The big stage

Erin Hills golf course.

Wisconsin has been a regular host for championship professional golf in recent years. But until now, the Kohler Co.’s golf courses in Sheboygan County have dominated the spotlight.

Whistling Straits was the site of the PGA Championship in 2004, 2010 and 2015. Blackwolf Run hosted the U.S. Women’s Open in 1998 and 2012.

This year, it’s Erin Hills’ turn. In June, the public golf course in southwestern Washington County – about 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee – will host the U.S. Open, perhaps the biggest championship event in men’s professional golf (its $12 million in total prize money is the highest purse). It will be the first time the U.S. Open is held in Wisconsin.

A natural beauty

“We are especially looking forward to bringing the U.S. Open to Erin Hills,” said Stuart Francis, United States Golf Association (USGA) Championship Committee chairman. “It’s an American original with immense natural beauty that will have the chance to showcase itself as one of the premier facilities in the nation.”

Erin Hills, which opened in 2006, was developed by Robert Lang, former owner of The Lang Cos. Its site, the Kettle Moraine, was sculpted by glaciers more than 20,000 years ago, and golf course architects Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten made few changes to its undulating topography when designing Erin Hills.

“There is a wonderful feel to Erin Hills, both completely connected to its natural environment and challenging, with architectural nuances that entice players to be creative and competitive,” said Mike Davis, executive director and chief executive officer of the USGA.

“I compare Erin Hills to some of the great U.S. Open sites, like Shinnecock (Hills Golf Club in Southampton, New York), Pebble Beach (Golf Links in Monterey County, California) and Oakmont (Country Club near Pittsburgh). This stands up with all of them.”

Lang sold Erin Hills in 2009 to Andrew Ziegler, co-founder of Milwaukee-based money management firm Artisan Partners, who made improvements to the course that were necessary for it to host the U.S. Open.

“I am biased, but I think it will be the most important sporting event in the history of the state,” Ziegler said in 2010 when the USGA awarded the U.S. Open to his course.

Erin Hills has been closed since early October and will not reopen until the U.S. Open practice rounds begin. Ziegler wanted it to be in pristine condition for the tournament.

The U.S. Open will establish Erin Hills as a national golf destination; the course was recently ranked 44th best in the U.S. by Golf Digest magazine.

The tournament will be nationally telecast by the FOX Network and Fox Sports 1. It will span the week of June 12-18, including four tournament days, plus practice round days. More than 35,000 spectators are expected to attend each day of the tournament.

Big economic impact

Visit Milwaukee says the U.S. Open will have a $60 million economic impact on the Milwaukee metropolitan area, and the USGA says the economic impact on the southeastern Wisconsin region will be $125 million.

If the tournament is a success, the U.S. Open could return to Erin Hills in the future, which would provide another boost for the state’s economy and further build the national reputation of the golf course.

The event also presents unique opportunities for Wisconsin businesses to entertain clients in style, with prices ranging from about $9,000 for a one-day corporate table at one of the six holes offering hospitality tents, to $325,000 for a platinum premier tent package on the 18th hole. Bethesda, Maryland-based Ridgewells Catering will provide the food, sourcing many ingredients from local companies.

“What’s unique about our championship as opposed to, say, the Super Bowl, which is only one night, (is at the U.S. Open) you can really talk with your corporate patrons, your business prospects. You can really spend quality time with them,” said Janeen Driscoll, director of public relations for the USGA.

Big news for Wisconsin golfers

The U.S. Open isn’t the only major golf news in Wisconsin this year. The LPGA Tour will come to Wisconsin in 2017, with the inaugural Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic held from July 3-9 at the Thornberry Creek at Oneida golf course near Green Bay.

Business leaders in the state looking for an elite golf experience, either for themselves or to entertain clients, will enjoy yet another option this year with the much-anticipated opening of Sand Valley Golf Resort near Nekoosa in central Wisconsin. Sand Valley is being developed by Mike Keiser, who also developed the acclaimed Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon. 

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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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