Southeastern Wisconsin is Midwest’s championship golf hub

The death of the U.S. Bank Championship (formerly known as the Greater Milwaukee Open) was certainly a disappointment to many Milwaukee area golf fans and businesses executives who used the golf tournament as a corporate hospitality venue.

The U.S. Bank Championship ended operations after last year’s tournament at Brown Deer Park Golf Course. The PGA Tour event had been played every year in the Milwaukee area since 1968.

However, despite the loss of Milwaukee’s PGA Tour event, southeastern Wisconsin has become the Midwest capital of championship golf and will host six major golf championships over the next decade.

The United States Golf Association recently announced that Erin Hills, located in the Town of Erin in Washington County, will be the host of the 2017 U.S. Open.

Erin Hills, which opened in 2006, hosted the 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and will also host the 2011 U.S. Amateur. The course was built on the rolling Kettle Morine landscape, which impressed USGA officials even before it opened.

“Erin Hills boasts one of the greatest natural inland sites for a golf course that I have ever seen,” said Mike Davis, USGA senior director of Rules and Competitions. “It was designed and is managed in ways that are respectful of the environment – and it also happens to be an excellent test of golf.”

Erin Hills was built by Bob Lang, who last year sold the course to Andy Ziegler, co-founder and CEO of Milwaukee-based Artisan Partners Limited Partnership. Lang made numerous modifications in an attempt to improve the course, but the cost of doing so was more than he could afford, so he decided to sell it.

Despite the beauty of Erin Hills’ natural setting, the golf course was in rough shape last year, in part because Lang lacked the resources to complete all of the improvements he wanted to do.

The course was closed for a major renovation project by golf course specialist Landscapes Unlimited of Lincoln, Neb., to finally bring it up to championship caliber. The course is scheduled to re-open on July 31.

“Bob Lang had a wonderful vision for Erin Hills,” Ziegler said. “We are building on that vision through significant course renovations and are dedicated to providing a world-class test of golf for players at both the 2011 U.S. Amateur and the 2017 U.S. Open.”

Prior to the arrival of Erin Hills, the Wisconsin championship golf scene was dominated by the Kohler Company, which owns Whistling Straits, located north of Sheboygan, and Blackwolf Run, located in the Village of Kohler.

Whistling Straits will host this year’s PGA Championship, plus the 2015 PGA Championship and the 2020 Ryder Cup.

Whistling Straits was the site of the 2004 PGA Championship and the 2007 U.S. Senior Open.

In addition, Blackwolf Run will be the site of the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open, which was played there in 1998.

The 1998 U.S. Women’s Open and 2004 PGA Championship were huge successes for Kohler Co. The U.S. Women’s Open set an attendance record of about 116,000, and attendance estimates for the PGA Championship were around 320,000.

Many of those golf fans will spend money at hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other area businesses. The economic impact of the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits was estimated at $76 million, according to a report by Madison-based NorthStar Economics Inc.

“(The championship golf tournaments) will have a tremendous economic impact,” said Paul Upchurch, president and CEO of Visit Milwaukee. “It will have a major impact on the local economy. We’re talking millions of dollars in impact for each of these events.”

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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