U.S. Open hole-by-hole preview: Erin Hills 2017

Erin Hills-US Open-1st hole Getty Images

U.S. Open hole-by-hole preview: Erin Hills 2017

Golf

U.S. Open hole-by-hole preview: Erin Hills 2017

Erin Hills-US OpenERIN, Wis. – Newcomers to an established championship circuit often elicit a love-hate relationship. That’s certainly the case with an out-of-the-box layout such as Erin Hills, which combines stunning natural beauty with carefully contrived arbitrariness.

There are as many as half a dozen blind shots out there depending upon tee placement, player position and hole location. There are greenside bunkers where golfers, instead of thinking about holing out, will simply be thinking of climbing out.

In its 10 years, Erin Hills has gone through considerable enhancement – by my way of thinking all for the better. My original review of it referred to “Errant Hills,” because the architects’ stubborn adherence to natural routing without earth movement left some greens in absurdly inaccessible places. That’s no longer the case.

To their credit, the design team of Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten went back a few times, supported by original owner Bob Lang and then by present owner (since 2010) Andy Ziegler to get things right. They did.

A few cuts and fills out there helped create more playable lines. Greens were adjusted as well, and in the case of the present third and 10th holes, located anew. Perhaps the biggest change was the mowing down of the fescue rough around greens so that it could play, as it does now, as tightly cut chipping areas.

Erin Hills-US Open

A blind par-3 Dell Hole in the middle of the course was removed, that hole blended into what became the present par-5 seventh. The deletion enabled what had been a mid-round Bye Hole to become the present ninth hole, arguably the most demanding (and certainly one of the most compelling, visually) on the course.

As brutal and as punitive as the bunkers can be, there’s considerable relief on the greens. There’s plenty of contour, but the smoothness of these flawlessly manicured, grainless bentgrass greens means players will make a lot of medium and long-length putts. They’ll need to.

Here’s what the players face and what viewers at home can look for all week:

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No. 1, par 5, 560 yards

Erin Hills-US Open-1st hole

(David Cannon/Getty Images)

Even if stretched (as is likely) to 608 yards on a few days, the hole can be reached in two so long as a bold second shot carries a vast mound trisected by bunkers and down to a fall-away green. This used to be one of the worst opening holes in golf until the design team gave in and lowered the second shot landing area while removing a towering oak on the inside of the dogleg. All of the trouble here is left – on the low, leeward side lined by knee-high fescue rough and wetlands – unless the wind flips from southwest to southeast, as it easily can, in which case the hole plays straight into the fan and is beyond the reach of most players in two. A definite birdie opportunity if played smart and boringly. Here and throughout the course, the recurring hazard – if that’s the word – is the uncertainty caused by uneven lies. There’s scarcely a flat spot on the layout. When you have so much trouble left and/or right, a slight tug or push can wreak havoc.


Video via: Erin Hills/Paul Hundley/Travis Waibel

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No. 2, par 4, 338 yards

Erin Hills-US Open-2nd hole

(David Cannon/Getty Images)

This is one of two par 4s (along with No. 15) that could easily be set up as drivable, though this one also will be set up at least one day at 361 yards. No. 2 offers massive dunes that cut across the line of play on both the tee shot and the approach – in other words, double blind. The second dunes can be avoided by a very bold tee shot played way left – more than one can comfortably bear.

A drive long enough to carry that first dune threatens to run into imposing fairway bunkers on the far right side. The easy bailout tee shot to the right leaves players clueless as to the target. Disciplined practice rounds and commitment at the tee will be needed to gain some level of confidence on the line. This is one of those notorious short holes that are drivable in one but that can’t always be held in two.

The perched green, at 3,900 square feet the smallest on the course (after they expanded it), functions like an inverted saucer with only one third of its area receptive to a ball. A wide skirt of short-grass chipping area provides opportunity for creative recovery – and also for Ping-Pong across the domed green.


Video via: Erin Hills/Paul Hundley/Travis Waibel

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No. 3, par 4, 508 yards

Erin Hills-US Open-3rd hole

(Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

What a view from the distant tee pads to the bunker-lined fairway below. Players getting ready to drive will appear to spectators as if they’re apparitions from an adjoining county.

Steep-faced bunkers intrude into the landing area, leaving a narrow central path from the approach shot. From circa-200 yards out, the hole climbs 30 feet to a well-guarded green. One of the many positive changes in the course lately was to move the green out to the right, in full view of the approach line. There are no run-up approaches here after drives that find the deep fescue rough.


Video via: Erin Hills/Paul Hundley/Travis Waibel

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No. 4, par 4, 439 yards

Erin Hills-US Open-4th hole

(David Cannon/Getty Images)

The angle flips on this hole from the previous three, with the ideal tee shot the first left-to-right play of the round, lest the ball run down the low side into gnarly rough. The problem is a massive fairway bunker directly in play on that side – actually it’s more of a jagged trench, with little chance of making a clean escape to the elevated green about 140 yards away.

