Tiger Woods could be prowling in the shadow of Holy Hill someday if Robert Lang's dream comes true. Lang, the owner of The Lang Companies and a developer who built the Williamsburg-style buildings that have revitalized downtown Delafield, is building a golf course a few miles west of Holy Hill in the Washington County Town of Erin. The undulating landscape that Lang is building the course on is so unique, it is already creating significant buzz in the golf world. The course will be called Erin Hills and it will open next summer.
"I want to build the most natural, traditional, challenging championship links-style golf course as possible," Lang said. "I want to build a championship golf course. I want to have the excitement of different events."
One year before Erin Hills is ready for golfers to tee off, it has already lured a national tournament. The United State Golf Association (USGA) 2008 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship tournament will be played at Erin Hills.
The USGA's unusual decision to award a tournament to a golf course that is still under construction demonstrates how excited the golf world is about Erin Hills. Several USGA officials have already visited the course, including USGA executive director David Fay, who toured Erin Hills last week.
"By the time 2008 rolls around, we think Erin Hills may be one of the most talked-about golf courses in the United States," Fay said.
"You find it hard to believe you are in the middle of the heartland," Fay said of the hilly Erin Hills site. "The topography change is pretty dramatic for this part of the world."
The USGA runs the U.S. Open, one of the four major tournaments for men's professional golf. The U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links tournament will give Erin Hills a chance to show USGA officials that the course is worthy of an even more significant tournament such as the U.S. Open, U.S. Women's Open or U.S. Senior Open.
"(The U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links) is a stepping stone," Lang said. "If we do well, they might invite us to do something else. What I want is the opportunity to try to earn the U.S. Open. They say golf is a journey. Chasing the U.S. Open is my journey. I might fail, but I'm going to give it all I can."
It's a little early to talk about the U.S. Open for Erin Hills, since the course has not opened yet, Fay said.
"Let's take it one step at a time," he said.
When Whistling Straits, the spectacular golf course built by the Kohler Co. north of Sheboygan on bluffs along Lake Michigan, opened in 1998, golf observers were already wondering when a major golf championship would be played there. Just six years later, in 2004, Whistling Straits hosted the PGA Championship. The tournament was a huge success for Kohler Co. and the Sheboygan area. Overall attendance at the event was about 314,000. Madison-based NorthStar Economic Inc. estimated that the event had an economic impact of over $76 million.
Whistling Straits will host several other major golf championships. The 2007 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 and 2015 PGA Championship and 2020 Ryder Cup are all scheduled to be held there.
The hilly, glacier-sculpted landscape of the Kettle Moraine area could make Erin Hills one of the top golf courses in the nation and, like Whistling Straits, capable of attracting major championship events.
"If it can be a course that draws one of the majors, the exposure that brings is tremendous," said Doug Neilson, president and chief executive officer of VISIT Milwaukee.
A major golf tournament at Erin Hills, such as the U.S. Open, would attract worldwide media coverage and prominent corporate guests to southeastern Wisconsin, and would fill hotel rooms in Milwaukee, just as the PGA Championship did last year, Neilson said.
Even when they are not hosting major tournaments, the parking lots at Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run in Kohler are frequently filled with vehicles bearing Illinois license plates. If it lives up to the hype, Erin Hills could also draw golfers from out of state.
The reason Erin Hills could be so special is the hilly land. The course is covered with dunes, valleys, hills, dales, eskers and ridges. No two holes on the course are alike. One hole is so hilly, it has been nicknamed "roller coaster."
Those undulations will provide a unique challenge and one-of-a-kind views for golfers who play at Erin Hills.
"I want this to be a unique experience like no other place they will play in the country," Lang said.
Another unique feature: Holy Hill National Shire of Mary, Help of Christians, can be seen from all over the golf course.
"What I didn't expect is that monastery, Holy Hill, that is some image to see from the golf course," Fay said.
That's appropriate because the landscape for Erin Hills was created mostly by God, not man. No dirt was moved on most of the holes. Even the greens were built to the shape of the land, not flat, so golfers will have their putting skills put to the test.
"This is all natural," Lang said.
Lang said he wants all golfers to have a chance to play Erin Hills. It will be a public course. Lang would not disclose what it will cost to play a round, but he said the prices will be lower than other championship caliber courses.
