kohler courses are only an hour away. As such, any golf vacation that includes Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run affords the opportunity to play Erin Hills. The biggest drawback to a golf junkie like myself, is that any Midwest golf vacation must incorporate 36 holes a day (I would go stir crazy otherwise), and I always find myself with the first tee time at Erin Hills in advance of a trip to Kohler. On both occasions the weather has been less than hospitable, with cold, rain and wind on my recent sojourn. The course is difficult enough without having to brave the elements. In addition, Erin Hills is a walking course, much like many of the current “in vogue” links layouts (Bandon Dunes, Chambers Bay, Whistling Straits, etc.). Despite the promise of boring farmland, the facility offers plenty of topography. By the time you finish 18 holes, you will be exhausted, which can make the second round of the day less enticing.
These issues aside, the golf course is exceptional, and will provide a great challenge to the touring pros. At last count, they had a nearly 8,000 yard layout planned for the U.S. Open, and seemed to be looking for ways to make it longer. As the course already plays long, with plenty of uphill approach shots it does not figure to benefit the shorter hitters. Further, the rough can be problematic for those long, but not so straight. The long fescue bordering the fairways is comparatively thick which could lead to lost balls perhaps, but tough lies most certainly. Due in part to the strong winds (and perhaps to my uninspired tee shots) I found myself in the “hay” regularly during my round. Ultimately, despite the appearance of being wide open, Erin Hills requires accuracy in addition to distance. This combination usually means high scores for less talented linksters like myself.
Unless you have a great love of farmland, there is not much to see on the course. I understand deer and fox are known to roam the grounds, but on neither of my visits did they make an appearance. There are a few water hazards to make it interesting, but generally, what you see is what you get.
Absolutely Must Play? Yes, this is a U.S. Open venue, and one should never pass up the opportunity to play one. It is not, however, for the casual golfer. The exacting walk, comparatively high green fees (we paid $225) and the additional cost for a caddie (highly recommended) coupled with the degree of difficulty will likely leave the “hacker” hacked off. On the other hand, for the golf addict this one is an absolute must. Access should not be a problem because any true golf fanatic will be making the pilgrimage to Whistling Straits, so there is no excuse not to make this side trip.
My Rating: 8+, for the challenging design, all around golf experience and future Open venue.
Weekly Observation: Is anybody else watching the pre-season tournaments? I miss the big names who do not appear to be interested in building FedEx points. The most difficult thing for an old guy like me is learning all the new names.
Paul Laubach is completely unqualified to provide expertise with respect to golf course rankings and design, however, he is a highly opinionated golf addict who believes everyone should be entitled to his thoughts. He is in the process of completing the story of his journey to play America’s top 100 Public courses. Please visit this website regularly for more (im)practical information.