Why U.S. Open host Erin Hills checks all the boxes for the USGA

By Gary D'Amato
Published on
Why U.S. Open host Erin Hills checks all the boxes for the USGA

TOWN OF ERIN, Wisc. -- Chicago is one of the most golf-centric cities in the world, with more than 200 courses and a history of major championships dating to 1897, when Joe Lloyd won the third U.S. Open at Chicago Golf Club.

Washington County has fewer than a dozen golf courses.

And a lot of farms.

So how is it that Chicago last hosted the U.S. Open 14 years ago and won't get another one in the foreseeable future, and the Town of Erin is getting the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills -- and likely more championships to come?

The answer is a combination of location, timing and luck.

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It just so happened that when Bob Lang was building Erin Hills and dreaming of bringing the U.S. Open to Wisconsin, the United States Golf Association was looking for a Midwest venue for its biggest championship.

Jim Furyk won the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields in suburban Chicago but the USGA had an unpleasant experience with Cook County politics.

Other potential U.S. Open venues, in Chicago and the Midwest, are unavailable. Medinah Country Club hosted the U.S. Open three times, most recently in 1990, but now is aligned with the PGA of America, as are Whistling Straits in Kohler and Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minn.

Mike Davis, the USGA's executive director, toured Erin Hills in 2004, before the first shovel of dirt was turned, and told Lang it was one of the best properties for golf he'd ever seen. Do things right here, Davis said, and Erin Hills would potentially be a championship venue.

So began the relationship between the USGA and Erin Hills, which hosted the 2008 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship and the 2011 U.S. Amateur, the latter a prelude to the '17 U.S. Open.

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What does the USGA find so attractive about Erin Hills?

First and foremost, the course can be stretched to nearly 8,000 yards and its multiple tee boxes give Davis the ability to adjust for all types of wind, weather and turf conditions.

He can stretch or shrink some holes by as much as 100 yards from one day to the next. He can change optimal angles off the tee and into greens. And he can give the players relatively benign or extremely difficult flagstick locations.

"When we look at U.S. Open sites, first and foremost, I can assure you we are looking at the golf course," Davis said. "Can it truly test the world's best players? So that's the top thing. That's the second thing. That's the third thing.

"But Erin Hills checks other boxes."

Among them is its location in America's heartland. Eleven of the last 13 U.S. Opens have been held in New York, California, Pennsylvania or North Carolina. The championship has never been held in Wisconsin.

RELATED: Wisconsin's major history dates back to 1933

The USGA loves the massive dimensions of the property. At 652 acres, there is plenty of room for infrastructure and the course can accommodate up to 70,000 spectators, though daily attendance this year will be capped at 35,000.

Another factor working in Erin Hills' favor is that it's a public facility. After a century of bringing the U.S. Open mainly to private clubs, the USGA has made a concerted effort in recent years to take the championship to courses open to the public, such as Pinehurst, Bethpage Black, Torrey Pines and Chambers Bay.

Finally, the USGA has enjoyed good working relationships with government agencies on all levels -- the Town of Erin, Washington County and Wisconsin.

The USGA has identified sites for the U.S. Open through 2026. If the championship at Erin Hills is a success, there is little doubt it will make a return visit at some point after that.

As for Chicago, USGA championship committee chairman Stu Francis recently gave a cryptic answer to a question about when the Windy City would get back in the Open "rotation."

"We do an extensive amount of research and evaluation as we think about the forward calendar," Francis said. "We've had great experiences in Chicago in the past. I'm sure there will be another opportunity. We do have a pretty full calendar for the next eight or nine years."

In other words, don't hold your breath.

This article is written by Gary D'Amato from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to