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Wisconsin/Michigan Golf Trip, Day One: Let's Get Ready to Rumble (On the Range)

8/10/2008

Jefe, A Legend in the Making.

It didn't take long for history to be made on our annual golf binge, this year in Wisconsin and Michigan. No, there were no eagles, aces or albatrosses. But Jefe managed to break a long-standing personal record.

It took him a total of 17 minutes at Erin Hills before he got into a scuffle with another person on the golf course. Now, Jefe is infamous for his numerous skirmishes on the course, but most are reserved for starters or rangers. For some reason, he and starters just don't get along. Which is odd, considering there's a 120% chance that Jefe will be a cranky old starter after he retires. This time, however, Jefe saved his antics for another golfing patron. And it almost came to blows on the driving range.

Jimbo and I, like most normal people, managed to get ourselves checked-in and paid without incident, although Jimbo got bamboozled into paying an absolutely absurd $32 cart fee to ride. $32 for a cart! You gotta be kidding me. What does an electric cart cost to operate for one round? About 32 cents? I realize Erin Hills is a relatively tough walk, but $32 per rider is extortion. The best decision I made all day was to hoof it.

Jefe lagged behind in the check-in process due to some contact lens and bowel issues and was coming in as Jimbo and I were heading off to warm-up with some range balls. He was planning to ride as well until we warned him on the cart fee. We headed off to the range, fully expecting to see Jefe again in a minute or two.

But 15 minutes passed on their was no Jefe in sight. Jimbo and I wondered what the heck happened to him. With Jefe, you have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. He finally surfaced and was visibly peeved. He stormed over to his station on the range, complaining about the wait in the pro shop, specifically caused by the dude in front of him being wishy-washy on whether to take a cart, caddie or forecaddie. This change in plans caused a huge commotion that required some credit cards to be credited, others to be charged and one Jefe left watching the whole entire drama unfold.

When Jefe started complaining about the guy, he was well-within earshot of the offender. Jimbo was closer to the guy and could hear him tell his buddy, 'That guy down there is making fun of me.' We thought that was that, but about 15 swings later, Jefe went back at it again, saying 'It was ridiculous! This dude just kept changing his story!' That caused the guy to snap back, 'Dude, I'm standing right here! Save your complaining until you get on the course.'

Now coming for the East Side of Geneva (aka the Hood), Jefe knew that I had his back, and I clenched my 3-iron a little tighter fully expecting fisticuffs to ensue. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed so we were able to head off to the first tee instead of delivering a beat down. And I was worried I'd have nothing to blog about on this trip.

If you haven't heard of Erin Hills, just set your TIVO to record NBC on Father's Day, 2017 and chances are you'll be watching TIger Woods win his 25th major (this time, with both knees fused together) at the US Open at Erin Hills. Whether they'd admit it or not, the owner built the course with one purpose in mind, to land the US Open. Thankfully, he had the suits of the USGA drooling over the place during the entire construction process. It's hard to say whether this is because the course is so phenomenal or because the USGA can stretch it 8,200 yards and has 400 extra acres to put up as many corporate tents as they could possibly cram in there. Ch-Ching! Ch-Ching!

Erin Hills is a great course...just ask them! Take a look at their website, to see this 'Legend in the Making.' Co-designer (and Golf Digest architecture guru) Ron Whitten calls it 'one of the top 5 golf properties he's ever seen.' I've got a little problem with courses spouting off about how great they are. If you've got a great course, you've got nothing to worry about. The course will speak for itself. A strong reputation will spread through word of mouth. Die hard golfers have proven time and time again that they will make the trek to play quality tracks no matter what the costs, time or miles involved.

The truth is Erin Hills is a very nice course on an excellent piece of property. However, if a course is going to claim it's one of the best golf properties in the world and the resulting course doesn't match it in stature, is that a poor reflection on the architects? Did they get the most out of the property? During the construction process, Erin Hills received a considerable amount of buzz, it was one of the most highly-anticipated golf courses in recent memory. But the course has been open for three years now, and the buzz has seemed to quiet to a low rumble at best.

Or maybe that's a low grumble you're hearing from golfers wondering what might've been. The previous owners of the site had Tom Doak, THE man in golf course architecture, put together a routing. And he apparently was very enamored with the site and its potential for a world-class golf course. We've seen what he's been able to do with great sites at Pacific Dunes and Ballyneal, and I can't help but wonder what Tommy D (or Tommy Deez if you prefer) would've come up with at Erin Hills.