"I want to be as affordable as possible to play a championship level course," Lang said. "I don't want a country club atmosphere at all."
A self-described "hacker," Lang wants golfers of all skill levels to be able to play the course. The course will have six sets of tees. From the front tees, the course will be about 5,700 yards long, and from the far back tees, the course will be a beastly 8,100 yards long.
"We're trying to make it for every golfer," Lang said. "I want a course that offers the best natural challenge for the best players in the world, yet can be accessible for an ordinary player that shoots 105."
Lang found out about the Erin Hills property from Steve Trattner, who is the project manager for Erin Hills and will be the general manager of the golf course. Trattner worked briefly for the Wisconsin State Golf Association. After leaving the WSGA, he wanted to help develop a golf course. In the 1990s he drove around Ozaukee and Washington counties introducing himself to farmers and looking for a great golf course site.
A realtor introduced Trattner to a developer who was planning to build a golf course on 430 acres owned by Bernice Millikin. The property is now the heart of the 560-acre Erin Hills site. Trattner worked with that developer on the golf course project, but it fell through in 1997.
"It was the best site I had ever seen for a golf course, other than the Blackwolf Run River Course, which I got to see while it was being built," Trattner said. "I wanted to make sure some how, some way that property would become a golf course, because that's what it was destined to be."
In May of 1999, Millikin told Trattner that he had until Labor Day to find someone to buy her land or she was going to split it up and give it to her 11 grandchildren.
Trattner contacted several developers, including Lang, to try to convince them to build a golf course on the land.
At first Lang resisted, but then he agreed to see the property. He was planning to build a nine-hole golf course and after seeing the property, he decided to purchase it. However, not being a serious golfer, Lang said he did not fully realize what he had obtained.
"I just thought it was pretty land," Lang said.
Lang sent topographical maps to several of the top golf course architects in the nation. The architects were very excited about the property's potential. Then Lang realized he had a chance to build a special golf course. He hired Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, of Columbus, Ohio-based Hurdzan-Fry Golf Course Design Inc., and Golf Digest golf course architecture writer Ron Whitten to design Erin Hills.
"It's one of the five best pieces of property for golf I have ever seen," said Whitten, who has seen "hundreds" of golf course properties and has written about golf course design for 30 years. "It's untouched. The Kettle Moraine area around Milwaukee has dome-like hills and deep kettle holes. It brings to mind the landscape of Ireland."
In 2003, after he saw the Erin Hills property, Whitten sent a letter to Mike Davis, the senior director of rules and competitions for the USGA. Whitten told Davis that Erin Hills was a potential U.S. Open candidate and suggested he see it.
Just before the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Davis spent four hours walking Erin Hills with Whitten and Lang.
"It's a very rolling piece of land," Davis said. "I think it's going to be spectacular when it's done, but nobody knows how it will turn out. The real thing it's got going for it is it's got potential because it has a marvelous piece of property. You almost never see a piece of property that good."
During the visit, Lang asked Davis if the course could host a major tournament. Davis made suggestions to tweak the design so it could host tournaments with a large number of spectators.
The Erin Hills design provides plenty of space for spectators to watch the action and move from hole to hole, Davis said. Unlike some of the best courses in the nation, Erin Hills will have plenty of room for parking and tents for merchandise sales and other space needs for major tournaments.
"Could it host a U.S. Open down the road?" Davis said. "Possibly it could."
In mid-September, one month after Davis' visit, construction began on Erin Hills. Lincoln, Neb.-based Landscapes Unlimited LLC is the general contractor for the course construction project. About 25 people are working on building the course every day.
"It's been just a small crew going along so we don't go too fast and make mistakes," Lang said. He declined to disclose the cost to build the course.
In May, Lang received a surprise e-mail from Fay, whom he had never met. Fay offered Erin Hills the chance to host the 2008 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship. Lang jumped at the offer.
"We literally made the deal over the phone," Lang said.
The sandy soil at Erin Hills makes it an inviting place for golf tournaments, because it drains well if it rains, Davis said.
In part because of that sandy soil, Fay, Whitten and Davis all compared Erin Hills to Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., where the 2004 U.S. Open was played.
The designers' goal is to make Erin Hills one of the top golf courses in the nation, Whitten said. Some holes on the course are so unique, golf junkies will travel from all over for the chance to play them, he said.
