This year’s U.S. Open won’t be another Chambers Bay, and that’s too bad. With Chambers Bay in 2015, the USGA played a pivotal role in starting the conversation about what kind of conditioning constitutes a good playing surface. I applaud the USGA for introducing a low-input golf course that highlighted natural beauty on a firm links-style golf course in 2015. It was fun to watch, and I wish the players would have embraced it more. It would have been a completely different viewing experience and somewhat different playing surface with a little precipitation.
The same caveat is true at Erin Hills, according to USGA Championship Agronomist Darin Bevard: “If the weather is good – adequate rainfall leading up to the championship, normal temperatures – Erin Hills will likely be a very green golf course. The same would have been true of Chambers Bay in 2015. This does not mean it is over-fertilized or over-watered. Rather, we are fortunate to be playing the U.S. Open at a time of year that should be ideal for turf growth at Erin Hills.”
Erin Hills will have many of the same rustic hallmarks that we looked forward to in 2015: links-style minimalism, uncut fescues, natural bunker facings and a conversation about sustainability and golf course conditioning. Erin Hills could help further the conversation about aesthetics versus playability and the cost of maintaining the different facets of each. It’s a great contrast to the major we just watched at the micro-manicured Augusta National.
And like Chambers Bay, there will probably be some wicked winds, some challenging par-3s, and the possibility for a drivable par-4, depending on the setup. Very fun. It will play as a par 72, Bevard says, “So the competitors will likely enjoy that aspect of the golf course.” The last par 72 U.S. Open was in 1992 at Pebble Beach, where Tom Kite earned his first major with a 3-under 285 amid stiff winds and scoring average of more than 77 on the final day.
Erin Hills will be unique, too. Its expansive property and dedication to the preservation of that acreage will differentiate it from other major venues and offer some perspective on golf course maintenance.
“The bunkering is very unique,” Bevard says. “The bunker edges are rustic looking. The hazard is clearly defined, but the edges are not manicured. It provides a great look that fits in well with the overall minimalist approach to managing the property. The Kettle Moraine terrain is also unique. As one walks the property, with the exception of the pond to the right of the ninth green, the water features and wetlands were naturally created by the receding glaciers.”
You can see our extensive coverage of the golf course, maintenance staff and architects behind the design and upkeep of the golf course beginning on p. 16, and we hope it offers some fodder for golf course managers who need to justify budgets, expenses and playability at their home courses. Additionally Ron Furlong talks about green speeds on p. 14, a constant obsession for greens committees and the playing public.
Right now in Wisconsin, the USGA and grounds crew are probably praying for some warmer weather so the fescues perk up in time for the June tournament. And they will be hoping for the rains in May to give the place enough green to keep the shock value to a minimum for players and viewers. On the other hand, I’ll be hoping a bit for dry weather, just dry enough to show spectators that brown can be beautiful if the turfgrasses are healthy, and that fewer inputs create an easier-to-maintain, less-expensive playing surface that doesn’t sacrifice the quality of golf. Paradigms don’t shift overnight, but we’ve been inching toward this one for the last 10 years.