The Open is almost here
Erin Hills hosts preview day for the 117th U.S. Open


May 18, 2017

Diana Murphy, USGA president, answers a question while sitting on a panel with other members of the USGA and Erin Hills Wednesday afternoon during the U.S. Open Championship Preview Day at Erin Hills in the town of Erin.
John Ehlke/Daily News

TOWN OF ERIN — Washington County Administrator Joshua Schoemann was in a bit of awe with who was walking past him: Milwaukee Brewers great “Stormin’” Gorman Thomas.

Moments later, Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd walked past. Former Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg wasn’t far away.

“Gorman Thomas in Washington County?” Schoemann said Wednesday during media day at Erin Hills in preparation for the 117th U.S. Open, which begins with practice-round play June 12. “That doesn’t happen every day.”

The buzz, the excitement is growing.

“The USGA is incredibly excited to introduce Erin Hills to the golf world,” said Mike Davis, executive director and chief executive officer for the USGA.

From left, Murphy, Stu Francis, USGA Executive Director and CEO Mike Davis, Jeff Hall and Jim Reinhart with Erin Hills answer questions.
John Ehlke/Daily News

Jeff Hall, the USGA managing director, rules and open championships, added Erin Hills is primed to become the next iconic golf course in the world, alongside Pebble Beach, Shinnecock Hills, Pinehurst No. 2, Augusta National and St. Andrew’s.

“It’s the game’s newest grand stage, and we look forward to helping make that introduction to the golf world next month,” he said.

Washington County and southeastern Wisconsin are ready as well.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for our county and we’re really excited about it,” Schoemann said.

Since June 2010, Washington County has known Erin Hills was going to host the 2017 U.S. Open. To be this close is exciting, but also a relief.

Brian Depasquale holds the U.S. Open Championship trophy as former Milwaukee Brewers player Gorman Thomas points out names he recognizes Wednesday afternoon during the U.S. Open Championship Preview Day event at Erin Hills in the town of Erin.
John Ehlke/Daily News

Planning began as early as 2015.

“There’s a lot of pieces to it and because of that time frame to work with, it’s been put together pretty thoughtfully,” Washington County Sheriff Dale Schmidt said. “Obviously, the USGA does this every year with multiple championships. They know what they’re looking for. It’s more of a matter trying to find the resources.”

Schoemann said it’s exciting to say the U.S. Open at Erin Hills is less than 30 days away, rather than several years.

“It’s a little bit surreal, right?” he said. “Anything you anticipate for that long and it actually gets here, it takes a little bit to soak in. I think once we start seeing the tens of thousands of people start to lay foot on Erin Hills and in Washington County, it’ll really start to sink in.”

People are coming from all over the country and the world to witness — what several USGA officials said Wednesday — history. Fans and volunteers are coming from Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, South Dakota to name a few, but also Winnipeg and British Columbia, Canada.

“My father and I attended last year’s championship at Oakmont and we are hooked,” said Tyler Pettit of Grand Rapids, Michigan, in an email. “This is the closest it will be and it’s an opportunity unlike any other.”

Tanya Tressel is attending the championship from Okanagan Falls, British Columbia, Canada, calling the trip a “bucket list item.”

Tressel is also a Phil Mickelson fan and her husband loves Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

“Wisconsin was a win-win for us,” Tressel said in an email.

J. Stuart Francis, USGA executive committee member, said the global coverage of the championship — about 45 hours worth — will reach 190 countries.

“So the eyes of the world will certainly be upon Wisconsin in the next few weeks,” he said.

Schoemann said he and other county officials don’t believe there is pressure to make sure everything goes without a hitch. And the effects won’t end after the championship or in 2018.

“I expect you’re going to see a lot of economic growth from this,” Schoemann said. “The USGA, they tend to go to courses over and over and over. So, if this tournament goes as we think it might go and Mother Nature plays her role, we might see the USGA back. With that, I expect more and more tourists, more and more people to want to come to this area.”

Davis hinted at that possibility.

“Really when you think about it, this is a new venue for us, and we historically go to many of the tried and true venues that have been around in many cases for over a century,” he said. “So this is really a welcoming party, and I suspect that this will be the first of many.”

Schmidt and his department will oversee most of the law enforcement responsibilities, but will have help from several levels — local, regional, state and federal.

In addition to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the sheriff departments for Waukesha and Dodge counties will assist. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Wisconsin State Patrol will also help.

Schmidt said several staff members within his department, including some from the jail staff, will put in extra hours throughout the week to not only conduct law enforcement at the championship, but also to fulfill the needs of the county’s citizens.

“They’re supplying manpower under Wisconsin’s mutual aid laws and they’ll be reimbursed (by the USGA), just like our department,” Schmidt said.

So, Washington County, are you ready?

“For most people, it’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Schmidt said.

“It’s going to be neat,” Schoemann said.