After U.S. Open, what’s next for Erin Hills?
Regular play for the public starts July 1

By Nicholas Dettmann - Conley News Service

June 20, 2017

Ron Whitten smiles as he watches the pairing of Keegan Bradley and Jordan Spieth on hole No. 17 on Sunday afternoon during the final round of the 117th U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills in the town of Erin.
John Ehlke/Daily News


TOWN OF ERIN — When the final putt fell Sunday and Brooks Koepka was awarded the U.S. Open Championship trophy, two questions immediately surfaced: What’s next for Erin Hills? And will the U.S. Open be back?

In the short term, John Morrissett, competitions director at Erin Hills, said the No. 1 priority for the course is to get it back into shape for regular play, which starts July 1.

“We’ve got to quickly turn things around,” Morrissett said. “That’s something we actively planned for and prepared people, saying there is going to be a let down. Some people will call it the U.S. Open hangover.

“After you’ve put everything you have into the U.S. Open, you still have to pick things up, physically turn things around here for daily play and mentally be prepared for about four months of heavy play. A lot of guests will be coming here; (we have) to make sure they have a great experience.”

After regular-season play concludes at the end of October, that’s when Morrissett and the rest of the Erin Hills staff will evaluate the season, the U.S. Open included, and see what is next for 2018 and beyond.

The course’s ownership is still committed to hosting amateur events whenever possible, such as Marquette University’s tournament and various high school tournaments. There is also a desire to have the Wisconsin State Amateur Championship return after hosting it in 2015.

Looking specifically at the U.S. Open, the championship appears to have been a smash hit and makes a compelling case to return.

“We weren’t quite sure what to expect,” USGA President Diana Murphy said. “We had estimated attendance. But with every metric we had anticipated, it has met or exceeded our expectations. The attendance has been terrific, the enthusiasm is everywhere you go, everyone is really enjoying the entire course.”

According to the USGA, merchandise sales were approaching record numbers. Exact data won’t be available for a few weeks. But, the USGA said more than 25,000 transactions were made in one day in the merchandise tent and the opening day of the merchandise tent June 8 was the second-best opening day in its history.
 

‘An awesome course,’ says Spieth

There is also a growing respect for the course among the players, whether they made the cut this week or not.

“I think it’s an awesome course,” said Jordan Spieth, who finished tied for 35th at 1-over. “I think that’s been the consensus from everybody. There are so many great (courses) to choose from. I’m sure at some point it will come back here.”

He added, “But in my opinion, I would like to see another one here down the road, sure.”

Ron Whitten, one of the course architects, said the championship will come back.

“I think it’s going to happen,” Whitten said. “You have to extend an invitation to do so. I know we already have. I think they will accept. Hopefully, they accept it sooner rather than later.”

At Chambers Way in Washington two years ago, that course, which was a new U.S. Open venue, received heavy criticism for course conditions, specifically the greens. But throughout championship week at Erin Hills, the players raved about the course and green conditions.

“There have been several players who missed the cut but still had extremely positive things to say about Erin Hills,” Morrissett said. “For them to say that when they’re quite disappointed to say the least is beyond flattering.

“I’m sure we’ll have discussions with the USGA as we would love to do this again.”

Brian Harman, who finished tied for second, said, “I think it should.”
 

Won’t be back for a while

On top of the “if” question for a U.S. Open back at Erin Hills, the other question is “when?” The answer to that, at least for now, is not for a while.

The U.S. Open sites through 2026 have been booked. So, the earliest the championship would return to Erin Hills is 2027. Shinnecock Hills in New York has next year’s championship. From there, the championship is at Pebble Beach (California), Winged Foot (New York), Torrey Pines (California), The Country Club (Massachusetts), Los Angeles Country Club (California), Pinehurst (North Carolina), Oakmont (Pennsylvania) and, again, Shinnecock.

Of those courses, only the Los Angeles Country Club in 2023 is a new venue.

“There’s nothing on the game plan,” Richard Tock, director of golf at Erin Hills, told U.S. Open radio Sunday morning. “We may build some more holes, five, nine, 13 or maybe 18 holes. We have enough room to build another 18-hole course. Question is do we want to be bigger or stay where we are?”

Email: ndettmann@conleynet.com