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Bittersweet Success

June 28, 2010
June 28, 2010

Table of Contents
June 28, 2010

GOLF PLUS
LEADING OFF
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
NBA FINALS
2010 WORLD CUP

Bittersweet Success

Erin Hills gets its Open, but too late for the man who first had the dream

Don't write this, Robert Lang told me almost three years ago when I was researching my first story on Erin Hills. It'll sound corny, he said. Then he described how he closed an 11th-hour deal to buy the beautiful, rugged land on which he planned to build his dream golf course before his nonrefundable bridge loan expired. It was Dec. 7, 2001, and Lang was so moved by the turn of events that he went to the ground overlooking his majestic kingdom (now the 8th green), got down on his knees and vowed to turn this piece of earth into something special.

This is an article from the June 28, 2010 issue

What's corny about a passionate man with a dream? Nothing. On June 16 the dream came true when the USGA awarded the 2017 U.S. Open to Erin Hills, a fledgling public golf course sequestered in a rural area about 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee. It was a Cinderella story, but with a twist.

The fast lane to the U.S. Open proved expensive, too expensive for Lang. Almost as soon as the course was completed in 2006, and before he had a chance to recoup his investment, Lang poured more money into Erin Hills, making changes he hoped would render the layout Open-ready. He changed—and spent—too much too fast. Lang was forced to sell the course in 2009 and will most likely recover less than half of the $20 million he invested.

The new owner is Andy Ziegler, a Wisconsin guy and a hardball global money manager in charge of nearly $50 billion. He may be cast as The Man Who Saved the Open for Wisconsin, but the truth is he did what he does best—made a shrewd business deal. He bought a property at a discounted price and got himself the U.S. Open that another guy had spent so much time and money chasing, something that other smart rich guys who love golf, such as Donald Trump, have not yet accomplished.

The course itself is something of a mystery, since it has been closed for repairs for most of its brief existence. But that's all right. There's plenty of time before 2017 to explore Erin Hills's rolling terrain, fescue-lined fairways and manly par-4 holes. After yet another round of improvements, the walking-only course will reopen on July 31. Trust me, it's worth the trip.

Now Wisconsin has an Open to go with a PGA Championship (this August at Whistling Straits) and a Ryder Cup (2020 at the Straits). Ziegler has a course with instant cachet. And Lang, the man who started it all, can be satisfied that he made good on his vow. Erin Hills got its Open.

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PHOTOTODD BIGELOW/AURORA (ERIN HILLS)HIGHER GROUND The Holy Hill monastery overlooks Erin Hills.PHOTODONALD B. KRAVITZ/CAL SPORT MEDIA (THOMPSON)