Where Doak seems to be ahead of his peers is his ability to get the most course out of the land, knowing when and where to move earth to make holes strategically better or more playable (ie. improve the course). But he and his associates are uncanny at moving dirt while making it look completely natural (ie. make it look like nothing was moved at all). At Erin Hills, however, the owners and architects were obsessed with moving as little earth as humanly possible. To that end, they were able to find interesting dips, mounds and ridges for placing tees and greens. Number 3, for example is a great, tough par 4 that looks like something you'd find at Bethpage Black or Shinnecock.

Other holes, however, probably could've been improved by moving a little dirt. The 10th green, for example is a 78-yard Biarritz (big swale in the middle) with a 6-foot drop off from the front to the middle (I one-putted the hole but used my putter four times). The back of the green has a sevete upwards slope that probably couldn't hold a ball. Softening the slopes would definitely improve the hole.

Be prepared for a bunch of blind shots as well. In general, I've got no problem with blind shots as long as they are designed well. One or two pure blinds can be a welcome change of pace. A month ago I saw it done right at Ballyneal, where the playing corridors were wide enough for a safe play might leave a blind shot and a well-executed shot on an aggressive line would leave a good angle on the approach. Most the blind shots at Erin Hills are unavoidable, except for a few instances where you might be able to blast one about 320 to get a clear view. Nearly every hole on the front nine has some blind or semi-blind aspect to it.

The USGA has asked for a number of changes to the course prior to the US Amateur being held in 2011. The course is closing this season at the beginning of October to make changes rumored for the 1st hole, the pitch-and-putt 2nd green (see pictures below), 3rd, 10th and 17th green. Wholesale changes just three years in. Contrast that with Chambers Bay, which is even newer than Erin Hills and has already been awarded a US Open. Erin Hills is still waiting for its Open, but a successful Amateur along with making the requested changes should go a long way.

Erin Hills is definitely tough enough to host a USGA event. The course is relentless from beginning to end, even from the blue tees weighing in at 7,112 yards. The blacks are 7,824 yards with a course rating of 77.7 and slope of 141. Last year, the course hosted a Back Black challenge for area pros and top amateurs to play the 8,200-yard tees and the winning score was five-over par. That's music to the USGA's ears.

I managed to make a little history myself by setting a dubious personal record. It only took me one hole to quit keeping score. Unfortunately, this has been an ongoing trend for me this year. By not playing much, my golf swing is a complete mystery. Standing over the ball, I have absolutely no idea where it's headed. Random shot generation is not a formula for long-term success, especially at a course as unforgiving as this one.

Jimbo was on-pace to make a little history himself. He could've been the first one of us to ever go 0-for-19 in Greens In Regulation (all 18 and the little 'Bye Hole' par 3 that sits between the 9th and 10th holes). Jimbo was not pleased with me openly rooting for him to miss greens, but when there's a chance at history, you gotta root for it. Nothing personal. Sadly, Jimbo did managed a couple GIR's on the back.

Our scores...well, Jefe and Jimbo's scores and my non-score, left a little to be desired, but we agreed that the course would play easier the second time around, now that we figured out the most important scoring aspect of Erin Hills, where not to hit ball. However, none of us felt a strong desire to ever go back. Maybe that's the best way to sum up the place. A course you need to play more than once, but won't want to. Somehow, I doubt that will replace 'a Legend in the Making' on their website. But I do recommend anyone who hasn't played Erin Hills to check it out. Especially before they're awarded the US Open and immediately jack up the rates to $220. And $40 for a cart. Bring your walking shoes.

Pictures:


The miniscule 2nd green at Erin Hills


A closer look at the 2nd green


A different look at the 2nd green, showing it's actually a llittle bigger than it looks from the front.










The Lahinch-inspired 'Dell' Hole at Erin Hills, #7. The par-3 green is completely blind, sitting in the V of a taco-shell formation. You have to hit over a white aiming rock to get to the green.


Jefe birdies the Dell Hole and gets to ring the bell. We're having tacos tonight!


The Bye Hole at Erin Hills


The roller coaster 10th green at Erin Hills


The 12th Hole at Erin Hills

1 comments:

  1. Andy Starbuck said...:

    Great review again Jim.

    LOL @ Tommy Deez.

 
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