Here's what I know about the natural beauty in Erin, Wisconsin:
In many ways, Erin Hills is the antithesis of Whistling Straits. To craft the Straits, Pete Dye had literally thousands of truckloads of sand brought into what was basically wasteland by the lake transformed into a magically artificial landscape. What makes Erin Hills so amazing was how so little earth was moved. I liken it to Michaelangelo simply "revealing" a sculpture that God had already put inside a block of marble. Erin Hills was carved by glaciers; course architects Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry, and Ron Whitten merely exposed the course that God had put there. (Image: #7 at Erin Hills, Paul Hundley PhotoGraphic, via erinhills.com. Click to enlarge.)
It has an interesting and complicated history. Even though the course has only been open since 2006 (and only for part of that time – it's actually closed at the moment), it's already changed hands and undergone more than one renovation. Here is an excellent article from Golf Digest chronicling the drama. In a nutshell, the original owner, Bob Lang, ran out of money (and expertise, frankly) pursuing his dream to make the course suitable for a U.S. Open bid. Basically, the renovations the course is undergoing currently involve undoing many of the changes the overeager Lang made to bring the course up to snuff. Frankly, after reading this article the other day, I was a little surprised the USGA was still interested. But they must have faith in the current ownership (and in the site) that the course will be all it can be by June 2017. (Image: #3 at Erin Hills, Paul Hundley PhotoGraphic, via erinhills.com. Click to enlarge.)
Those church spires you see in the background in some pictures belong to the cathedral at the "Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Holy Hill" – better known simply as "Holy Hill." It's a pretty amazing place, visible for miles around. The grounds are open to the public and you can climb the tower for a breathtaking view of the surrounding landscape. In the fall it's absolutely stunning.
It's really off the beaten path and hidden away from view. I visited the course once last year while on a motorcycle ride. It was not easy to find. Even after I found it, it was not easy to discern there was a golf course there at all! I didn't have much time, so I didn't venture past the parking lot, but I did pause to take this picture by the simple four-plank sign out front. The top plank says "Welcome to Erin Hills." The second plank says "2008 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links." The third reads "2011 U.S. Amateur." And the fourth plank is said to be reserved for a future U.S. Open. I wonder how fast they'll fill it in? (Photo: The Whiffler)
Not everyone is happy about the Open coming. Because it's so out of the way, some of the locals are concerned that there aren't enough roads and other infrastructure to handle the crowds – or that they don't want the development that may come along with a U.S. Open. But I think the USGA is usually pretty savvy about this sort of thing – at least if John Feinstein's book "Open," about the U.S. Open coming to Bethpage Black for the first time is any indication. And the course is close enough to the Milwaukee metro area that there should be plenty of hotels, restaurants, etc. to accommodate everyone. And there's always my basement.
More later ...