“U.S. Open 2017,” he wrote in an email dated June 3, 2006. “I’ll bet everything I own.”
The course opened prematurely in August 2006, and while Golf magazine named Erin Hills the year’s best new public layout, others condemned it. Bradley S. Klein, senior writer for Golfweek, christened it Errant Hills.
Nevertheless, in 2008, the U.S.G.A. announced that Erin Hills would host the 2011 U.S. Amateur, which is widely considered a steppingstone to the ultimate prize of the U.S. Open. Davis mentioned some course enhancements; Lang heard face-lift.
He took out another loan and added 103 bunkers; built tees that stretched the course to over 8,000 yards and a par 73; bulldozed a green without the architect’s consent; kicked Whitten off the team; and spent frivolously to buy homes that tarnished the course’s vistas.
“He kept buying houses because he didn’t want to see a house from the golf course,” Whitten said. “He’d pay a ridiculous amount.”
As obsessed as the fictional Ray Kinsella in the movie “Field of Dreams,” Lang nevertheless felt the financial strain. Driving home from the course one day in July 2009, he pulled over in front of an old tavern.
“I had a come-to-Jesus with myself,” he said. “I had no choice. I had to sell.”
With Lang on the verge of insolvency, Jim Reinhart, a former U.S.G.A. executive committee member and general chairman of the 2017 U.S. Open, orchestrated the sale of Erin Hills to Andy Ziegler and his wife, Carlene. They were the co-founders of Artisan Partners Holdings, a Milwaukee-based global investment management firm.
Initially, Ziegler balked at a deal, but he agreed to fly to Tulsa, Okla., site of the 2009 U.S. Amateur, and listened as Reinhart broke the news to the U.S.G.A. leadership that Lang faced foreclosure and that the condition of the course would never meet U.S.G.A. standards for the U.S. Amateur by 2011.
“Andy was ready to throw in the towel and I…