50 Words or Less
Erin Hills Golf Course, located in Hartford, WI, balances difficulty with fun in a way that I’ve rarely seen before. Absolutely beautiful.
I have a policy: unless the weather report predicts a 90% chance of rain all day, I’m going to the course. I’d rather get rained out than suffer the disappointment of missing a round because of a 30% chance of rain. So, in spite of threats of thunderstorms, I took the 2 hour drive north to Erin Hills and discovered one of my new favorite courses.
World class. There is no other way to describe the immense range stocked with Tour-caliber balls and Top Tracer Range. Erin Hills doesn’t neglect the short game either – there’s a sizable short game area and a large putting green near the first tee. There’s no excuse for your game to be rusty when you hit the course.
Erin Hills is also home to the 63,000 square foot Drumlin Putting Course. Whether you’re squeezing a little more golf in before you depart or settling a bet, this is a great spot. The Drumlin is also illuminated at night, so stay-and-play guests can putt long past sundown.
Customer Service & Amenities
Erin Hills has a cozy, close-knit feel that’s enhanced by a friendly, hospitable staff. When you pull into Erin Hills, the first thing you see is a large grey barn that serves as the bag drop and caddie bar. After getting out of your car, you’ll take note of the cottages and pro shop on top of the hill and the lodge near the first tee.
Due to its somewhat remote location, stay and play packages are very popular at Erin Hills. While I did not stay overnight, my playing partners gushed about the experience.
Erin Hills has two restaurants, The Clubhouse and the Irish Pub & Terrace. Both feature wonderful views of the course. The Clubhouse offers full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus with long vistas from the top of the hill. For me, however, the appeal of the fire pits and the proximity to golfers walking off the course tilts things in favor of the Irish Pub & Terrace.
Beauty & Scenery
Carved by glaciers hundreds of years ago, the terrain at Erin Hills has a natural beauty that has few rivals. Every hole has elevation changes that range from gentle to dramatic, and it gives the round a particular rhythm. Most of the tee shots are elevated, giving you a view of the surrounding holes and golfers. Then you descend into the isolation of your fairway, often winding through a dogleg, finally reemerging at the green to see the rest of the course again.
One specific element that stood out to me was the shaping of the bunkers. The bizarre, asymmetrical shapes with precisely cut edges mirror the hills and mounds of the course. I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered sand traps that commanded my attention the way these did.
With due respect to the demands on your approaches, the tee shots are what will make or break your round at Erin Hills. The first hole (above) provides a stark test out of the gates: find the fairway between the wetlands left and the bunker and long grass on the right. There are a few yards of rough on either side, but most holes are like this: you’re in the fairway or you may lose your ball.
In addition to demanding accuracy, Erin Hills requires that you hit it fairly long (relative to the tees you’re playing). There are several holes – some obvious, some less so – where you’ll be faced with long, blind approaches if you don’t smash your drive. Don’t be ashamed to move up a set of tees if you realize that your ego was bigger than your back swing.
The final challenge off the tee is that you’re often facing blind or partially blind shots. #2 is an example of the partially blind shot: you can see some fairway, but not the place you really want to land your shot. A caddie is strongly recommended, but if you must go it alone, get a yardage book or a good GPS device. Once you’ve chosen a line, commit to it fully. Hitting half-hearted drives will not work at Erin Hills.
One last word of advice: there’s a lot of visual noise at Erin Hills that isn’t really in play. If you’re playing the correct tees, your drives are going to easily carry a lot of bunkers, mounds, and rough. If you’re staring at the scary stuff that’s well short of your landing zone, you may find your ball in it. Block it out and focus on where you want your tee shot to land.
Being in the fairway is job number one, but it does not guarantee a good score. The most obvious challenge is dealing with your lie: the fairways are Erin Hills are anything but flat. Be prepared to play the ball above and below your feet.
