For many years, the US Open stayed in a tight rota of musty northeast private clubs. From Winged Foot, to Baltusrol, to Shinnecock and down the line among the blue blood elites of golf. Most US Open courses looked the same. Thick bentgrass rough, rock hard tabletop greens, and trees lining every hole.
From 1980 to 1996, the US Open hadn’t ventured either below the Mason-Dixon line, nor West of the Mississippi. And aside from ultra-expensive Pebble Beach, the Open didn’t bother with anything but private clubs.
But starting with the re-introduction of glorified super-muni Bethpage Black to the rotation in 2002, a new phase of venturing to public-accessible (yet still bloodbank expensive) venues began. Pinehurst, and Torrey Pines, and (regrettably) Chambers Bay, and now Erin Hills take center stage in golf.
So this week in Wisconsin will be a big one for the future of the US Open over the next 20 years. Already, some Tour players are sending missiles across the bow of the USS Far Hills saying they better goddamn get this one right. Adam Scott even called the USGA a bit “panicky.”
Should things go well (and I hope for my friends up there in Wisconsin it does) then Erin Hills will almost certainly get a 2nd Open in a decade, and the course’s “legacy” (there’s that silly word again) will be secure. If not, then there will be a strong push back by many to say “end this nonsense already” and lets get back to playing classic, proven, championship tracks.
Either way, the story of how Erin Hills came into being from a wandering farmscape of epic proportions (652 acres is a massive footprint for a single 18 hole layout) is the stuff of a John Grisham novel. Gary D’Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel followed the story every step of the way, and has written a massive (like the course itself) but fascinating 7-part (gulp!) series on the making of Erin Hills.
Even if you hate golf, it’s a story about people and dreams, risk and ruin. It makes no sense at times, and at others it seems to be a story about pure destiny. It’s a good read, so if you have some time on a bus, or get stuck on a boring conference call, I highly recommend it.
In the meantime, let’s hope for good weather and a “clean” Open next week, and that President Diana Murphy stays out of the wine on Sunday and gets the winner’s name right.