While the PGA of America is asking us to 'Tee it forward,' the USGA is going way, way back.
In fact, we have a new record for longest USGA golf course setup: next week's U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills Golf Course near Milwaukee.
At a setup of 7,760 yards, it inches past last year's host, Chambers Bay near Tacoma, by 18 yards. The shortest hole is the 9th at just 134 yards, while the 18th is a meaty 675 yards - quite possibly long enough to be a three-shot hole for Bubba Watson.
Like Chambers Bay, the 2011 U.S. Amateur is somewhat of a lab rat for the USGA setup committee leading up to the 2017 U.S. Open, both in golf course setup and logistics outside the ropes. With fescue fairways, the course should play firm and fast, but the GCSAA notes it's been a hot and humid summer in Wisconsin, which isn't optimal for fescue turf more commonly used by the sea.
While it's always exciting for Joe Muni golfers to see the U.S. Open staged on a public golf course, it's tough for me to call Erin Hills a model course for the sustainability of the game, especially at this eye-popping length. Daily green fees are north of $200, which may be justifiable in Arizona but not rural Wisconsin (granted, nearby PGA Championship and Ryder Cup host Whistling Straits pushes $400 with a caddie). Erin Hills is set on 652 acres, about 3-4 times more than necessary for a traditional 18-hole course.
Some colleagues I've met who have played the course called it a long, grueling walk. And the fact it can't be a suitable test unless it's the longest golf course in USGA history doesn't say much for its efficiency in design. And the original owner, Bob Lang, went broke trying to make the course a U.S. Open venue, as detailed by Golf World's Matt Ginella last year in a great in-depth piece.
It seems like just a matter of time before we see the first 8,000-yard setup at a major (there are already a few courses that offer 8K, like Ross Bridge on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama), leaving the many classic golf courses of the 1920s that are stretched to the max at 6,400 yards shed another little tear of obsolescence.
I like the idea of more natural-appearing golf course design, but do we need 652 acres and 7,700-plus yards to do it?
D-Day for 8K may very well come in six years when the USGA returns to Erin Hills for the U.S. Open.