Fun Fact: Erin Hills featured a 19th hole to settle bets and matches.
Sad Fact: Erin Hills unstitched the one-off 19th’s pin flag and buried the 7th green.
OK… maybe the second fact is more of a farce, but for the upcoming 2017 U.S. Open, a couple of significant changes were made. The 7th and 8th holes will be combined into a lengthy par 5 and the former 19th hole will now play as the 9th hole—a deceptively difficult short par 3 that’s guaranteed to be one of the more dramatic holes of the championship.
When Erin Hills opened in 2006, the 7th hole was a par 3 that required players to hit blind tee shots over a hill to a hidden green nestled in a natural valley. After putting out, golfers would then ring a greenside bell, signaling that the coast was clear to the incoming group on the tee.
With most golfers appreciating a blind tee shot as much as an opponent talking in their backswing, it was thought best to merge the par-3 7th and par-4 8th into a beastly 607-yard par 5. Erin Hills did just that, which ultimately led to the 19th hole becoming the finishing test for the front 9. The bell still remains on the right side of the 7th fairway as an aesthetically pleasing reminder of Erin Hill’s original layout. And yes, it still works.
The new 9th hole is no joke. One of Erin Hills’ more contemplative caddies thought it would be interesting to track his golfers’ performance on the newly troubling no. 9. In his first 72 loops, 60 golfers scored a double-bogey or worse. After sharing the statistic with the rest of the caddies, the hole quickly became vilified as the “Shortest Par 5 in Golf.”
Its tees can range between 135 and 165 yards. With the hole completely exposed to potentially drastic winds (as is much of the course), the USGA won’t hesitate to give the short tees the nod in effort to give golfers a glimmer of hope. But with the green sloping from front to back, it will be no easy feat to stop the ball as conditions firm up.
If wind and slope weren’t enough, Erin Hills’ signature “erosion bunkers” also guard a majority of the 9th green. Not only do erosion bunkers feature little crevasses that could encourage unadventurous players to take unplayables, but they also play to the natural contours of the hilly terrain, resulting in extreme down and side-hill lies. With high winds, steep slopes, and diabolical bunkering, expect to see some world-class golf shots come to rest in nearly impossible situations.
No. 9 is like a hybrid between Augusta’s “Golden Bell” and Royal Troon’s “Postage Stamp”— a short par 3 with the ability to take the world’s best out of contention. The 9th at Erin Hills acts as the perfect segue to an even more hellacious back nine.