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QUICK TAKE: Erin Hills’ Satanic Sand

Steve Stricker blasts out of a bunker during a U.S. Open practice round at Erin Hills. (Photo Credit: Geoff Burke, USA Today Sports)

ERIN, WISCONSIN — Bunkers on golf courses were originally places of refuge for sheep and the shape of a bunker was determined by the way the sheep scraped at the earth. At Erin Hills the bunkers are the work of the three course designers, men who take collective pride in having made some of them as difficult as possible. In days gone by sheep took refuge in bunkers; at Erin Hills players seek refuge from them

There are big, medium and small bunkers, some round, some kidney-shaped, some shaped in such a way that words cannot describe them. The one thing they all share is they are difficult, many without the traditional flat bottoms. Players will have sidehill, downhill and uphill lies. Some shots from the sand will have to be directed away from the flagstick. For others, players might have a restricted backswing – or even no backswing.


Take the ninth hole, which is Erin Hills’s version of Pebble Beach’s seventh. Part of one bunker on this hole has a grassy pimple only a few feet from the bunker’s face. Hit your ball in there and it might be unplayable with not enough room to take a backswing. At the other end of this sandy, Satanic spot the gap into which a ball might roll is tiny. One eminent critic calls these perils psychotic. “A player might not get out of that one, never mind get his ball out.”

Michael Hurdzan, who with Dana Fry and Ron Whitten, designed the course, stresses the role bunkers will play on a course that has no water, no out of bounds and only five trees. The bunkers “will be the most feared hazard these guys have faced, and that was the intent,” Hurdzan said. “They will be feared and talked about. You’re going to hear grumbling from the pros …”

Added Fry: “There will be blood.”

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