"There are probably three or four holes unlike anything you will see in America," Whitten said.
Erin Hills will be an inland links course, similar in style to those found in Ireland and Scotland. Links courses are more natural, tend to be more undulating and have fewer man-made elements.
The ball rolls farther on hard, dry sandy soil on links courses like Erin Hills. That gives golfers longer distance on their shots, but can make it harder to control where those shots go. Golfers who stray out of the fairway at Erin Hills will have to hit their ball out of tall, natural grass. The fairways will have fescue grass.
"It's not going to be like Brown Deer or Milwaukee Country Club or any of those fine, bent grass, tree-lined parkland courses," Whitten said. "It won't be cushy and lush. It's going to be a harsh, hard, dry, fast running golf course."
Lang wants to keep Erin Hills as natural as possible. He bought three homes near the golf course, which will be demolished.
"The story is about the land," Lang said. "My goal is to preserve this course so it can never be developed. People will come out here and not see anything that isn't natural."
Lang does plan to rebuild an 1890s barn on the property for storage space and space for groups with golf outings at the course. He will build a stone farmhouse for the clubhouse, pro shop, bar and grill.
In three to seven years, Lang hopes to build a "Manor House" hotel overlooking Erin Hills. The hotel will have 25 to 40 rooms. In 10 years, he hopes to build nine Irish-style cottages with one to two rooms each.
Lang also hopes to create a synergy between Erin Hills and a boutique hotel and an upscale health club (see accompanying stories) that are being built in buildings he owns in downtown Delafield. The synergy will be similar to the relationship between the American Club in Kohler and Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits, he said.
The golf course business is tough, and it will not be easy to make a profit with Erin Hills, Lang acknowledges.
"It will probably be very difficult to make money" he said. "This is not going to be easy to make money. Anybody that's in golf has passion. To me, it's a journey. The passion I have is to make this the very best golf course it can be."
Lang said he feels lucky to have a chance to build this golf course.
"Every day I say, 'This is surreal, to be able to do this,'" he said. "When I was a kid, I was a caddy in my hometown of Danville, Ill. I loved the atmosphere around the golf course, the green grass and the activity around the pro shop. I never lost that."
Erin Hills could help Wisconsin become an even more popular golf destination. The American Club in Kohler is ranked one of the best golf resorts in the world because of Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run. Erin Hills is about an hour away from Kohler, so avid golfers may come to play the Kohler courses, Erin Hills and perhaps other top courses in the area such as Brown Deer Park Golf Course, The Bog in Saukville, The Bull in Sheboyan Falls and courses in Lake Geneva.
"Success breeds success," Whitten said. "Wisconsin is becoming a major golf
Erin Hills Golf Course
Where: South of County Highway O and one mile west of Highway 83, Town of Erin
When opening: Summer 2006
Web page: www.erinhills.com
Owner: Robert Lang
Designers: Mike Hurdzan and Dana Fry of Hurdzan-Fry Golf Course Design Inc., Columbus, Ohio, and Ron Whitten of Golf Digest
General contractor: Landscapes Unlimited LLC, Lincoln, Neb.
Size: 560 acres
Upscale Fitness Center Coming to Downtown Delafield
By Andrew Weiland, of SBT
Andy Littartz plans to open an upscale health club and wellness center at 514 Wells St. in downtown Delafield.
He is leasing the 41,000-square-foot Williamsburg-style building owned by Robert Lang, a developer and the owner of The Lang Companies. Known as the Jefferson Building, it was previously used by The Lang Companies for storage space.
Littartz declined to say what it will cost to create the health club, which will be called Be Fitness and Wellness Center. It will be a multi-million dollar project, he said.
The facility will open in late December, Littartz said.
Littartz owns Functional Fitness and Rehabilitation Institute. The business provides personal training, performance training and rehabilitation services. It occupies 1,000 square feet of leased space at the Lake Country Athletic Club in Hartland. In addition, Littartz and his firm are allowed to use the rest of the facilities in the health club. The leased space is for offices and therapy space.
Functional Fitness has grown since Littartz started the venture six years ago.
"The facility I'm at, I'm out of space and I need more," he said.
