ERIN, WISCONSIN — To one from Britain, what is so striking about Erin Hills is the sheer size of it. The venue for the 117th US Open is bigger than Wales, bigger than Scotland. Good heavens! It’s half the size of England. Acre after acre of rolling prairie without a hill in sight and when you turn and look in one direction you half expect to see a Conestoga wagon train rolling into view. To describe it as sprawling doesn’t do justice to the size of the place. Sprawl squared perhaps.
In Britain, Royal Lytham & St. Annes is laid out on a sliver of land as is the Old Course at St Andrews and there’s not much spare acreage at Royal Troon or Royal Liverpool either. Muirfield is not exactly compact nor is Royal Birkdale. You can get a lot of people on those properties without it feeling as though you have, though it is doubtful you could get 50,000 on one hole, as you could at, say, on the 18th at Erin Hills.
But go down to Royal St. George’s in southeast England and there’s plenty of room there. “We’re on a hog’s back for space,” a former club secretary said on a hot summer’s day, wiping his brow with a red-spotted handkerchief. But the 300 or so acres of St. George’s pale into insignificance here in Wisconsin. It could be dropped into the 650 acres of Erin Hills without anyone noticing.
There’s a course in Atlanta called Sugarloaf where, local lore has it, the walks from the greens to the next tees are almost as long as from the tees to the greens. On the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island it is, as they used to say in Wales, “a Sabbath day’s journey” from the ninth green to the next tee. There are going to be some tired caddies at Erin Hills by Friday evening, some even more tired ones 48 hours later. The course is a par-72 that could be stretched to an eye-popping 8,300 yards but will be played at about 7,600.
It hits you in the face on the first, a hole that could be more than 600 yards and uphill, and if you haven’t realised how gigantic the venue is and how testing the course is by the 18th, then it hits you as you survey the finishing hole. This little monster could be as short (!) as 539 yards or as long as 660 yards.
In Britain we’ve always known that most things are big in the US, from steaks to cars to houses. Erin Hills brings this home once again. Welcome to Wisconsin.