Home' Australian Golf Digest : June 2017 Contents 66 australiangolfdigest.com.au | june 2017
N JUNE, Erin Hills, the mammoth
rumpled blanket of a golf course in
tiny Erin, Wisconsin, will host the first
of what will be many US Opens. I say
that with confidence, because it’s the
right course in the right place at the
right time. ▶
Erin Hills is a privately owned
public golf course, befitting the
USGA’s populist desire to grow the
game, in an untapped market. The course
sits on 652 acres, an expanse unprecedented
in championship golf. There’s enough
room to accommodate every money-
making skybox, hospitality palace and
merchandise tent imaginable. There’s
room for 100,000 spectators, if the USGA
wanted that many. It doesn’t . Ticket sales
were capped at 35,000, evidently to avoid
traffic snarls. The course will be a genuine
test. Yes, it’s ridiculously long from its back
tees at 8,348 yards, but it isn’t intended to
ever be played at that length. For the Open,
it’ll officially measure 7,693 yards but will
be shorter on any given day because each
hole has enormous flexibility. It’s a par 72,
a first for a US Open since Pebble Beach in
1992, and at least a couple of par 5s could
force even big hitters to use a fairway wood
to reach those greens in two.
Agreed, it’s not a genuine links where
one can bounce every shot into every
target. There are some elevated fairways
and elevated greens, and that’s by design.
The wind blows a considerable amount of
the time at Erin Hills, and one of its tests is
handling aerial shots in the wind. Fairways
pitch and heave, dip and tumble, with few
level lies any where. Its bunkers are real
hazards where recovery is often secondary
to escape. The greens are pure bentgrass,
the first time in a US Open in forever, slick
and smooth surfaces on which there will be
plenty of birdie putts made.
Yes, I’m an unabashed cheerleader for Erin
Hills. I have a right to be, for I was involved
in its creation. Or rather, its excavation.
Erin Hills existed within the glacial folds of
Wisconsin’s kettle-moraine topography for
eons. We just had to unearth it.
STATING MY CASE
Let me set the record straight: I was a co-
designer of Erin Hills with Hurdzan and Fry.
We jointly bid on the project in 2000 and won
the job over competition that included the
design firms of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer
and Tom Doak. I was not brought in at a later
date by Mike and Dana to peek over their
shoulders and write laudatory commentary.
I was not hired as a design consultant to stop
by a couple of times for arm-waving photo
opportunities. And I was certainly not, to
quote the phrase Doak once used, there to
simply “fill the talent deficit of Dr Mike”.
(Leave it to Tom to pat a guy on the back and
end up slapping another in the face.)
Mike and Dana needed no additive. They
are two of the most talented, imaginative,
knowledgeable and enthusiastic golf
architects I’ve known. Their works speak
to that. Calusa Pines and Naples National,
both in Florida and highly ranked by
Golf Digest, are as different as yin and
yang. Likewise, Devil’s Pulpit and Devil’s
Paintbrush, Golf Digest’s first Best New
Canadian Courses in the early 1990s,
sit side by side yet don’t resemble one
another at all.
But because media coverage of golf
architecture is mostly fan-boy worship,
Mike and Dana have never gotten the
national attention they deserve. They were
never the cool kids in school. The internet
is full of pundits who say Erin Hills would
be so much better if only one of the Golden
Boys had designed it. Chew on this for a
moment. Mike and Dana were one of five
finalist firms for the Chambers Bay job, the
course that hosted the 2015 US Open. Had
things gone just a little differently, they’d
now have two courses hosting US Opens in a
We agreed to team up on the Erin Hills
bid because Mike and I have been friends
since the mid-1970s. In the late 1990s, as
I was approaching 50 and feeling life was
passing me by, I decided to get involved in
some course designs. Mike and Dana took
a chance on me without hesitation. It was
simple luck that the project we decided to
chase together was a course that has ended
up hosting a US Open. But then again, as I’ll
explain, you make your own luck.
I say all this to explain why I can’t be
objective when talking about Erin Hills.
I made more than 100 visits to that site.
I staked out every hole and then some. I
hand-dug bunkers, floated out some greens.
I agonised over big issues and tiny details.
Of course, I’m biased and highly emotional
on the subject. My DNA is in that design.
I don’t care how much money you spend,”
Dana says. “ You can’t outdo God.”
That sums up our approach to Erin
Hills. For better or worse, our objective
was to prove that Mother Nature is the
best golf course architect of all time.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ron Whitten has been covering golf architecture for Golf Digest since 1985. In 1992, citing his inexperience – he’d
never designed a golf course – he turned down Mike Keiser’s offer to design the first 18 at Bandon Dunes, giving way to David McLay Kidd.
In 2000, Whitten jumped when invited to join Dr Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry in creating a new course north-west of Milwaukee.
Little did they know then that Erin Hills would develop into a course worthy of the 2017 US Open. Here, Whitten tells a story of the many
surprises – some good, some bad – that led to Wisconsin’s first US Open.
The green on the par-3
sixth flows from front
(right) to back (left).
066-077_AGD0617_Erin Hills.indd 66
3/05/2017 1:39 pm
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