Erin Hills Golf Course Review

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Introduction

Erin Hills Golf Course, located on 652 acres in Erin, Wisconsin, is a very young course that has absolutely exploded onto the scene of big time golf courses.  Opening in 2006, Erin Hills has already hosted the 2008 US Women’s Amateur Public Links, the 2011 US Amateur, and will host the 2017 US Open which has quickly made the course a massive draw for golfers of all abilities and established as one of the “required” golf destinations of the Midwest.  With a minimalist approach that was aimed at using as much of the natural layout of the land as possible, Erin Hills is a true gem that is sure to create an experience ranking up there with the best courses in America.  Although a challenging test of golf, anyone in the right frame of mind should be able to enjoy a few hours of golf on a championship golf course.

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Practice Facility

The natural flow of Erin Hills makes the practice facilities your first impression of the golf course.  You pull up to the bag drop in front of the caddy barn where they take your clubs off to the driving range and direct you up to the clubhouse to check-in for your tee time.  From there, you head down to the driving range where your clubs are setup at your practice spot.  The driving range has nine targets to help simulate different shots, the practice tee is very well maintained and comprised of high-quality turf, and fully stocked with Taylormade Lethal practice balls.  As your tee time approaches, your caddy will head down and meet up with you to get to know you and your game as well as to start guiding you through your experience at the golf course.  From the driving range, you can head off to the short game area that has two bunkers and grass ranging from tight fairway lies to thick rough.

After the short game area, you and your caddy can head over to the practice putting green located next to the Lodge and a short walk from the first tee.  The green is very well taken care of with a variety of different breaks and an adequate amount of holes to aim at.  The greens were firm and true, and the speed reflected what I experienced on the course very well.

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Amenities & Customer Service

The general surrounding area of Erin, Wisconsin is typical rural Wisconsin with farms and fields, and a few pockets of neighborhoods.  As you turn onto a small road with a simple white sign that reads “Erin Hills,” you instantly enter a rolling prairie-like landscape.  As you wind down the road, you come upon the first buildings that will set the tone for your day at Erin Hills Golf Course.  To the left is the old renovated barn that serves as a maintenance building, caddy shack, and general staff hangout.  The barn looks like something you would have found in the middle of an old farm around 1886 and certainly brings you back in time.

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At the top of the hill to your right is the first of a handful of cottages on the grounds which are used for overnight stays with top-tier amenities like private bathrooms for each bedroom and a wet bar.  Right next to the first cottage you see the clubhouse.  Though a newer building, the clubhouse looks like an old mansion found on a farm over a hundred years ago and fits in nicely with the historic/traditional feel that Erin Hills strives for.  The clubhouse has a small pro shop full of the requisite US Open and course swag, a nice restaurant, and locker rooms with attendants.

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At the bottom of the hill from the clubhouse, you will run into the Lodge, which is a full-service Irish country inn that can accommodate a nice post-round meal and beverage or elegant overnight stay in one of the eleven rooms.  Next to the lodge is another barn that can be reserved for private functions.

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On the course, there are multiple shelters and the halfway house which all look like little old farm houses you would have found out in an Irish pasture centuries ago.  What I most appreciated about these buildings is that they felt old and rustic like they could have been sitting there for two hundred years standing up against the elements.  Again, these small buildings were another great touch from Erin Hills to keep everything within its theme.

As far as customer service, I couldn’t have been more impressed.  My caddy, Josh Belau, not only made my round entertaining and enjoyable while navigating around the course, but also helped me a great deal in areas I have been struggling with in my game.  Following the round, Josh could have just taken off, but he grabbed a cart and drove me around the course to show me some different views and take as many pictures as I wanted while telling me all about the course, future plans, and its history.  Assistant golf pro, Nick Krattiger, was also very accommodating to the groups on the course while making sure the operation ran smoothly on a busy summer day.  Then there were JB and Bob who were acting as starters and marshals out on the course.  These gentlemen shared great stories, made sure you took a moment to truly soak in the surroundings, and did whatever they could to make sure you were having a special experience.  All in all, there are many great staff members at Erin Hills that are they to ensure you will have a memorable experience.

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Course Conditions

Erin Hills Golf Course was in near-perfect condition while I was there.  The bent grass greens were healthy and well maintained, the fairways were tight and green, and the rough was healthy and full.  One thing I observed was that even though there are divots on the tee boxes and course, I never ran into a situation where I felt they caused a problem or were a threat to my lie.  In talking with my caddy, Josh, he pointed out to me that they get concerned at Erin Hills with the golf course being able to hold up to 125 to 150 rounds a day, but from what I can tell, both the course and grounds crew handle it beautifully.

