Many associated with golf understand the special nature of the game that creates a vast array of experiences. Some are casual, others memorable while the truly special ones are life-altering.
In many cases golf becomes a passion. It’s easy to develop this state of mind. First of all, it is a tremendous game. Secondly, you’ll meet wonderful people within its realm. Third, it can take you to some incredible venues and forge memories that will last a lifetime. It doesn’t matter if you’re a competitive player or a casual participant, once golf gets in your blood it’s all good in so many ways.
This story may follow various paths. My keyboard often takes me to unforeseen places. Yet this article is wrapped around the game but it is more about a man, a man I consider to be a friend. Had our paths not crossed at Erin Hills, I know my life would lack a certain spirit. Bob Lang eludes that type of feeling.
This summer the 2017 Men’s US Open golf championship will be contested at Erin Hills, just west of Milwaukee. It is likely to be one of the most, if not THE most, significant sporting events in Wisconsin’s history (sorry Ice Bowl fans). Folks in the Badger state are avid supporters of sport in all shapes and sizes. This US Open will be a tremendous success and I’ll guarantee the USGA will quickly award another championship to the course soon after this one has been decided.
Bob Lang, whether he likes it or not, is responsible for the US Open coming to Erin Hills. Lang built the course but later was forced to sell the property in 2009 when the money ran out. Recently I had a phone conversation with Bob that was much more about life thankfully than golf. As he told me, this year’s Open is the story — the players, the fans, the venue, the game. It is not about him.
Having been a part of this game for most of my life, I’ve met people like Bob. They do incredible things but more importantly, they are incredible individuals. The funny thing is, they’re really just ordinary folks who understand life and opportunity. Lang is a creative sort, philosophical in many ways. While having to step aside from an amazing golf property seems hard to grasp, Bob is pretty much the same guy now as when I first met him. I remember that summer day, Bob holding a rake in his hand with dirt covering his boots, constructing a new teeing ground for the current seventh hole.
I penned a previous article featuring a behind-the-scenes look at what transpired at Erin Hills regarding the change of ownership. In the piece I offered my interpretation as to what happened. I did not interview Bob Lang about the story. In no way did he share anything about the details of selling the property to Andy Ziegler at the time.
Getting to the heart of this story, I’m not going to discuss the US Open being awarded to Erin Hills. During my phone conversation with Lang he made it clear that this summer’s event is only about the players, the tournament and people like Mike Davis, the Executive Director/CEO of the USGA. Several folks in the golf media have contacted Bob about an angle to the development of Erin Hills, but he’s not likely to talk. As he said, it’s not about him.
So what did we talk about you might ask? Well, we talked about life, people, opportunities, family, each of us volunteering anecdotes from our life experiences, some relating to golf. We laughed along the way. There were personal stories shared during the conversation. In truth I didn’t want to hang up the phone.
One of the things I took away from talking with Bob is that he values relationships. He spoke of his high regard for his staff in those days starting out where everyone pitched in and did what had to be done. Sadly I learned one of his former employees, a person I had worked alongside at Blackwolf Run, had passed away. I cannot ever remember this man not having a smile on his face. His enthusiasm was infectious.
For those who have ever worked in the golf business, they clearly see the common thread that sews people together through their love of the game. I believe it’s one of the things that has impacted Lang the most through his experience at Erin Hills. He has plenty of stories and speaks highly of the people who worked WITH him, not necessarily for him.
At one point in our conversation we arrived at the place when Bob simply wanted to build a nine-hole golf course for his friends and family. Nothing over the top, just a place to spend some down time swapping stories over a few good shots and a cold drink. As he told me, the process involved with developing anything goes from idea — dream — execution — reality. So it happened with Erin Hills. The dream changed, as they so often do. In the end to Lang, it wasn’t a bad thing.
After I hung up the phone I sat for a minute to digest the conversation we shared. Anytime you learn a little bit more about an individual that confirms your initial impression, chalk that up to time well spent. If there was perhaps one message Bob may have wanted to convey it would be this:
Don’t allow things that people do overshadow who they are.
Count it as a golf lesson and a life lesson.
This June I’ll be heading down to Erin Hills to catch some of the action on the fairways. Yet I’ll be looking at other things behind the scenes Bob shared with me. Nothing that might interest a casual observer but for me, you know I like those “Now you know the rest of the story,” aspects.
Oh, and by the way Bob, if you happen to read this, thanks for picking up the phone.