Home' Australian Golf Digest : June 2017 Contents 74 australiangolfdigest.com.au | june 2017
was upon us. So in late July 2009, more than
a year since my last visit, I drove to Erin Hills
to see for myself. Bob was not there. As I
walked the course, I became depressed. The
putting surfaces were OK, but the fairways
looked badly neglected. The native rough,
what Bob had always called “sea of fescue”,
was mostly weeds and thistles. Crews were
busy digging more bunkers and adding new
cartpaths instead of tending to the course.
It was apparent that Bob, on his own,
had added 100-plus bunkers, because they
looked so amateurish. (Twelve were filled in
by Mike and Dana, and others were rebuilt.)
The morning after my visit, I received a
brief e-mail from Bob. “I know it must hurt
to see some things,” he said. “Mike Davis
says it’s fabulous. He is the barometer.”
I wrote Bob a stern response. “ Your self-
indulgence is jeopardising the future of
Erin Hills,” I said. “ You had the talents of
Mike Hurdzan and Dana Fry, yet most of the
bunkers were done without their knowledge
or guidance ... The course is a mess. It looks
like it’s a year from being ready to open for
play. And yet you’re accepting tee-times on
a painfully apologetic reduced rate ... You
have created more maintenance headaches
without addressing the maintenance budget
or manpower needed ... Your continued
ripping up and refashioning of the course
has put the 2011 US Amateur in jeopardy ...
There is only one solution, Bob ... You need
to bring in a partner and relinquish control
to that partner.”
Three months later, on October 24, 2009,
Bob Lang surprised many, including me, by
selling Erin Hills outright to Andy Ziegler,
a highly successful Milwaukee investment
fund manager. I didn’t hear the news from
Bob. Instead, I read about it on a newspaper
website. Bob later gave details to one of my
Golf Digest colleagues, telling him that
after all those course enhancements, he’d
run out of money.
Bob and I are friends again now. I
feel bad that he lost the course, but I’m
relieved – Ziegler took immediate steps so
that Erin Hills could, as he told a reporter,
“earn a second chance to make a good first
impression”. Without him, I think we would
have lost the US Amateur.
Ziegler had Mike and Dana build a new
10th green, shortening the hole to a par
4, ridding the layout of its par 73 and our
wacky Biarritz green. At Davis’ suggestion,
Ziegler relocated the third green. He built a
state-of- the-art maintenance facility (Bob
had been content with a metal building
with no running water) and increased the
maintenance budget dramatically. He
expanded the practice facility, now one of
the most elaborate in America, built a new
clubhouse and eventually added several
overnight cottages patterned after those at
Pine Valley and Augusta National.
Most important, Ziegler brought stability
to Erin Hills. Soon after the purchase, Davis
offered a public voice of confidence in
At the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach, it
was formally announced that Erin Hills
would host the 2017 US Open. Hurdzan and
Fry were in attendance. Ziegler’s office had
invited me to attend, but I declined. Bob was
there, in the shadows, listening through a
crack in a door while the USGA made the
announcement. Hurdzan later spoke with
him that day and said Bob felt vindicated.
RANDOM CLOSING THOUGHTS
I’ll never live down the suspicion that
Whitten screwed up Erin Hills so badly that
Hurdzan and Fry had to tear it up to repair
his mistakes. It’s still the same course we all
built, just with three different greens and a
bunch of extra bunkers. But I know others
will view its history differently.
In 2012, Hurdzan and Fry dissolved
their partnership and formed rival firms.
I’ve worked on a couple of design projects
since Erin Hills, but the economy has not
been kind to any of us. Mike and Dana
are still design consultants for Erin Hills;
they afforded me input on recent changes.
We’ve all remained friends and have jointly
promoted Erin Hills in advance of the US
Open. I’m proud of my involvement and
my contributions, and I’m pleased to have
worked with them.
Mike and I liked Erin Hills more when it
still had giant specimen trees along certain
hillsides. They’re all pale green ghosts now,
except for a magnificent red oak on the
15th hole, all chopped down under Dana’s
direction. Though I agree with him that their
removal expanded long-range vistas, their
absence eliminates a third dimension to the
course. Trees had once reached 100 feet or
more in the air, far higher than the highest
dune. Now the ceiling has been dropped.
Longer than half a century ago, golf
writer Herbert Warren Wind, my oracle of
course architecture, wrote, “If the greens,
the bunkering and the fairway contours
appear to have been built by nature and
not by bulldozers, the designer has created
a successful course.” By that standard, I
consider Erin Hills an unqualified success.
We accomplished what we set out to do:
build a natural course at a reasonable cost.
It’s simply a bonus that it’s hosting the US
Open. I do believe there will be many more
of those in its future.
I have in my files an e-mail from Bob
Lang dated June 3, 2006: “US Open 2017,” he
wrote. “I’ll bet everything I own.”
In a very real sense, he did.
Erin Hills is insanely long if
played from the very back tees.
066-077_AGD0617_Erin Hills.indd 74
3/05/2017 1:40 pm
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