Home' Australian Golf Digest : June 2017 Contents next phase of our journey to build Erin Hills.”
Construction finally started on
September 15. The next month, Davis
returned, this time with then-USGA
executive director David Fay. After walking
every corridor, Fay said to Bob, “Let’s see
how this will play in June,” and offered him
the 2007 US Women’s Amateur Public Links
Championship. Bob immediately accepted
and gleefully called us. We panicked. That
was less than three years away. We hadn’t
even started construction; one stretch of
bad weather, and we’d never have the course
ready in time.
Luckily, Fay soon phoned Bob and said
he’d mis-spoken. They’d already offered the
2007 event to Kearney Hill in Lexington,
Kentucky. Would he host the 2008 event?
Bob agreed, and we all relaxed, just a little.
When we returned in the spring of 2005,
construction sputtered. An irrigation pond
took longer to be dug than we’d anticipated.
Worse, we had no water to fill the pond
because well-drilling was delayed. We fell
behind deadlines for seeding, and that
ultimately spilled into spring 2006.
There were other complications.
Although two years earlier Bob had hired
local workers to clear-cut entire hillsides,
he now couldn’t bring himself to cut down
any more trees. Dana’s philosophy was
“nuke ’em all”, but Bob thought clusters of
trees in the middle of some fairways would
be marvellous strategic elements. I ended
up spending months bartering with him,
tree removal on one hole in exchange for
retaining some trees on another.
Erin Hills officially opened for play in
August 2006, too early for the turf conditions,
but Bob wanted to start generating revenue.
It received mixed reviews. Golf Magazine
named it Best New Course of the year, but
Wisconsin Golfer said awarding it a USGA
event “was like putting Miss America’s crown
on a newborn”.
Make that two crowns. In February 2008,
the USGA announced the 2011 US Amateur
would be played at Erin Hills. Bob told me
privately that a US Open was also part of
the deal but said the announcement of that
would not be made for a couple of years. It
was tough, as a writer, to sit on that scoop,
but I’m glad I did, because I’m no longer
sure what Bob told me was accurate.
THINGS TURN SOUR
The Women’s Publinks was played in June
2008. It rained for 15 straight days before
the tournament, and though the course
drained well, the water table was so high
that some low spots in the landscape
became de facto ponds. The blind par-3
seventh hole was not used; the downhill Bye
hole was substituted, as the ninth. Several
golf writers clucked about thin turf on the
fairways. Of course they were thin. We’d
had only one full growing season. It takes
several years to fully grow in fescue turf.
I attended the event, but it wasn’t until
I returned home that I read accounts from
some reporters that Bob was planning many
design changes to Erin Hills that autumn,
“enhancements” required by the USGA for
the US Amateur. This “face-lift for a 2-year-
old” was news to me. I contacted Davis, who
assured me that he’d told Bob the Amateur
would be a test run, and discussion of any
course changes should be postponed until
after its conclusion. To document that,
Davis sent me a chain of e-mails from Bob,
which showed Bob had copied Mike and
Dana on his desired changes, but, for some
reason, not me.
I called Hurdzan, and he admitted that
they would soon start the remodelling. “Bob
asked me to tell you to stay away,” he said.
“He just feels you’d be so opposed to any
changes that you’d just try to delay things.”
I was pissed off. I’m a writer. I get edited
all the time. That didn’t bother me. But
I didn’t like being benched. When I later
talked to Dana, he said they weren’t sure the
US Open was a done deal. “Whatever it takes
to get the US Open, we’ll do,” he said.
The one change I disagree with was
elimination of the Dell hole. Bob later told me
he abandoned it because the USGA would
never have used it in a US Open. But even
today, Davis insists he was open-minded
about a blind par 3 and had wanted to see how
players would react to it during the Amateur.
In an act that sealed its fate, Bob, without
consulting Hurdzan or Fry, had the hillside
in front of the Dell green bulldozed away
to create a new set of back tees for his new
seventh hole, the old par-4 eighth lengthened
into a par 5. Bob now had his par-73 course.
The old ninth became the eighth, and the
Bye hole, a short, downhill par 3 to a sliver
of a green surrounded by nasty erosion
bunkers, became the ninth hole. It’s now
probably the most photographed hole on
While reconstruction was happening, I
noticed my name and bio had disappeared
from the Erin Hills website. Then an Erin
Hills spokesman contacted my boss, Jerry
Tarde, and told him Ron Whitten was no
longer involved with Erin Hills. I’d not just
been benched, I’d been kicked off the team.
And I realised why.
When I first interviewed for the job, I
had explained to Bob that I was involved
with Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Courses
rankings, and if I were to be involved in his
design, Erin Hills would not be eligible for
any Golf Digest award. At the time, Bob
didn’t care. But by 2008, he had apparently
caught 100 Greatest fever. Tarde turned down
the first overtures but changed his mind in
2013, after Erin Hills had been awarded the
US Open, overcoming the appearance of a
conflict of interest. Erin Hills made the list
in 2015 and this year is ranked No.44 among
America’s 100 Greatest and No.9 among
America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses.
Mike and Dana thought they had
completed the remodelling work by late
autumn 2008, but new activity in spring
2009 postponed the season opening until
July. Erin Hills was in an extended drought
that spring. The fescue fairways remained
dormant, and I heard rumours that Erin
Hills might not survive the recession that
june 2017 | australiangolfdigest.com.au 73
the 617-metre 18th
(centre) is a true
three-shot par 5.
UPCOMING US OPEN SITES
2018 Shinnecock Hills GC, New York
2019 Pebble Beach GL, California
2020 Winged Foot GC (West), New York
2021 Torrey Pines GCse (South), California
2022 The Country Club, Massachusetts
2023 Los Angeles CC (North), California
2024 Pinehurst No.2, North Carolina
2025 Oakmont CC, Pennsylvania
2026 Shinnecock Hills GC, New York
066-077_AGD0617_Erin Hills.indd 73
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