The fairways were tight but very playable and definitely where you wanted to play from.  The rough was playable, but you were certainly punished for being in it.  Even worse was ending up in the dreaded and abundant fescue.  Surprisingly, I didn’t spend as much time as I expected in the fescue, but when I did, it was tough and unpredictable.  At times I thought my lie was horrible, but the ball would come out clean and fairly effortless.  Other times I thought I caught a nice break, and the fescue absolutely murdered me.  Another interesting note about the fescue is that it’s surprisingly easy to find your ball.  We only managed to lose one ball on it in the day (and we still went on to par the hole by holing out from a greenside bunker).  The greens were fast, full of crazy breaks, and pretty hard.  They took some getting used to, and quite a bit of adjusting as they changed throughout the day.  I believe when the course is setup for the pro’s in 2017, you could see some Chambers Bay-esque putting lines.

The only criticism I have is that I feel like some efforts to make the course more walkable need to be made.  I am willing to buy into the “no carts, walking only” policy, but there are some hills and paths that I felt could be somewhat dangerous in certain conditions.  Even with it being dry, there were certain patches in the walking paths that were slick and difficult to manage in golf spikes.  On some of the hills, all the course would need to do is build in some basic wooden “railroad tie” stairs.  This would still allow for the course to maintain the Irish Links vibe it’s going for but would make the walk easier.  Remember, the caddy service is optional, but keep in mind that the course is long and you will be in for a long day carrying your own bag.  Push and motor carts are not allowed on the course.

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Beauty & Scenery

I’m fortunate to have played a handful of really beautiful courses in my life, but there are only a few that have a certain “fake” look to them.  What I mean by that is when you look out over the course, it looks more like a painting than it does a real life landscape.  Erin Hills looks like a painting you could hang on your wall at virtually every turn.  The rolling landscapes of blue, green, brown, and yellow are amazing with brilliant touches of architecture that fits perfectly on the course.  Even in the areas where your vision is able to leave the boundaries of the property, you see pretty Wisconsin farms, and most notably, the basilica at Holy Hill off in the distance which is a historical landmark in itself.

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Course Design & Difficulty

Let’s be clear about this, Erin Hills is certainly a difficult golf course and is no easy walk in the park.  The course plays long with lots of obstacles and requires precision and touch.  That said, the course will allow you to score if you hit the shots.  It’s rewarding to those playing a game close to the ground off the tee because the hard fescue fairways make the long course play shorter than the yardage.  Most of the greens are elevated, so you won’t often be able to roll your approach up to the pin and will be required to attack from the air with precise distance control.  This setup makes it key for players to not just be long hitters but very solid ball strikers as well.  When you miss the greens, your recovery shot to get up and down is typically going to be a challenge.  In some cases, I wished I was 50 yards away rather than 12 feet off the front of the green.

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The primary focus of the designers was to build the course around creating a variety of challenges for its players rather than worrying about how easy it was for spectators to walk or how good the views are.  Erin Hills points out that their holes go over hills, around hills, sideways on hills, through the hills, and next to the hills.  This makes it so the course has a strong variety from hole to hole and doesn’t become boring or redundant.  It also requires all golfers to have to play different types of shots out on the course.  I will be interested to see how Erin Hills plays to the fans at the 2017 US Open and if it will succeed or receive similar criticisms to Chambers Bay in 2015.

Erin Hills is definitely a course that is going to be greatly impacted by the weather conditions.  I was fortunate to have a warm day with a small breeze, but I heard plenty of horror stories of sideways rain, four club winds, and players hitting driver on the screws, bombing three woods for their second shots, and still coming up 35 yards short on Par 4’s.  This course has the potential to raise its difficulty level far beyond the abilities of the average golfer.

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Conclusion

My experience at Erin Hills was genuinely one of the greater tests of my golf game.  It made me focus on textbook course management to setup my next shot, swallowing pride and taking my medicine to minimize damage, and thinking creatively.  Whenever I slipped up in any of those areas, the beast that is Erin Hills made me pay for it.  Let’s not forget, Erin Hills is built with the absolute intention of being a US Open golf course and that will be a major measuring stick for the course’s success in 2017.  Ultimately, the staff and the course made this one of the most fun and unique golf experiences I’ve ever had, created some great memories, and left me wanting to go back for more.

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Bill Bush

Co-Founder
Bill is a true golf gear nerd by definition who loves making custom club creations in his garage with tools like sledge hammers, blow torches, and his bare hands. By day, Bill is a technology manager living in the Chicago suburbs with his wife and kids. Bill plays Scott Readman Concepts putters and accessories.

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4 Comments

  1. Great review. Looks like a fantastic course.

  2. Ivee's Restaurant

    Looking forward to the US Open this Week! Erin HIlls is an amazing course in Wisconsin.

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