News & ToursOctober 22, 2009

Erin Hills to change hands, still has Open in its sights

If Wisconsin's Erin Hills GC ends up landing the 2017 U.S. Open, the man most passionate about bringing it there won't necessarily be the one rolling out the welcome mat. A press release on Thursday announced that founder and developer Bob Lang was to sell the celebrated venue to businessman Andy Ziegler.

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The co-founder and CEO of Artisan Partners Limited Partnership, Ziegler says that the public facility, located 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee, will remain public and will maintain its efforts to attract high-profile championship events.

"We intend to continue in the direction Bob Lang has started by making the investments necessary to allow Erin Hills to achieve its potential as a championship venue," Ziegler said in a release Thursday morning.

The sale of the course from Lang to Ziegler could close as early as tomorrow. The purchase price was not disclosed.

USGA officials, including executive director David Fay and senior director of championships Mike Davis, have long been enamored with the course, designed by Mike Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Golf Digest architecture editor Ron Whitten on a picturesque 650-acre plot (more Golf Digest photos of Erin Hills can be viewed here). Before Erin Hills even opened in 2006, it was awarded the 2008 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links. When it was named to host the 2011 U.S. Amateur Championship, many industry insiders felt confident it was only a matter of time before the USGA awarded the course the Open, specifically the 2017 edition.

Similarly, Lang, a successful businessman himself in the card and stationary business, has been fixated with holding the USGA's biggest championship on his course. When Davis and others with the USGA suggested various refinements to the course, Lang didn't hesitate, shutting down the facility last fall to make changes to several holes. Only last July did the course re-open.

Recently, though, talk that Erin Hills would get the '17 U.S. Open was a fait accompli seems to have quieted. While the USGA still wants to bring the Open to a Midwestern venue, other suitors -- most notably Cog Hill GC outside Chicago -- have begun lobbying efforts in hopes of landing the event. Additionally, the fact that Whistling Straits' hosting the 2015 PGA Championship might also be a concern among some USGA executive committee members hesitant to bring another major championship to the state so soon.

Aside from a change in ownership, patrons of the facility aren't likely to see any noticeable changes following the sale. In first reporting the purchase in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Oct. 21, golf writer Gary D'Amato noted that Ziegler will maintain the current operations team, keeping director of golf Kent Instefjord and superintendent Zach Reineking. Ziegler will become chairman of a newly established board of directors but won't be involved in the day-to-day operations of the course, according to D'Amato.

Not to be overlooked is the fact that among the board members is Jim Reinhart, a former VP of the USGA.

-- Ryan Herrington

(Photo by Stephen Szurlej)

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