Erin Hills was always intended to be a U.S. Open golf course. The path getting there gave it’s original owner more headaches than the fescue that daunts players this week.
In 2004, Bob Lang bought Erin Hills, funded by his own pockets, with the intention and dream of one day hosting the U.S. Open. According to multiple reports, Lang borrowed $11 million to build the course initially, hoping to fulfill the long list of requirements needed for the USGA to approve it.
“He had this dream,” said David B. Fay, the executive director of the United States Golf Association for 21 years through 2010, “and I think it became an obsession.”
After the initial investment, Lang hosted the 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship. It was then that the USGA critiqued Lang’s work and made some suggestions for the builder to make it U.S. Open worthy. With the check marks waiting to be filled in, Lang went a bit slap happy and spent another $15 million on the course, including the inheritance of his three children.
According to Gary D’Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Lang borrowed another $2 million at the time — “ten times as much as he needed” — and made more changes to the course. He also spent another $3 million to build a new clubhouse. But he didn’t stop there. His need for perfection consumed him, which led to his wildest decision that eventually ended in his bankruptcy.
Bob Lang didn’t want anyone playing at Erin Hills to see a house, so he bought up to 150 acres of land surrounding the course. “He’s buying these properties because he doesn’t like a farmhouse up there in the distance,” said Erin Hills architect Dana Fry.
“They had to be removed because, from my point of view, I wanted Erin Hills, when you played, you’d never see a house,” Lang told the Golf Channel. “That was my goal.”
According to the Golf Channel, the going rate for the land at that time was $6,500 an acre, which would have meant a total cost of approximately $975,000. Lang ended up paying an average of $37,000 per acre for a total bill just north of $5.5 million.
He began to feel the financial strain of his investment and Lang eventually had to sell the course to billionaire Andy Ziegler in 2009. The sale price for the course — not including other considerations — was $10,041,900 according to Washington County tax records. Lang said he had spent more than $25 million on it. All hope was not lost though, because the day that Lang sold the course, the USGA decided to hold the 2017 U.S. Open there.
Although Ziegler saved the day by becoming the second investor in this Wisconsin golf course, it was Bob Lang’s dream that brought the course it is today into fruition. The reality of one man’s dream will soon become a dream come true for another.