So Littartz is leaving the Lake Country Athletic Club and opening his own health club in Delafield.
The three-level health club in Delafield will have a mind-body area on the first floor with space for yoga, pilates, therapy pools, relaxation pools, a cold spa, massage area, locker rooms, steam room, a sauna and a quiet relaxation room.
The second floor will have a juice bar, a weight room, a cardiovascular room, an aerobics studio, offices and a conference room.
The third floor will be used for training, rehabilitation and sports medicine. It will have 30 yards of indoor field turf, a 60-yard track and a half basketball court. The third floor will also have an assessment area to evaluate the physical condition of members.
"You will get assessed professionally," Littartz said. "It will be a total body assessment to see where you are strong and where you are weak."
The health club will create an exercise program for customers who have the assessment done and the club will follow their progress on that program.
"We put in a lot of time and effort designing these things," Littartz said. "We really think this is going to be the way health clubs are going to be in the future."
It will cost $60 to $85 a month to be a member of the health club. Classes will cost extra.
Littartz hopes to take advantage of his health club's location near the Delafield Hotel, an upscale boutique hotel under construction next door, and Erin Hills, a unique golf course being built by Lang in the Town of Erin in southwestern Washington County. Visitors to the area who stay at the hotel and golf at Erin Hills might also want to work out or receive therapy at the health club.
"It's a great location," Littartz said. "It is right off the expressway, next to the hotel. It's in a booming area."
Littartz, 32, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in kinesiology. He also is the co-owner of Be Unlimited, a nutritional bar company he and Robin Gohsman of Hartland started last year. In October, 200 Target stores in 10 to 12 metro areas, including Milwaukee, will start carrying Be Unlimited bars. All Target stores will carry the bars by June of next year, Littartz said.
In addition, Littartz plans to change Functional Fitness into a consulting company to provide advising for fitness and wellness centers.
August 19, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI
Upscale Boutique Hotel Will Complement Erin Hills
By Andrew Weiland, of SBT
A 38-room upscale boutique hotel under construction in downtown Delafield will be marketed with the Erin Hills golf course, similar to the way the American Club in Kohler is marketed with Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits.
Delafield Hotel, scheduled to open in January, is being built in the three-story Washington Building, 434 Wells St. Previously, The Lang Companies used the building for storage space. The exterior of the building has the same brick, Williamsburg-style architecture of many of the other buildings developer and The Lang Companies owner Robert Lang has built in downtown Delafield.
The hotel will be owned by Andrew Ruggeri, who declined to disclose the cost of renovating the building for the hotel. He will be a tenant in the building, leasing the space from Lang.
Ruggeri helped develop and open Hotel Metro, the 65-room boutique hotel in downtown Milwaukee at 411 E. Mason St. Ruggeri managed Hotel Metro for four years.
He also owns Ruggeri's Ristorante, an organic Italian restaurant at 515 Wells St. in downtown Delafield. The restaurant will move into the first floor of the hotel building.
Delafield Hotel will be at least as luxurious as Hotel Metro, if not more so, Ruggeri said. The room rates will be about $250 to $325 a night, he said.
"It's going to be at a very high level," Ruggeri said. "The outside is going to have the downtown Delafield building look. The inside is going to be like casual elegance. It's going to be very comfortable."
The rooms will be about 600 to 800 square feet. Each will have luxury bathrooms designed by Kohler Co. with all Kohler products, including a five-head shower. The bath tubs will be European bubble jet tubs, each with 150 tiny holes to surround guests with bubbles as they bathe.
The rooms will also have custom mattresses on the beds with high thread count Egyptian cotton linens, 32-inch HDTVs, 15-inch LCD TVs in the bathrooms, two phone lines, high speed Internet access, DVD players and small stereos.
Ruggeri hopes the hotel will attract business travelers and golfers who want high-end accommodations. The hotel will have golf packages with Erin Hills and will offer a shuttle to take people from the hotel to the golf course and back.
The hotel will also have a 290-seat ballroom and a 65-seat meeting room. Plans also include "a really nice bar and lounge," Ruggeri said.
There will also be 50 underground valet parking spaces for guests.
Location: 434 Wells St., downtown Delafield
Owner: Andrew Ruggeri
Rates: $250 to $325 a night
Web page: www.delafieldhotel.com
August 19, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI