Erin Hills Golf Course: As Close to Ireland as it Gets in the USA
I played Erin Hills in October 2013, and expected the pros to get absolutely dominated during the 2017 US Open. Clearly that didn’t happen. This post was updated in April 2022 for accuracy.
If Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run are the head cheerleaders in the area, then Erin Hills is more like the hot girl next door. She doesn’t get as much attention, but if you give her a chance, you might love her even more.
I drove out to Hartford, Wisconsin from Kohler and while it only took an hour and 15 minutes, it felt like I was in a whole different country.
I think I was on three different freeways, passed through half a dozen small towns, a ski area, and a towering cathedral in the middle of nowhere before arriving on the picturesque grounds. And when I say picturesque I don’t use the term lightly. While it’s got a links feel without being by the water, some of the absolute best vistas from my Wisconsin gold trip came at Erin Hills.
That said this in part due to the crazy weather that I experienced while I was there. It made for some rough playing conditions at times, but also for some spectacular photographs.
When you walk into the clubhouse in the morning there’s coffee waiting for you, in the afternoon? Lemonade.
There were groups all over the place of good friends that make Erin Hills their annual golfing destination, and if I were closer, I’d probably do the same.
While 7,000 truckloads of dirt was moved to make Whistling Straits, Erin Hills took the opposite route. Everything felt like it was completely natural, and much of it was. The course was spread out over 650 acres, and it truly felt at times like you were the only one out there. There were only two of us playing, we didn’t take caddies, and it’s a long and hilly walking-only course.
While I was initially a little nervous, especially due to the terrible weather that was supposed to be coming in, what ensued was the most relaxing round of golf I had in Wisconsin.
While it didn’t have the elevated tees of The Bull, the amusement park shots of the River Course, or the breathtaking lake views of the Straits – it made up for all of that in character and well-designed golf holes.
At its longest they can stretch Erin Hills out to OVER 8100 YARDS. Just to hit the fairway on the first tee forces a 260 yard carry from back there. I was really tempted to play from the tips as I’ve always said that some time I want to play a US Open Course from the back tees under similar conditions just to see how high my score really would be. I decided today probably wasn’t the day as the length and weather combined would have made for a very miserable round.
It’s shocking to me how low the scores for the 2017 US Open went. As when I played the course, it was among the most difficult I’ve played.
I was paired up with Richard who is an economic consultant from DC and we decided that the green tees made the most sense – measuring in at stout 6712 yards, I believe it was the longest round of the trip for me.
The range is among the most well-manicured I’ve ever seen. If you weren’t paying attention you’d think it were a par 3 course – it’s amazing they keep so many greens on the range this well maintained.
The first tee is a short hike from the practice green – which isn’t unusual, everything on this course seems to feature a little bit (or a lot a bit) of a walk.
Just the Facts
- Designer: Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry, Ron Whitten
- Built in: 2006
- Rank: #9 Top 100 Public. (Golf Digest)
- Location: Hartford, Wisconsin
- Greens fees: $270-330 depending on time of year.
- Notable Tournaments: 2011 US Amateur, 2017 US Open
- Website: http://www.erinhills.com
Erin Hils Vlog
Hole 1 (Par 5, 539 yards)
For some reason the first tee was more intimidating than any I’ve seen yet. The bunkers are big and menacing, the entire hole seems to just drop left into the marsh and there was a bit of a carry to get it in play. The fairway ended up being bigger than it looked, and we both parred to get the round off on the right track.
Hole 2 (Par 4, 322 yards)
A blind tee shot that leaves you totally guessing where to go. If you go to the left of the bunker you’ll be in good shape with a short approach. However, in what was one of the biggest surprises of the trip thus far, if you go directly over the center bunker and get enough distance you’ll catch a steep slope and roll down to within 40 yards of the green – I speak from experience. Great birdie opportunity.
Hole 3 (Par 4, 422 yards)
A bit of a hike up to the elevated tee, but well worth it when you see the shot that’s in front of you. Straight out with lots of sand on your left and then an elevated green. One thing you’ll learn quickly at Erin Hills is the greens will toss any ball that isn’t well executed. Hit it high and stick it, because if you try and run it up – many of these greens will just toss them right back down.
Hole 4 (Par 4, 385 yards)
A tricky hole that requires two well hit shots if you want a chance at par. The fairway was partially blind from the green tee box and if you go too long there’s a massive fairway bunker waiting to swallow your ball up. The approach shot is even tougher because the bunkers continue all the way up the green, and if you don’t stick your approach it will roll down the back (as I learned the hard way).
Hole 5 (Par 4, 362 yards)
Pro tip, watch the caddies in front of you and leave your bags at the base of the fairway on 4 to avoid having to carry them all the way up to the green and back to the 5th tee. If you’re carrying your own bags, you’ll want to take any chance you can to relax. You’ll have a blind tee shot and want to stay left off the tee.
The elevated green is only 362 out from the greens, but if you’re brave enough to play from the tips expect to get your ball traveling nearly 500 yards. Not an easy hole by any means, but one of the easier par 4s on the course if you’re not playing from the long tees.
Hole 6 (Par 3, 188 yards)
A straightforward par 3 who’s main defense is it’s length to the elevated green. Long is better than short, and pay attention to the pin sheet, as this is one big ass green that gives you more room in the back than you think.
