Dana Fry, ASGCA, ASGCA Past President Dr. Michael Hurdzan, ASGCA Fellow, and Ron Whitten of Golf Digest responded to questions via Twitter May 31, discussing Erin Hills, Erin, Wisconsin, host to the 2017 U.S. Open June 15-18.
Following is a transcript of their chat with golf fans.
Q: How did the amount of land development & earth moving at Erin Hills compare to other courses you have designed?
A: 90% of the golf corridor (tees, greens, fairways, primary rough, bunkers, etc.) remains in its “natural state,” and that is by design. Even with some revisions, we only moved about 20% of the terrain compared to what you would see at other modern golf courses.
Q: What was the thinking behind the tree removal at Erin Hills? How many tree remain?
A: Purpose for removal was to unveil the terrain; now you can see the topography & Kettle Morraine. We wanted to open panorama vistas.
Today, there are fine trees on the interior of the course. For any of them to come into play during the U.S. Open, someone is going to have to hit a decent slice on No. 8.
Q: How challenging was it to have three “cooks in the kitchen” in designing Erin Hills?
A: Fry, “There was never any ego involved. It was never, ‘my way or the highway’ with any idea. Mike and I worked together 24 years, so we were used to collaboration.”
Whitten, “I think we drew out the best of each of us by working together. We wanted to create holes never seen before. Erin Hills is something unique.”
Q: What feedback have you heard from players who have visited at Erin Hills for practice rounds?
A: Jason Day played a number of holes. He said it is a “great golf course” and that it is unlike any Open course he has played. Past players now working for Fox Sports – Paul Azinger, Brad Faxon and Julie Inkster – were complimentary. Wide fairways & narrow landing spots.
Q: When did you first think Erin Hills might be worthy of hosting a U.S. Open?
A: Whitten, “Mike Davis and David Fay from the USGA visited in 2004. Without the course having been built, they awarded Erin Hills the 2008 U.S. Women’s Public Links.
A: Fry, “On his first visit, David Fay called it one of the greatest ‘tournament venue sites’ he had seen in the world.” Could not believe it was 652 acres!
A: Hurdzan, “I always wanted to believe it could host the U.S. Open, but until it was announced, I was shy to admit it. It’s unprecedented for USGA to host the tournament a venue this new.”
Q: Speak about the Erin Hills owners you have worked with.
A: Fry, “We all agree, without Bob Lang, there is no U.S. Open at Erin Hills. It was his dream. And now Andy Ziegler and Jim Rinehart as well; so many people had to work to make it come together. Andy has said Bob was 1st steward of the land, he is the second and there will be others.”
A: Whitten, “And Herb Kohler. When he brought the PGA Championships to Whistling Straits, that made it likely it was not going to get a U.S. Open.”
A: Hurdzan, “Bob Lang was the parent who provided the DNA; Andy Ziegler was the guardian angel who brought up the child.”
Q: Do you have any input on pin placement or hole length during the four competition days?
A: No…none. It is all USGA. Mike Davis has more experience in that area than we do.
Q: What type of golfer is more likely to be successful at Erin Hills? Long driver? Master of short game?
A: Fry, “When it is softer and the ball is not rolling in the fairway that favors the bombers (Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day).”
A: Hurdzan, “I agree, but a shot maker also has an advantage (Phil Mickelson). Dry is a bigger separator than wet.”
A: Whitten, “It favors someone who keeps emotions in check. Johnson is unflappable, so that stands out.”
Q: Is there a signature hole at Erin Hills?
A: Fry, “No. 9. Par 3, with a front pin placement your tee shot can easily roll back into a trough bunker. Back pin placement and it can fall away to back right. It is also surrounded by seven bunkers. The penalties are severe, but it is still just a pitching wedge off the tee.”
A: Whitten, “I don’t believe in signature holes. But the top view during the telecast will be up No. 18 with Holy Hill Basilica in background.”
A: Hurdzan, “No. 18 is a signature, but No. 2 is one of the most fun (par 4, 310 yards). Many options and fun to play.”
Q: Any closing thoughts?
A: Hurdzan, “It’s going to be an entertaining and visually stimulating tournament.”
A: Fry, “A U.S. Open unlike any other, with the size of the site, type of land it is on, etc. Fans will be shocked by the grand stage.”
A: Whitten, “I’m eternally grateful for Mike and Dana to invite me to participate. To be a part of this is the greatest professional experience for me.”