The 2015 golf season at Erin Hills has come to an end. The end of the season marks the beginning of fall projects to improve and maintain the golf course in preparation for the 2017 U.S. Open. In the past, fall projects have focused on construction and have included remodeling golf holes, installing tees for the U.S. Open, and expanding the practice facility. This year the focus has shifted from construction to refinement. Enhancements to playing surfaces to improve the player experience was the primary goal. Therefore, this fall we focused on green firmness, bunker consistency, invasive grasses in fairways, and walk path repair.
Putting green speed and turf coverage are likely the determining factors when guests of Erin Hills judge the quality of greens. I would argue that professional players also include firmness when assessing greens quality. The USGA tests firmness using a device called a TruFirm during every day of championship course preparation. Both green speed and firmness are recorded and closely monitored.
This fall Erin Hills took measures to increase greens firmness by DryJect aerifing greens. Conventional aerification removes a core from the green and staff replaces the void with sand or an amendment. DryJect uses water pressure to force sand into the putting surface without removing a core. During this process over 50 tons of sand were injected into the putting surfaces. This increases the bulk density of the sand base greens profile. The greater the bulk density in the profile, the firmer the putting surface. This process will be repeated again in the spring and will significantly enhance the putting green surface at Erin Hills.
Bunker consistency refers to the playing condition of the sand within each bunker. Over time, bunker sand can become contaminated with soil, the depth of the sand can shift, and drainage can fail. This impacts the firmness of the sand, thus impacting the ability to play out of a bunker. All 139 bunkers at Erin Hills were evaluated and necessary corrections were implemented. Drainage was repaired, contaminated sand was replaced, and the depth on every bunker was returned to its original height. This will provide a consistent playing surface in every bunker.
Invasive grasses are a concern for any fine fescue golf facility. Fescue is not a strong competitive grass, allowing bentgrass and poa annua to easily infiltrate. Poa annua and bentgrass impact playability. A ball might come to rest on a patch of invasive grasses and result in an undesirable lie. This fall Erin Hills selectively eliminated all bentgrass in the fairways. Additionally, applications of a new product, PoaCure, were applied in selected areas of approaches to eliminate poa annua. Early results are promising with bentgrass nearly eradicated from fairways and a significant amount of poa annua removed from approaches. The elimination of these grasses will provide consistent surfaces for the lie and roll of the ball.
The final enhancement included an evaluation of walk paths. Over the last five years Erin Hills has introduced walk paths from tees to fairways and greens to tees. Three different materials have been tested and used, depending on the severity of the walk path slope. Analysis of the three materials has been performed and the superior product has replaced the two inferior materials. Walk paths are now comprised of a consistent material, providing a better experience for players and a better aesthetic for the course.
Consistency has been the goal for this fall’s projects. Erin Hills strives to provide the best experience for all guests and consistent playing conditions will help us to achieve this goal.