Fairways And Roughs Title

Don't confuse Erin Hills with Chambers Bay

By PGA Tour News
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They are nothing alike. Separated by 2,000 miles, different designers, and different grasses, Chambers Bay and Erin Hills, the host sites for the 2015 and 2017 U.S. Opens, respectively, could hardly be more different. One is coastal (Bay), the other inland (Hills); one is coffee, the other cheese. And yet as we stand on the precipice of another U.S. Open at an untested venue, players, fans and officials can’t help but lump the two courses together even if only in their minds. And even as they hope, at Erin Hills, to distance themselves from the problems of Chambers Bay. “It works logistically,” USGA executive director and CEO Mike Davis said of Erin Hills. “I think there's over 650 acres, plenty of room to move between holes, nice viewing areas. “…The greens themselves are wonderfully conditioned. I can't remember coming into a U.S. Open where greens were this smooth.” Read between the lines, and you get his meaning: Erin Hills is no Chambers Bay. And yet these two courses will always be joined in spirit -- both part of a grand idea to bring the U.S. Open around the country and make golf a little less stodgy in the process. Erin Hills opened in 2006, Chambers Bay in 2007. Both are high-end daily fee or “bucket list” courses, with lots of mounding and humps and hollows. Mostly devoid of trees, they are both architectural marvels -- Robert Trent Jones Jr., for Chambers Bay; Dana Fry, Mike Hurdzan and Ron Whitten for Erin Hills -- that caught the attention of USGA executives. As warm-ups for their star turns, Chambers Bay hosted the 2010 U.S. Amateur, won by Peter Uihlein, and Erin Hills hosted the 2011 U.S. Amateur, won by Kelly Kraft. OK, maybe they’re somewhat alike. More on U.S. Open: Tee times | Power Rankings | Featured Groups | Course overview KERNAL OF AN IDEA You have to go back in time to find the 117th U.S. Open’s true beginnings. Not to 2010, when the USGA announced that the tournament would be coming to Erin Hills with its rolling hills and fescue grasses, but to the mid-1990s, and then-USGA executive director David Fay. “He came up with, at the time, what was perceived as this wacky idea,” Davis said. “Let's go to this municipal, state-owned course [in New York] called Bethpage. And a few of us went out and looked at it and kind of shook our heads thinking he's lost his marbles. “But you know what? He knew what he was doing, and all of a sudden you introduce this public access -- it was a great story.” The USGA had long limited the U.S. Open to legacy courses with impeccable pedigrees, most of them in the Northeast, courses that serve as the backdrop for a nearly complete history of U.S. Open golf. Courses such as Shinnecock Hills, Pebble Beach and Winged Foot, where the USGA will bring the U.S. Open back in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. This year, though, will be another chapter in the ever-evolving manifestation of Fay’s “wacky idea,” which after roughly two decades we can now deem a success. Mostly. Tiger Woods won the first U.S. Open at Bethpage Black in 2002, and the first at Torrey Pines, another public-access muni north of San Diego, in 2008. (Great and great.) Lucas Glover prevailed when the U.S. Open returned to Bethpage Black in 2009. (Good, despite the mud.) Then came the Chambers Bay U.S. Open in 2015, which initially looked like a slam-dunk. Sumptuous views. The first time the tournament had come to the Pacific Northwest. But it was beset with problems.  A GOOD PLAN GONE WRONG Bryson DeChambeau recalls coming up just short of the first green and watching his ball trundle some 60 yards down the hill. Daniel Summerhays, one of the PGA TOUR’s best putters, recalls not being sure if he could wiggle in a one-footer. Amid a chorus of sniping and blame over the greens, Dustin Johnson three-putted the 72nd hole to at least give the tournament a name-brand winner in Jordan Spieth, who wisely held his tongue as he left town with the trophy.  Whether it was the creeping poa annua grass that roughed up the greens, the course’s severe banks that led to crazy caroms, or on-course bottle-necks that hindered or prevented fan access, Chambers Bay was unlike any U.S. Open course anyone had ever seen. “I like the fact that they’re willing to go out on a limb and take a risk,” Phil Mickelson said of the USGA. “It didn’t really work [at Chambers in 2015], but I know what that’s like.” Uihlein, who got through sectional U.S. Open qualifying last Monday, is naturally fond of Chambers Bay, since it’s where he won the 2010 U.S. Amateur. He says the Chambers U.S. Open was hindered by the time of year it was held (June), and the greens not having had enough time to fill in the way they had for the Amateur (August). “It’s just different times of year, really,” Uihlein said. “When you have it in June, coming off a wet spring … the bent is just not going to grow, is it? The poa annua is going to take over. In August, it had had all summer for the grass to grow in, so the greens were fine.” Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open winner, prefers playing the tournament on an old, legacy course like Pebble Beach, where he won. But he sees the value of the new tracks, and feels that one misstep two years ago shouldn’t necessarily undermine the public’s confidence. “Bethpage Black was probably their most wildly successful one ever, from a public point of view,” McDowell said of the USGA’s trailblazing. “That one worked. Obviously, Chambers didn’t. But I mean, Chambers was a lot to do with the spectator experience, and the way they set it up. That goes back to it being new, and no one knowing how do we set it up.” Speaking at media day for this year’s U.S. Open, the USGA’s Davis admitted, “There's risk going to new venues because you just don't know how they're going to come out, but we're excited about this one. We really think this is a fabulous site for a lot of reasons.” Side note: As a destination course, Chambers Bay remains charming and is still well worth the trip. Reports from the Northwest are that the greens are now entirely poa annua and putting true, and there’s still the great architecture and breathtaking scenery to recommend it. The place may even host another U.S. Open someday. WHY ERIN HILLS WILL BE DIFFERENT To find players with knowledge of both Chambers Bay and Erin Hills, you have to go back to those two U.S. Amateurs, the first big-time tournaments for each course.               “I’m really looking forward to the test,” said sectional U.S. Open qualifier DeChambeau, who hasn’t been back to Erin Hills since he made it to the match play but lost in the round of 32 at the 2011 U.S. Amateur. “I think it’ll be a lot different than Chambers Bay, in a good way.”            Others echoed his optimism. “I remember Erin Hills being a bit more fair than Chambers Bay,” said Harris English, who also lost in the round of 32 at the 2011 U.S. Amateur, and survived sectional qualifying last Monday to punch his return trip. “It’s not as tricked up, which is really good. “As a golfer, you just want it to be tough but be fair. Hopefully [the USGA] will do that.” Erin Hills is a big-shouldered course with multiple tee box options. Rickie Fowler played it last Monday and was especially struck by the par-5 18th hole. “I think it's like 675 from the back tees or something like that,” he said, “and we played a tee or two up and I still hit driver, 4-iron, 6-iron. So hopefully that's not the case next week.” McDowell also visited Erin last Monday. He was cautiously optimistic. If the weather remains dry and the course plays firm and fast, McDowell said, he anticipated having a chance as a medium-length hitter. But if it’s wet, he added, the spoils will be left to the bombers. Erin Hills’ agronomy is vastly different than Chambers Bay, which alone is reason for optimism. To Davis’ point, early reports from dairyland have the greens rolling perfectly. “I think Erin Hills is probably the USGA’s dream,” said Uihlein, who lost 2 and 1 to Jordan Russell in the quarterfinals of his 2011 title defense at Erin Hills. “It’s about eight million yards and there are seven or eight tee boxes on each hole. They can kind of mix and match and do whatever they want. As far as similarities, there’s not much -- a couple elevated holes. “I feel like Chambers, it felt like you could run the ball up the greens more, whereas Erin, it didn’t feel like you had that capability. It felt like there were a lot of bunkers right in the middle, and every green seemed to be elevated, and it was a little more challenging if you were out of position to advance it onto the green or chase it onto the green.” The other big difference: Chambers Bay borders the scenic Puget Sound, and also has the added charm of passing passenger trains, like many Open Championship venues in the U.K. Far, far inland, Erin Hills, 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee, is so pastoral that the USGA’s Davis prefers to call it “a heartland course” rather than “a links course.”  “If you appreciate rolling hills and the fescue look,” Uihlein says, “I think it’ll actually look tremendous on TV. I think it’ll be beautiful.” Will it play that way? Assuming Mother Nature cooperates, that’s up to the USGA. “We relish the idea of occasionally introducing a new golf course,” Davis said, “because you think about it, there's no country in the world that has as many great golf courses as the United States, and we should celebrate that. “So if a course has the infrastructure and if it it's a good enough course architecturally and it can test, then let's welcome that, let's embrace it, and let's start creating history.”


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