Erin Hills: Host to 2011 U.S. Amateur and 2017 U.S. Open
Writer Andy Reistetter continues his exclusive "Play-Write" series with the host course of this week's 2011 U.S. Amateur Championship, Erin Hills Golf Course.
Reistetter was invited to play Erin Hills, located in rural Wisconsin a little more than 60 miles from Kohler and a little less than 40 miles from Milwaukee, the Monday after last year's PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
Here's his account of the diamond in the rough that became the gem in the eye of the U.S.G.A.
It was as if I was in Ireland leaving the seaside course at Ballybunion, and traveling inland a wee bit to Killarney to play a park-like course to experience all facets of Irish golf.
The beautiful countryside, known as the Kettle Moraine landform, came to be as the result of glaciers and has dramatic elevation changes.
The town of Erin, dating back to the mid-1800s, has less than 4,000 residents. Having a Guinness while consuming an Irish patty melt at the Tally Ho Pub on the main street near St. Patrick's Lane is a "must do," along with playing golf at Erin Hills.
The Roman Catholic National Shrine of Mary located nearby the golf course on Holy Hill is the highest point in southeastern Wisconsin.
With limited sight lines, only steeples in the distance, no GPS and being jostled
amongst the hills, I became lost on my trip down from Kohler.
However, it was no problem, as the locals are more than friendly in those parts of Ireland—I mean
I found the spot to turn down what seemed to be a two-mile winding, desolate entrance
road. I told Toto we weren't in Wisconsin anymore.
The arrival was that magical.
There's not a house or anything man-made in sight anywhere near the golf course, with the
exception of the manor home that includes some guest rooms and a pub.
Do you need anything more in life?
A refurbished barn served as the pro shop.
My first realization about the golf course is that it is no inland park-like course. Erin Hills is a seaside links without the sea.
Things had changed since I played the course shortly after it opened in 2006. The design team of Dr. Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten had made improvements in their original design of only a few years prior.
The words on www.ErinHills.com say it all with respect to their design philosophy
and the attitude of owner Andy Ziegler and his management team:
"As is the case with many great courses, Erin Hills was designed with the knowledge
that it would be a work in progress, with refinements made after it was seen
how the course actually played. Only arrogance and foolishness would have an architect believe that his work is beyond improvement before the course is even played.
"In its brief five years after opening, Erin Hills has been closed twice for significant work to the course. When Hurdzan, Fry and Whitten initially designed the course, they did so with the mindset of erring on the side of moving too little earth—a refreshing perspective after decades of heavy earth moving in the industry. While it is possible to return and push earth around, it is impossible to go back and return the ground to its natural state."
With such commitment to the heritage and essential elements of the game, it is no
wonder Erin Hills is a "walking only" golf course.
Like so many grand historic courses in America, Philadelphia's Aronimink to name
one, many trees had been removed to allow for more open, breath-taking vistas
of the land on which the golf course rests.
Throughout the vast landscape separating the fairways is tall fescue grass with its
wispy whitish tops.
According to my host Rich Tock, who runs the operations for owner Andy Ziegler, planting
the fescue and growing it into maturity is a four-year process.
While only three inches tall when planted, the fescue grass, like Erin Hills, reached
maturity with the arrival of the United States Amateur Championship.
Erin Hills will be the first to host a U.S. Open in the state of Wisconsin.
Erin Hills will be the sixth public golf course to host a U.S. Open following Pebble
Beach (1972, 1982, 1992, 2000. 2010, 2019), Pinehurst (1995, 2005, 2014), Bethpage
Black (2002, 2009), Torrey Pines (2008), Chalmers Bay (2015).
Mike Davis, Executive Director of the U.S.G.A., made some impressive comments on Erin
Hills this past week.
"In terms of putting on a championship, there are none in terms of operations that
is (sic) close to this," Davis said.
"Space, (there is) acre after acre of dunes with no trees where you can watch multiple
"Erin Hills has really turned out to be everything and more than we thought it would
be when we first came here in 2004.
"(The golf course design and setup) requires players to play every shot in the bag,
(with) very bouncy fairways where you have the element of what happens after
your ball lands.
"(At Erin Hills we) always have some wind, (which) for good players adds another
"(It is) a golf course that is being universally praised this week at the U.S. Amateur, and
it will keep getting better."
Davis went on to say, "Erin Hills is pretty much where we want it to be and very little will change for that 2017 U.S. Open."
Echoing how much wind strength and direction can impact playing Erin Hills was Patrick Cantlay after his semi-final win on Saturday.
"It's still very firm, and the wind was blowing early this morning, made some holes
play much different. I chipped 3-wood into (No.) 8, and yesterday I hit 9-iron or
pitching wedge into (No.) 8. So that's just how much the golf course can change."
The World No. 1-ranked amateur, who lost in the final to Kelly Kraft went on to say, "I like when it's firm and fast. I just think you have to have much more feel, and you have to leave yourself in the right spot so it rewards knowing where you want to hit it and controlling your golf ball."
No one had to ask U.S. Amateur champion Kelly Kraft if he likes the golf course at
Someone did ask him if this was his best putting performance of his life.
"Probably pretty close, yeah," he remarked.
"Erin go braugh" is a slogan that translates from Gaelic into English as "Ireland forever."
I think "Erin Hills go braugh" is a fitting thought as we celebrate play there in the U.S. Amateur this week.
We can look forward to an amazing U.S. Open there in 2017.
To read more articles in Golf Writer Andy Reistetter's exclusive
"Play-Write" series, go to the following links:
Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer as well as a research and broadcast assistant for the major golf broadcast companies. He spends time on all four major American golf tours: The PGA TOUR, Champions, Nationwide and LPGA Tours.
Reistetter resides within two miles of the PGA TOUR headquarters and home of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach.
A lifetime golfer, Andy enjoys volunteering at the World Golf Hall of Fame and THE PLAYERS while pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it. He can be reached through his website www.MrHickoryGolf.net or by e-mailing him at AndyReistetter@gmail.com.
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