The green is divided down the middle and falls away on each side. Approach shots hit with proper spin will hold, but anything hit from the rough or thin on the face will not hold the surface and likely will bound off or – worse – over.


Video via: Erin Hills/Paul Hundley/Travis Waibel

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No. 5, par 4, 505 yards

Erin Hills-US Open-5th hole

(David Cannon/Getty Images)

The simplest, most elegant par 4 on the front nine has a generous fairway calling for a right-to-left drive that wraps around or past a dominant bunker on the left before it steamrolls into a tight little bunker on the right.

The green, one of the few built basically at fairway grade, requires a carry over a steep front bunker. Balls that carry or run more than halfway on can easily spill over into sand or a chipping basin behind. This hole is arguably the one respite on an otherwise relentless run.


Video via: Erin Hills/Paul Hundley/Travis Waibel

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No. 6, par 3, 208 yards

Erin Hills-US Open-6th hole

(David Cannon/Getty Images)

Listed yardages are weird at Erin Hills. For one thing, this hole will be set up anywhere from 180 to 236 yards. The wind can have a stunning effect, thanks to a slight uphill approach to a plateau green that falls off in every direction.

The multivariate equation of wind, tee placement and hole location on a putting surface that’s 48 yards deep means the hole will play anywhere from an 8-iron to a rescue club. Here and throughout Erin Hills, it’s hard for world-class players to achieve the kind of comfort levels they’re familiar with on a course they’ve never seen before.


Video via: Erin Hills/Paul Hundley/Travis Waibel

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No. 7, par 5, 607 yards

Erin Hills-US Open-seventh hole

(Erin Hills)

This thing looks like the Burma Road when viewed from the elevated tee. The hole unfurls in dense rolls and then climbs, seemingly forever, through a minefield. The drive is relatively open, though intense bunkering intrudes slightly on both sides.

It’s the second shot that’s the big issue, with sand arrayed diagonally across the entire line of play the last 130 yards in, including mid-fairway gashes at 75 yards and 55 yards out. This is one of those second shots where the safe layup demands so much precision and luck that good players might be tempted to opt for wild abandon and just try bashing it all the way.

Video via: Erin Hills/Paul Hundley/Travis Waibel

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No. 8, par 4, 492 yards

Erin Hills-US Open-8th hole

(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Slow play is going to be an issue at Erin Hills, both during the practice rounds and the championship proper. Blind roller-coaster holes like No. 8 induce uncertainty, and with Tour-quality players uncertainty means a slowdown. There’s no natural line to pick off the tee here. Here’s your classic reverse-camber hole: up and over the back of a hill, the fairway curving steadily left while the slope kicks everything far right.

A 280-yard carry aimed over the tall, wavy rough on the left is the ideal starting point – as long as the ball curves right upon descent. An alternative off the tee is something safer, shorter, with a draw to the right, but this leaves 200+ yards plus to another of those elevated greens steeply bunkered across the front with sharp runoff behind into high rough.


Video via: Erin Hills/Paul Hundley/Travis Waibel

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No. 9, par 3, 135 yards

(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Rare for Erin Hills – a downhill approach.

The hole plays through a prevailing crosswind to a narrow green framed by bunkers that leave one thought to all who play: avoid sand at all costs. These are by far the narrowest, tightest, weirdest bunkers at Erin Hills and quite possibly in all of American championship golf. Note to those who complain: the rule book calls bunkers a “hazard.”


Video via: Erin Hills/Paul Hundley/Travis Waibel

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No. 10, par 4, 504 yards

Erin Hills-US Open-10th hole

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Blind drive over a hill beyond ominous-looking but barely-in-play bunkers, to a kick point that will leave most players 170-200 yards away from one of the more elusive greens on the course.

The putting surface is slightly elevated, protected heavily on the right side, with the primary defense on the left being a fall-away slope leading quickly down to short grass. If the flag is on the right, the USGA will probably shorten the hole to 476 yards.

If the flag is set to the center, the USGA can lengthen the hole to 524, though frankly the more important consideration will be wind. Into a rare headwind from the north players won’t even reach that fairway kickpoint off the tee. Downwind, this could easily be a short-iron second shot.


Video via: Erin Hills/Paul Hundley/Travis Waibel

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No. 11, par-4, 460 yards

Erin Hills-US Open-11th hole

(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Another blind drive, with little orientation or landmark for an aiming point. The fairway turns slightly right to left but tilts lightly down to the right. From there, the second shot makes a pair of foreshortened front bunkers look closer to the green than they really are.

A combination of obscured view and likely crosswinds demands players avoid the rough off the tee, since 3-inch fescue rough – let alone the knee-high variety – is not conducive to controlled iron play.


