Erin Hills fescue: Just how difficult will it be?

Monday June 12th, 2017
3:40 | Courses and Travel
An intimate tour of Erin Hills, host of the 2017 U.S. Open
Jeff Ritter caught up with two of the three architects who designed Erin Hills, site of the 2017 U.S. Open, to preview the unique landscape and see what players can expect to face this week.

ERIN, Wisc. — The fescue at Erin Hills would always be a popular topic; this much we knew, as it covers the overwhelming majority of the 652 acres here in rural Wisconsin.

But before U.S. Open week even began, before fans could walk through the gates and traipse the hilly kettle moraine course, Kevin Na was out there sharing the scoop: THE FESCUE IS UNFAIR! You can check out his full rant below, where he went so far as to call for former U.S. Open champions to join together and present a better setup. (Sorry, that will never happen.) This came just a week after fellow pro Adam Scott made an early plea for the USGA to drop its yearly goal of an even-par champion.

As much as Na's rant could be proven worthy or unworthy in the coming days, and as much as some players would prefer a less-demanding setup, the fescue will not change between now and Thursday's first tee times. What Erin Hills is now is what Erin Hills will be three, four, five and six days from now. Below is a snapshot of what you can expect players to be dealing with throughout the week.

Brutality awaits...

What Na showed off is definitely common at Erin Hills, but it was a patch of the thickest fescue the course will offer. Those patches exist on every hole, and while they don't dominate every fescue area, they are brutal enough to ruin a round. Punching out in one is not a guarantee from the thick stuff. With it's wider-than-normal fairways, the course needs some protection, and that's where the fescue comes into play. What Na pointed out could easily lead to a crippling double bogey. The length of various spots of fescue rises above knee-height, as you can see in the image below. 

Patches of the fescue left of the fairway on the 8th hole stretches above knee-high length.
Sean Zak

But it varies!

Two-time U.S. Open champ Andy North said it best Monday during his press conference: "Kevin Na gave us insight on what the fescue is like in places." Those last two words should be kept close to mind: in places. The fescue is thick and then it is thin, and then it is thick again and then thin again. At some point this week, a player will carry his shot even further away from the fairway and will be rewarded by landing in a thinner, more open area of the fescue. Take the picture below as evidence. The left half of the image was taken about 12 paces right of the fairway on the first hole. The right half of the image was taken about eight paces right of the fairway on the same hole.

These two photos were taken 20 feet from each other, and should paint the picture of how patchy the thick areas of fescue can be.
Sean Zak

If brown is good, green is bad

For those watching at home, the dark, forest green patches will be the most troubling for players. That’s where the grass is thickest and most able to make tiny golf balls disappear. That grabby grass kept a number of players from even playing from the deep stuff Monday. Jon Rahm won't even play from it before Thursday. "I didn't step in it," Rahm said. "Theres no need to injure my wrist this week before I tee off."

With that in mind, the tan, light green and even brown fescue is much thinner, less dense in its grouping and much easier for players to play from and swing through.

This fescue right of the long par-4 5th hole shows the brutality (and contrast) of the dark green patches and the thinner, tan areas.
Sean Zak

Proximity to the Green

It's not just dicey lies for tee shots that miss the fairway. Approach shots that miss the green will be also be in fescue danger as many holes are bordered by just tiny 3- to 4-yard strips of rough. Any extreme wind (and that’s common out here) could push players into delicate chips from unforgiving and unpredictable lies.

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