Far Hills, N.J. (June 16) – The U.S. Open is coming to America’s heartland.
The United States Golf Association announced on Wednesday that Erin Hills, a daily-fee public golf course located about 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee in the town of Erin, Wis., has been awarded the 2017 U.S. Open.
This will be the first U.S. Open held in Wisconsin and will complete the USGA “Open triumvirate” for the state. The U.S. Women’s Open was contested at Blackwolf Run in 1998 (it will be there again in 2012) and the 2007 U.S. Senior Open was held at Whistling Straits.
“I am biased, but I think it will be the most important sporting event in the history of the state,” said Erin Hills owner Andrew Ziegler. “[Former Milwaukee Brewers owner/current Major League Baseball Commissioner] Bud Selig might argue that the 1982 World Series was more important. But from a golfer’s perspective and in my mind, [the 2017 U.S. Open] is a very important event.”
With this announcement, Erin Hills becomes the sixth public-access course to have hosted, or to be selected to host, a U.S. Open since 1999, joining Pinehurst No. 2 (1999, 2005 and 2014); Pebble Beach (2000, 2010 and 2019); Bethpage State Park (2002 and 2009); Torrey Pines (2008); Chambers Bay (2015); and Erin Hills (2017). Over the 21-year period between 1999 and 2019, the nation’s premier championship will be played on a course that is accessible to the public 11 times.
“It further demonstrates our commitment to public golf; to have a national championship on these public courses says a lot about our organization,” said USGA president Jim Hyler.
Opened in 2006 and designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten, Erin Hills was constructed on 652 acres of property that Mike Davis, USGA senior director of Rules and Competitions, called “one of the great natural sites for a golf course I have ever seen that isn’t up against an ocean.”
The rolling topography was created by the receding glaciers thousands of years ago.
“It’s fescue,” said Davis. “Fine fescue does well when it’s on that type of draining soil. The great thing about fescue is the ball just bounces everywhere, so for a championship you have that added element of what happens when the ball lands. It just makes golf more challenging and brings the mental aspect into play more.”
When the architects created the layout, they did so by moving as little dirt as possible. While many praised the minimalist design, revisions were needed to make Erin Hills a more fitting championship venue. The facility recently underwent an extensive renovation by golf course specialist Landscapes Unlimited of Lincoln, Neb., under the watchful eye of Fry, who visited on a weekly basis.
While every hole was altered, three to four received major overhauls. The changes included reshaping of green complexes, removal and addition of bunkers, extensive reseeding, alterations to improve drainage and construction of a new bridge. Several cart paths and trees were also removed.
The 10th hole, originally a par 5, became a par 4, changing the course par from 73 to 72.
“We’re really hoping that people view it as greatly improved from a maintenance and conditioning standpoint,” said Ziegler. “The thrust was to bring the golf course up to a higher standard.”
Ziegler purchased the property from original course owner Robert Lang in 2009. He quickly discovered that the maintenance equipment needed to be upgraded to be appropriate for a fescue golf course. So he poured significant financial resources into conditioning as well as the renovations to the course, which is scheduled to reopen to the public Aug. 1.
“The golf course is playable right now,” said Ziegler. “We’re just finishing the construction project related to removing cart paths [as well as] a complete renovation to the practice area and driving range. But the golf course is in wonderful shape. We had a mild fall and winter and a wonderful spring. We could cut the greens to 12 [feet on the Stimpmeter] and play golf.”
Erin Hills first caught the attention of the USGA long before a ball was ever struck. In an unprecedented decision, the Association awarded the facility the 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links prior to its opening. Tiffany Joh defeated Jennifer Song in the 36-hole final, and the players universally gave Erin Hills their seal of approval.
“The golf course is awesome,” said 2008 WAPL semifinalist Stephanie Kono. “I think they could easily make it into a U.S. Open course.”
The immense property permitted the architects to design a layout that can play as long as 8,348 yards from the tips. It’s unlikely the USGA will use every back teeing ground for the 2017 U.S. Open. But Ziegler said the USGA has options for creating a drivable par 4 or setting up risk/reward opportunities on several par 5s.
“At no time would we play it north of 8,000 yards,” said Hyler. “But we do have a lot of variability there to offer the players. There are numerous teeing grounds on almost all the holes.”
The USGA also should get a good gauge on how the course sets up for the game’s elite players during the 2011 U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills. Ziegler said the fairways have already been cut and shaped for the Amateur.
“I think for us it will be logistically a home run,” said Davis. “From a test-of-golf standpoint, it will be outstanding.”
Prior to 2017, the U.S. Open will be conducted at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. (2011); The Olympic Club in San Francisco (2012); Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. (2013); Pinehurst No. 2 in The Village of Pinehurst, N.C. (2014); Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash. (2015); and Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania (2016). It will be played at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links in 2019, but a host site for 2018 has not yet been named.
Story written by USGA communications staff writer David Shefter.