Video via: Erin Hills/Paul Hundley/Travis Waibel

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Erin Hills-US Open-12th hole

(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

No. 12, par 4, 464 yards

The most elegant, understated hole on the course, with the fairway forming a chicane that disappears from view on the tee shot. From the main tee it’s a 280-yard carry to the top of the hill and the kickpoint.

When viewed from the approach zone, the green appears to have a dramatic false front, prompting incoming shots to be played with more weight than is actually necessary. The putting surface nestles into a little blowout and is more insulated from the wind than any other greens complex at Erin Hills.


Video via: Erin Hills/Paul Hundley/Travis Waibel

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No. 13, par 3, 193 yards

Erin Hills-US Open-13th hole

(David Cannon/Getty Images)

The basic principle of an interesting course is that the design character starts to function when the ball lands. Anyone good enough to qualify for a U.S. Open can command aerial, vertical space. It’s the ground game that provides the defense, and nowhere with more exaggerated movement than at this medium-length par 3 that will play 170-215 yards. The left side of this elevated green collapses into a nasty bunker. For added flavor, there’s a tiny pot bunker on the front left that will be disproportionately busier than its physical scale would suggest, simply because it’s well-positioned. The green surface has exaggerated contours that occasionally will make players look foolish on putts longer than 20 feet.


Video via: Erin Hills/Paul Hundley/Travis Waibel

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No. 14, par 5, 594 yards

US Open-Erin Hills-14th hole

(David Cannon/Getty Images)

By far the most complicated hole on the course in terms of pathways from tee to green. The tees, which can be moved back to 613 or even 650 yards, are low and at an awkward angle to a fairway bunkered clear across the middle on a diagonal axis. If the wind blows into the players’ faces, it’s not a bad play to lay up off the tee and simply play the hole as a three-shotter.

That’s because only the boldest drive long right or over the cross bunker (311 yards past the main tee) will leave a chance for a reasonable second shot to a steeply elevated green. Anything short here will roll back 30-40 yards down the hill, bringing into play a creek that might well gobble up an aggressive second shot blocked to the right.

As for the green, it rewards a shot played well left and long thanks to a powerful cross slope that provides a backstop. From front left to a back right hole location – a putt of 120 feet – the only way to get it close is to roll the ball deep onto the back fringe and let gravity take over from there.


Video via: Erin Hills/Paul Hundley/Travis Waibel

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No. 15, par 5, 357 yards

Erin Hills-US Open-15th hole

(David Cannon/Getty Images)

Over at the farthest reaches from the clubhouse on the western end of the course is this little gem, with tees likely to vary anywhere from 288 yards up to 370.

At 357-plus, it’s beyond reach off the tee except if hard downwind. The presence of four bunkers mid fairway and short of the green dictates – or suggests – caution off the longer tees.

Not so from the forward tees, where the elevated green is within reach – though drives that reach the domed green will struggle to hold it. On most short par 4s, world-class players willing to smash a driver are happy to end up in greenside bunkers. Not so here, where the depth and arbitrariness of the resulting lies and stances suggest that normal swashbuckling comes at excessive risk.


Video via: Erin Hills/Paul Hundley/Travis Waibel

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No. 16, par 3, 183 yards

Erin Hills-US Open-No. 16

(Erin Hills Golf Course)

The one specific request made by USGA executive director Mike Davis on course set-up involved installation of a new tee way left here. Seems he was smitten by the idea of creating a blind par 3, as if the shot from the standard tees, uphill through piles of sand to a narrow trough of a green, wasn’t enough.

So at least one day players will find themselves playing to a back pin from an angle that will drive them mad. It’s just another example at Erin Hills of making a commitment to a line you don’t instinctively trust.


Video via: Erin Hills/Paul Hundley/Travis Waibel

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No. 17, par 4, 509 yards

Erin Hills-US Open-17th hole

(David Cannon/Getty Images)

The only unbunkered hole at Erin Holes has low-lying fairway framed by towering dunes. It also has an unusually low-cut putting surface that offers little support for an approach shot because it falls away at the back. Judging the proper line and strength of an approach shot demands a different kind of skill than simply flying it in; balls straying just the slightest to the right will roll off harshly from the line of play.

Anything hit just a touch strong is likely to race through the chipping area behind into full rough, leaving a delicate little bounce shot or lob back to the green.


Video via: Erin Hills/Paul Hundley/Travis Waibel

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No. 18, par 5, 637 yards

Erin Hills-US Open-18th hole

Set up here will vary from 622 yards to 675 – in any case, the longest U.S. Open finishing hole ever. Trailing winds are common, so under the right conditions of firmness and breeze the green could still be reached in two.

Massive bunkers pinch the first and second landing areas, with the last 100 yards of the hole banked Talladega style from high-side right to low-side left, just like the green, which also has a steep falloff behind.

Holding this green is the problem, especially downwind. With stands for 3,000 and natural terrain that can handle another 5,000, the hole will be a spectacle. As will all of Erin Hills.


Video via: Erin Hills/Paul Hundley/Travis Waibel

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