Given even the briefest knowledge of this state, it comes as no surprise that the classic golf course where the U. S. Open is being played was once pastureland. Before that it was a Native American playground for whatever games Indian boys played.
The road that leads to Erin Hills meanders through a pleasant countryside, giving one a sense of ease. Farm land with rolling fields make you want to sing, “America the Beautiful.” Wisconsin’s automobile tags have proclaimed for years that this state is “America’s Dairyland.” The abundant silos confirm that, but today, like the small farmer across America, the little dairy operators no longer exist. Their silos, however, remain.
The little towns feature cottages by and large, giving charm to it all. Then you disembark at Erin Hills a golfing oasis in the middle of a landscape that would gain the approval of artists and poets. After all, even with all the historic Germanic heritage, you discover that Erin is the poetic name for Ireland. That could send one prospecting for a pub when the sun goes down.
Early in the afternoon on Thursday, as Erin Hills was placid with no wind, the golfing scores were accompanied by red numbers. A Georgian of U.S. Open consequence watched as a Bulldog golfer was posting a five under 67 to move in to second place and was oved to say: “This is a different golf course when the wind blows.” Darren Devore, of Atlanta and a UGA Terry College of Business graduate, not only frequents Erin Hills to test his skills on this championship layout, which is getting high marks, he is a substantial committee operative for the tournament, serving as “owner liaison.”
That is easy to figure. The owner of Erin Hills is Andy Ziegler, founder of Artisan Global Partners. (This is the first time the Open has been awarded to a course with a single owner). After he and Darren met several years ago, Ziegler hired Darren as a partner to manage strategic distribution for the company. As Devore’s star rose with Artisan Partners, he naturally became a passionate aficionado of Erin Hills and was invited to join the USGA executive committee for this year’s championship.
Lately, with Bill Griffin, another Terry alumnus, playing a major role for the USGA for the last two championships at Oakmont, there has been a Terry graduate on the inner circle of the playing of the national championship of golf in June for several summers—either involved with the competition or helping the host club prepare for the championship.
Georgia is well represented this week. In addition to Harman, there are four other Red and Black advocates in the field: Bubba Watson, two time Masters champion, Kevin Kisner, recent winner at Colonial, Russell Henley and Harris English.
As the late afternoon shadows began to encroach on the fairways of Erin Hills, it was obvious that the opening round was an opportunity for posting low scores.
“The weather naturally makes a difference,” Devore noted near the end of the day. “You always like to see good conditions, but if the wind gets up on the weekend, it will be a major challenge to win the championship.”
Erin Hills, a par 72 layout. While it is a Heartland Course, it, nonetheless has a British look and feel. It also resembles Oakmont. Erin Hills looks like a favorable fit for the USGA whose executive director, Mike Davis, has said that Erin Hills has many of the features of Shinnecock Hills where the championship will be played next summer.
A champion must be determined here first. He won’t care about Erin Hills’ look-alike. Neither the winds, benign or not.