Erin Hills is a relatively young course. Established in 2006, it has hosted one previous USGA event. The 2011 U.S. Amateur was won by Kelly Kraft. The story that week was about the golf. A good sign for when play finally begins this week in Wisconsin.
The USGA has gone through a short cycle of including newer courses into their rotation for the U.S. Open. The 2015 Open at Chambers Bay is remembered first for the dramatic finish between current stars Spieth and Johnson. The course was a close second, unfortunately. The layout was criticized heavily at the time with no louder critic that eventual champion Spieth. The greens, in particular, were roundly thought to be some of the worst ever used to contest a major in modern times. Unless significant changes made to the course I would be shocked to see the U.S. Open return to the site.
This year it's Erin Hills in Wisconsin. The course has a fascinating origin story, to say the least. What matters most to golf fans everywhere is how the course plays. The fescue has gotten out of control according to many players. While the designers and USGA feel the course has been set up in a manner that is fair, there are reports that the course is being tweaked even today. Certain landing areas are being widened to try to make the fescue less of the story.
The USGA has faced much criticism in recent years. Their choices of Chambers Bay and Erin Hills being the source of some of that. Combined with some of the questionable rules enforcement issues in last year's Men's and Women's Opens and the pressure is building on the USGA to hold a well-received event.
What should help correct some of the criticism is their upcoming course rotation for future U.S. Open tournaments. The USGA is moving back to using the classics:
- 2018 - Shinnecock Hills Golf Club
- 2019 - Pebble Beach Golf Links
- 2020 - Winged Foot Golf Club
- 2021 - Torrey Pines Golf Course
- 2022 - The Country Club
- 2023 - Los Angeles Country Club
- 2024 - Pinehurst No. 2
- 2025 - Oakmont Country Club
- 2026 - Shinnecock Hills Golf Club
Clearly, by already awarding two U.S. Opens to Shinnecock the USGA is indicating that their interest in inviting newer courses into the rotation is fading. The only U.S. Open rookie on the list is Los Angeles Country Club. Even though the course went through a significant, and well-received renovation in 2010, the course itself has been around since 1921.
Of course, the future sites were awarded prior to the USGA having to deal with the pressures and controversies surrounding their recent events. Even more telling will be what courses are selected going forward beyond 2026.
Hopefully, Erin Hills will play well this week and the USGA will manage to let the golf be the story instead of themselves.