Built in 2006, Wisconsin’s Erin Hills is getting its first chance to shine on a grand stage in this month’s U.S. Open. Its only previous tournaments of note are the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and the U.S. Amateur Championship, which means almost no one in the field has experience playing the course in a competitive environment. What can we expect? On the latest episode of ShackHouse, Geoff Shackelford and Joe House talked with USGA executive director Mike Davis about how the course was selected and how it may play come June 15.
In terms of choosing a venue, a lot has to be considered. The logistics — hotels, airports, parking, etc. — are a concern, of course, but it ultimately comes down to one thing.
"By far the biggest thing that goes into it is the golf course itself," Davis said. "We’ve got to look at it and say, ‘Is it one of our country’s great golf courses?’ That’s the wonderful thing about our sport versus others, is that the golf course, the arena, is so different in our sport versus other sports, where it tends to be the same. So we’ll look at that and say, ‘Can Erin Hills test the world’s best players, and can it do it in a very thoughtful, exciting way?’"
Why was Erin Hills selected? Davis says the course has a compelling design.
"We actually saw Erin Hills before it was a golf course, and … it’s a spectacular piece of property. I think almost all golf course architects who would have seen that property before a golf course was built would agree with that. It’s a beautiful, rolling, natural piece of property that’s well-draining, which is so important, particularly for a championship golf course. When it was built the idea was to build it very minimalistically in design. What’s fascinating is the architects who did it really just tried to lay the 18 holes right on the existing property. Granted, they did move some earth, but relative to other U.S. Open sites or golf course sites, very little dirt was moved. The land itself, which was formed roughly 10,000 years ago by a melting glacier in the last ice age, really created this incredibly interesting piece of property, and the architects in some ways laid not only the routing on but even the green sites on."
And the question every golf fan wants to know: What kind of player will the course reward?
"It’s a fairly big golf course. It’s a par 72 — [the U.S. Open] hasn’t been on a par 72 since 1992 at Pebble Beach. Its fairways are probably, I’m estimating on this, maybe 50 percent wider than most U.S. Open fairways. And so I do think you’re going to see a lot of drivers used at Erin Hills. When you watch it on TV, it’ll seem like a linksy-type course, but it’s not a links course by definition. And second of all, most of the approach shots into these greens need to be more aerial than a bounce and run. So I view somebody that can, generally speaking, hit the ball a long way and … hit it high [doing well]."
Watch out for the wind, though.
"This is a very windy site. It would be very unusual to have even a day go where we don’t get some wind. I think the ability to control the trajectory of your ball and the distance is going to be hugely important."
That covers the striking, but what about the putting? Davis thinks you’ll see a lot of made putts.
"I think there’s going to be more putts made at this U.S. Open than at normal U.S. Opens. I say that because I think the greens are a little bit more subtle than some that we go to, and they’re in perfect condition. As perfect as I’ve seen Open greens. It’s all one kind of grass — a new hybrid strand. So if you hit the ball on the right line at the right beat it’s going to go in."
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.