ERIN, WISCONSIN — There’s a Heartbreak Hill on most golf courses. The practice ground, driving range, call it what you will, where you see players of all standards following the Hogan guidance and trying to find the answer in the dirt. At Erin Hills, there’s Holy Hill.
Holy Hill is the highest point in southeast Wisconsin, practically the only visible landmark from any direction on the golf course. In fact, a line from the 18th tee on the twin spires of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians atop Holy Hill is as good a line as any to take on this plunging downhill monster of a golf hole that can be played at 637 yards. Perhaps the best view of it is from the 11th tee.
The Old Course at St Andrews and its sturdy brick clubhouse behind the 18th green is often referred to as golf’s High Altar. They come from around the world to bend the knee on the Swilcan Burn, to genuflect to the Road Hole bunker, to gawp at the 11th green where Bobby Jones tore up his card all those years ago, and to pray as they tiptoe through the Valley of Sin.
Hundreds of thousands come to Holy Hill annually to pay their respects to a church that is now in the care of the Discalced Carmelite Friars, a religious order dedicated to Mary. In the late 19th century, 200,000 bricks were hauled up the hill by horse and cart and slowly the edifice that towers over the golf course was built. In the early 21st century, nearly 700 acres of woodland and pastures were slowly transformed into the golf course that hosts this year’s second major championship. You can stand outside the holy shrine on the hill and look down at what will surely become a focal point for golfing pilgrims in years to come or you can pause at almost any point on the golf course and look up at the majestic basilica towering over you.
Golf is a religion. How many times have you heard that said? Erin Hills is overlooked by religion.