If you’ve strayed from the fairway, you’ll find that the rough is very playable but the tall grass is just thin enough to get you to do something stupid. If you’re able to find your ball in the hay, advance it back into the fairway lest you incur the wrath of the golf gods.
As with the tee shots, there are a number of blind approaches at Erin Hills. This is another reason why a caddie is recommended. The loopers will know where you can bail out and what spots must be avoided.
Greens & Surrounds
The range of greens at Erin Hills may exceed that of any course I’ve played. Here you’ll find everything from roller coasters with huge, dramatic breaks to greens that are fairly benign and everything in between. There are two commonalities: the greens are generally average in size and the holes are cut in places where you can make anything inside 10 to 15 feet.
The surrounds are similarly varied. They’re mowed reasonably tight, putter is always option, but the amount of space between the edge of the green and the fescue changes from hole to hole. #14, above, has acres of tightly mowed grass that runs away from the false front and right side. Other holes have no such margin for error.
As much as the bunkers at Erin Hills dominate the holes visually, they shouldn’t factor into your game too much. With the exception of #9, every hole offers you plenty of space to play away from the sand.
Finally, the one short game skill you need to have is precise control of your pitching distances. #14 is the most extreme example of an elevated green, but its far from the only one. If you can’t keep a pitch on the putting surface, you’ll be writing down a lot of large numbers.
More than anything else, what I love about Erin Hills is that it’s hard to capture in one line. There are tee shots where you can see everything, others that are completely blind. Some greens are welcoming, others unapproachable. You never get the same thing two holes in a row, which makes the round constantly engaging.
The other thing that I love about Erin Hills is that there are no throwaway shots. Even on the holes that are “right in front of you,” you need to buckle down and hit a good shot or else. However, the course never asks for too much. If you pick the right tees, every shot that’s asked for can be hit. This combination gives Erin Hills huge replay value because you walk off feeling like you were one or two swings from glory.
This picture is here purely because I love this bunker. It’s one of the meanest I’ve ever seen. There’s a great wide fairway running up to the 5th green, but this narrow little trap is here to ruin things for anyone who plays straight down the middle and short. Devious.
#2 – Par 4 – 316 Yards
This hole is in my top 10 on any course. From the tee, you see the view above: a limited run of fairway that terminates at some bunkers on the right.
If you’ve done your scouting, however, you know that the hole looks like this. There’s a wealth of fairway to the left, and you need to be over there to see the green. Alternately, if you have enough length, you can go over the bunkers on the right.
Since the hole is only 316 yards, it can get away with having this little green that sits far above the fairway. There’s only one sand trap, but the elevation and run offs are more than enough defense. This is the epitome of the hole that looks easy on the scorecard and ends up creating lots of bogeys.
#9 – Par 3 – 143 Yards
There are a lot of holes and features at Erin Hills that could merit the term “nasty,” but #9 is most deserving. This is the shortest of the par 3s, but the green is elevated, extremely narrow, and surrounded by bunkers. Add in the pressure of all the golfers watching from the club house, and you have a recipe for nervy tee shots and big numbers.
I want to give special attention to the ribbon of fairway between the bunkers in the short left corner. It takes a special kind of masochist to put that there, where the golfer is staring at sand in front of them and more bunkers long no matter what angle they choose. I can’t imagine one golfer in fifty gets a good result from that spot.
#14 – Par 5 – 507 Yards
At 507 yards, this par 5 seems like a candidate to be reached in two. Even the description on Erin Hills’ website encourages bold play. But please look at the picture above. That’s your view if you miss the green short or to the right, and it’s not even the worst spot around this green. Playing this hole in three shots isn’t much easier – you really need to push your second shot for a good chance at birdie – and that’s why it’s such a good hole.
Wisconsin is one of the most golf-rich states in the US, and Erin Hills golf course is a big part of that. While it may have “only” one course unlike other destinations, the variety and replay value are so high that no golfer can be bored here. This is a course that deserves its spots on all the Top 100 and bucket lists.