Hole 7 (Par 4, 549 yards)
The #1 handicap hole on the course, but frankly I didn’t necessarily think it was the most difficult. Don’t try and be a hero and play this a 3 shot par 5. Stay right off the tee, but if you do go left you should probably be able to find your ball in the fescue (you know, unless of course they grow it out). The approach shot is a very uphill shot, that feels like #12 at The Bull on steroids.
Hole 8 (Par 4, 411 yards)
Talk about a roller coaster, this is one of the most visually intimidating tee shots on the course. Why? Simply because if you don’t clear the ridge, your ball is going to roll back down…way, way back down – making par nearly impossible.
Let it rip on this one, because you’ll get some extra roll down the fairway if you get it far enough. Then just prepare for yet another elevated green approach shot. Use more club than you think you need. I hit my hybrid perfect from 200 out and it hit just above the left bunker and then came tumbling back down.
Hole 9 (Par 3, 143 yards)
Probably my favorite par 3 on the course. Hitting downhill with sand on all sides, this one just made me feel like I was in Ireland. A very difficult green to hold as it slopes off on all sides, just aim for the center of the green and hold on tight.
Hole 10 (Par 4, 450 yards(!))
Another uphill blind tee shot. This is when the weather started getting scary on us. From the time we got from 10th tee to 10th green the fog had come on with a vengeance and the rain was slowly starting to trickle down. This is the longest par 4 on the course, and another one where you really want to rip it, as if you get enough distance you’ll get an extra 50 yards of roll. Richard did. I once again, did not.
Hole 11 (Par 4, 315 yards)
It’s going to be really fun to see what they do with this one during the 2017 US Open. There’s tons of potential to shorten it and tempt players to drive the green. There’s a very narrow opening up to the green, but then some menacing bunkers if you don’t quite get there. At this point we’re damp, so only snapped off one photo.
Hole 12 (Par 4, 388 yards)
One of my favorite holes on the course. The drive seems simple enough, blind like many of the tee shots here. But once you get over the ridge you’re treated to a serpentine-esque winding fairway down to the green. Again, if you’ve got distance off the tee, you’ll get some extra help. Very similar to the 11th at Arcadia Bluffs, which was one of my top 5 favorite holes of the trip.
Hole 13 (Par 3, 170 yards)
At this point I was pretty oblivious to the course and just focusing on not losing my club when swinging. Can’t miss left due to the bunker, and if you go too far right you’ll have a pretty steep chip back up.
Hole 14 (Par 5, 505 yards)
After our tee shots we were waiting to hit our approach on this reachable par 5 when we got the call. Lightning is in the area and we needed to vacate the course ASAP.
What does this look like?
Well there ended up being 6 of us huddled in a small shelter waiting for our ride back to the clubhouse. I’ve gotta say this was a welcome break.
When the horn honked I was absolutely soaked to the bone. Luckily my new Nike Rain Suit held up like a champ and kept me nice and dry on the inside.
We went back and had a beer in the clubhouse, and the rain held off just long enough for us to get back out there and finish our round.
A great risk-reward hole, and one that a few people I talked to birdied and eagle. Just be aware this has one of the most severe greens on the course. You could hit what you think is a perfect shot (ahem, like I did) and then end up 50 feet off the green with a very tough chip back up. If you look closely on the photo of the green you can see my ballmark.
Hole 15 (Par 4, 346 yards)
Alright back in the groove. A fun elevated tee shot leads to a scary approach shot. One thing you’ll find playing at Erin Hills is you rarely have a flat lie. There is so much undulation in the fairways that you’re hitting from stances that are, let’s just say, less than ideal. If you miss here, miss left. For the love of God, miss left.
Definitely another one of my favorite holes on the course.
Hole 16 (Par 3, 163 yards)
The last of the par 3s. Relatively short hole in comparison to some of the others. Cool natural bowl around the green. Overall I really wasn’t overly impressed by the par 3s on the course. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not bad by any means, but having played the Straits Course the day before, which had the best collection of par 3s I’ve ever played, I felt it was a bit lacking.
Hole 17 (Par 4, 434 yards)
It’s only fitting that 17 has, yep you guessed it, another blind tee shot. It’s another long par 4 but if you have a solid drive you should have a pretty easy approach (relatively speaking). After all this is just the warm up to one of the most beastly finishing holes I’ve ever played.
Hole 18 (Par 5, 620 yards)
I was joking that this shot was a true 4 shotter. Measuring 620 from the greens, it’s loooooong. I hit my best drive of the day and was thinking of going for it in two….at 372 out. Ha!
The second shot is tricky, decide how much you want to bite off and hope for the best. DONT. GO. LONG. on the green. Err on the short side unless you want to see your ball go bye-bye.
While Whistling Straits gets most of the attention in the area, there is an undeniable charm to Erin Hills. Any of the Kohler Courses were crowded and seemed kind of Disneyland-esque. At Erin Hills, it’s all about the golf and getting back to basics which you’ll feel immediately.
If you get a chance to play it before 2017, definitely do it. It’s going to be awesome to see how the pros play this monster, and really exceeded my expectations on almost all accounts.
Now to leave you with just one more photo, because it was without a doubt one of the best views I’ve had all year: