Players have mostly praise for Erin Hills

But some critics say course not challenging, traditional enough for U.S. Open

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As the 117th edition of the U.S. Open was completed Sunday at Erin Hills, players gave the golf course, mostly positive reviews, but some critics said the course did not offer the challenge usually posed by the tournament.

“I asked some of the players how they liked Erin Hills. For the most part everybody seemed to like it. The crowds here this week were unbelievable. They came out in full force and supported everybody,” said Steve Stricker, a pro golfer and Wisconsin native.

Erin Hills, located in the Town of Erin in Washington County, opened in 2006. Many were surprised when the United States Golf Association awarded its biggest championship event to the course. The U.S. Open is usually held at older courses that have hosted major championship tournaments before.

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Fans fill the grandstands and viewing areas as the final groups play the 18th hole at Erin Hills.

Erin Hills also had a different feel than most U.S. Open courses. It was the longest course in the history of the tournament. Instead of tight fairways with ample trees, Erin Hills offered wide fairways, few trees, no water hazards, but extremely long fescue grass for wayward shots.

Scores were low throughout the tournament as many of the players took advantage of those wide fairways and soft conditions from rain that fell before and during the weekend. When the wind picked up on Sunday, the course was more challenging.

Brooks Koepka was the winner with a 16-under-par score that tied the U.S. Open record set by Rory McIlroy in 2011. Seven players finished 10-under or better and 31 golfers broke par, three more than the previous U.S. Open record set in 1990.

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However not everyone had an easy time at Erin Hills. The top ranked players in the sport, including last year’s U.S. Open champion, Dustin Johnson, struggled. Although their names were missing from the leaderboard, some of the biggest stars in the sport still praised Erin Hills.

“I think it’s an awesome golf course, that’s been the consensus from everybody,” said Jordan Spieth.

“I think what they’ve done with the golf course, the piece of property that they have had and how they’ve kind of fit everything naturally to the grounds itself, is quite beautiful,” said Jason Day, who won the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in 2015 but missed the cut at Erin Hills.

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Fans cross the 10th fairway after the final groups head to the back nine on Sunday.

Media reviews of Erin Hills were mixed. Some were critical. Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post wrote, “Why are we here at Erin Hills? It has no track record, no visual variety, no water in play and as little natural grandeur as a nice piece of rolling farmland could offer, once you scoured off its natural trees and left no vegetation more than hip high.”

But the Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein said Erin Hills deserves a chance to host the U.S. Open again.

“This was a non-traditional U.S. Open. And despite the drama-free Sunday, it produced a damn good time,” wrote Greenstein. “Considering the area got drenched twice and the wind didn’t truly howl until Sunday, the course of rolling, hills, jagged bunkers and nearly 7,900 yards played about just right.”

Now the big question is, will the U.S. Open ever return to Erin Hills?

“I’m sure at some point it will come back here. I would like to see another one down the road here, sure,” said Spieth.

The U.S. Open was expected to have an economic impact of $120 million on southeastern Wisconsin, so many area businesses are no doubt hoping the USGA will bring it back some day.

The course might need some changes, Stricker said.

“Maybe narrow the fairways a little bit. I’d like to see the fescue a little bit thinner and the fairways a little bit narrower, so it’s not a full shot penalty for hitting in the fescue, but it’s going to be harder to hit fairways. Some places it’s just too thick and too penal,” he said.

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