Erin Hills Golf Course in tiny Erin, Wisconsin will play host to the 2017 U.S. Open June 15-18. While it hosted the 2011 U.S. Amateur, it is still unusual for the USGA to award its premier event to a course that is so relatively new and unknown. Since opening in 2006, Erin Hills has already undergone extensive renovations in order to satisfy USGA requirements. From the regulation back tees the course measures 7,820 yards, with another set of tees even further back measuring over 8,300 yards. There isn’t a par-5 on the course measuring less than 600 yards, and only four of the 10 par-4s are under 460 yards. But despite its length, Erin Hills is by all accounts a fair test of golf. That said, setting up U.S. Open golf courses to please the players is not something that the USGA is inclined to do.
Bashing U.S. Open courses is old hat among tour players. From the noise some players made about Chambers Bay in 2015, you’d think no one holed a single putt all week when in fact there was some pretty good scoring in the early rounds, at least by U.S Open standards. Much of the negative chatter revolved around the greens and the effect of poa annua on the fine fescue grass. It’s a combination that makes the putting surfaces look splotchy and get bumpy because the grasses grow at different rates throughout the day. That was the issue at Pebble Beach in 2000 and again 2010 with Tiger Woods moaning about “awful greens,” even though he lapped the field in 2000 to win his first U.S. Open by 15 strokes. It’s why he doesn’t play the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. But the real bashing at Pebble during the 2010 U.S. Open was reserved for the difficulty of the 14th and 17th greens in particular, which prompted Ryan Moore to say that USGA setups made him “hate golf for about two months.”
Actually, fan surveys on this topic show that more fans enjoy watching the pros struggle with a difficult golf course rather than watching them rip up an easy course. That’s probably because the former is much rarer than the latter. And if the pros are not complaining about the greens, then it’s about the rough. That was the case in 2007 when Phil Mickelson pronounced the rough at Oakmont “absolutely dangerous” after hurting his wrist during a practice round several weeks before the tournament. The same was true at the U.S. Open dubbed “The Massacre at Winged Foot” in 1974. The rough was so deep and thick that players were taking members of the media out onto the golf course, dropping balls into the rough, and saying “try hitting it.” Hale Irwin who won with a score of 7-over called Winged Foot “the most difficult golf course I have ever played.” When Jack Nicklaus was asked to comment on the challenge of Wing Foot’s finishing holes, he said, “The last 18 of them are very difficult.”
U.S. Open courses are typically the most challenging of the year and as former USGA Executive Director David Fay once said the USGA always wants its national championship “to be the world’s toughest golf tournament.” Expect nothing less at Erin Hills.