The Lodge at Erin Hills
Erin Hills is nestled in the rolling hills of Wisconsin, about a 45-60 minute drive northwest of Milwaukee and just over 2 hours from Chicago. The golf course, first opened in 2006, will be the site of the 2017 U.S. Open, has already hosted the 2011 U.S. Amateur and 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship, and is ranked #10 by Golf Digest in its list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses. An 11 room lodge and four villas provide quaint, if not spartan, accommodations, while the on-site culinary options are restricted to a full menu at the restaurant in the Clubhouse and a bar menu at the Irish Pub.
We chose to utilize GoRiteway, the transportation service recommended on the Erin Hills web site, to provide van service from the Milwaukee airport. Given the surly desk attendant at the airport and the one hour wait for a shuttle after our arrival (even though we provided our arrival time as part of the reservation), we would probably just rent a car next time. We do note that the drivers were quite pleasant, and the trip back from the resort was fine.
After pulling into the resort you arrive at the Clubhouse, which, like the other buildings on site, features exteriors of weathered wood and stone that blend smoothly into the surroundings. You proceed through the lobby of the Clubhouse to the desk at the Pro Shop, which serves double duty for checking in and out of the resort and for your tee times.
The Lodge is a short walk down a few sets of stairs from the Clubhouse, and is situated between the practice facility and the first tee. The Irish Pub on the first floor has one main bar room, which extends into a back lounge with televisions and poker tables, and a separate conference room (we understand that Erin Hills hosts many Corporate events…time for a Critical Golf off-site!). The pub leads outdoors to a porch with rocking chairs where you can smoke your cigar and tell tall tales about your shots of the day. You can also enjoy the sunset on the outside patio, which has tables and three fire pits overlooking the first hole. The other buildings on site are two large “barns” that operate as shacks for caddies and equipment, as well as for events.
The most endearing aspect of the Lodge at Erin Hills is the service – the staff, particularly within the restaurant, are all unfailingly welcoming, friendly, and willing to please. Perhaps it’s just the personality of the Midwest, but it’s terrifically refreshing for those of us coming from other parts of the country. It’s hard to understate the goodwill engendered by the genuine and engaging interactions we had with a variety of staff members.
Some of that goodwill, however, was eroded by our experience in the rooms. We booked single rooms within the Lodge, which is designed to resemble an inn one might stumble upon in the Irish countryside, complete with “antique furnishings” and “simple elegance.” The motif was fine, but the inferior finishes, cramped quarters, noise level and failures with modern technology in the room (see “Accommodations” below) led to a subpar experience. There are 11 rooms located on three floors of the Lodge, a combination of singles, one double, and one two-bedroom suite. The ground floor is predominantly occupied by the Irish Pub, with the bulk of the rooms on the second and third floors.
The Lodge at Erin Hills takes pride in the purity of its focus on golf, and we appreciate some aspects of that experience, such as the rules on walking-only and the convenience of being literally steps away from the first tee and the driving range/practice area. The lack of a fitness center, hot tub and massage facility…not so much.
We enjoyed our stay at Erin Hills – the grounds are picturesque, the people are fantastic, and the golf is spectacular. These factors, combined with relatively low price points both for the lodging and food, helped offset some hiccups with the rooms. On a future trip, we would probably opt for staying in one of the free-standing villas, which should alleviate the noise problems and provide a bit more space with a central common room that includes a fireplace and wet bar.
Another option if you have a bit more time and would like to play some additional golf is to stay at Whistling Straits, which is about an hour and a half drive from Erin Hills. There are multiple accommodation options near Whistling Straits and four spectacular courses, including the Straits course, the site of the 2004, 2010 and 2015 PGA Championships, the 2007 U.S. Senior Open and the 2020 Ryder Cup.
- Some of the brightest smiles and friendliest voices you’ll ever encounter.
- Occasionally lacking in precision, but a solution is always sought and eventually obtained.
- Rooms are small and somewhat cramped. Room layouts vary even for the singles, with some featuring closets and others making do with an armoire. The two singles to which we were assigned each had a small desk and chair.
- Attempt to make things feel “rustic” not quite successful, and instead imbues of a sense of being run-down (i.e. plasticky shower door glass, fake plastic “candles” as light fixtures).
- The air conditioner went out in the Lodge on one of the days of our stay – not ideal given the humidity. To the staff’s credit, they did come to one of our rooms to offer the use of a portable air conditioner for the evening…but strangely did not make the same offer to the other room, which left one of our editors a bit steamed (both literally and figuratively).
- No minibar…so no pouring a little something out for the Pro V1s left behind in the fescue. There was coffee, tea and hot chocolate. Four complimentary bottles of water were in the room on arrival and replaced each day – no attempt to fleece you with $8 bottles of H2O…
- Insufficient sound insulation, and the bathroom pipes made a loud knocking sound for a period of time each evening, which was not conducive to getting up for an early tee time the next morning.
- Satellite television and a flat-screen TV (28″ LG) are nice – but there was a problem in one of the rooms where the remote worked fine on the satellite receiver, but didn’t seem paired with the TV. So we were able to change channels, but couldn’t power the TV on/off or adjust the volume.
- Free wi-fi! But it isn’t very fast… Then again, you are on vacation, right?
- No gym at all.
- No spa or massage services available.
- A reasonably sized pro shop (comparable to what you would find at a typical golf course at around 1,000 square feet) with a range of brand offerings, including Peter Millar, Bobby Jones, and Polo. They carry Sunice rain gear and umbrellas for when the weather turns, as well as a handful of shoe options when your first pair gets waterlogged. There is a separate section for women in one corner of the shop.
- Breakfast, lunch and dinner offered in the Clubhouse restaurant, while a bar menu is available in the Irish Pub only from 2:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. Drinks are available in the pub until 11:30 P.M.
- Hearty fare – sizeable portions.
- Reasonable pricing.
- Entrées were well executed (with the exception of an overcooked piece of trout), but not particularly sophisticated – the duck quesadilla with a cherry salsa and the smoked trout pate appetizers were exceptionally good.
- Menu lacking in lighter options – and no, the wedge salad with bacon doesn’t count as “light”.
INTEGRATION WITH GOLF COURSE
- Rooms are just steps from the golf course and practice facility.
- No attendant after you finish a round, so if you want clubs stored overnight, you have to seek someone out (presumably if you use a caddie they will take care of that for you).
- At $210/night for a single room with a queen sized bed, this was the least expensive rate per person among the resorts we’ve reviewed.
- Lack of a fitness center and some sort of hot tub and/or massage option count are detriments – the idea of an intensely golf-focused resort is attractive, but a way to work out the kinks in the muscles after a long round is almost a necessity.