The U.S. Open comes to Wisconsin this year for the first time in 117 stagings. The tournament, one of the four Major Championships of professional golf (along with the Masters, the British Open and the PGA Championship), attracts the biggest names in golf, along with thousands of volunteers and members of the golf industry. Erin Hills Golf Course in the Town of Erin is hosting it, and local businesses – whether in the golf industry or the hospitality industry – are looking forward to it with great anticipation. According to the USGA, which puts the Open on, past versions have generated some $120 million in positive economic impact to their host communities.
Milwaukee Golf Co.
The U.S. Open may be coming to Wisconsin this month, but Erin Hills is not the only local course that’s preparing for it.
Frank Romano, co-owner of Milwaukee Golf Co., which owns and operates six local courses, says his venues are preparing for a surge in play, too. Many groups associated with the golf industry hold meetings around a major tournament, he says, “and those people all go out and play golf.”
Romano says 15,000 people connected with the industry, or covering it for the press, come to town, along with up to 40,000 spectators. That will be good for Romano’s golf courses in Oconomowoc, Slinger, Grafton, Menomonee Falls, Germantown and Pewaukee.
The Oconomowoc course, La Belle Golf Club, is the oldest of these – built in 1896 and founded by Chicago retailer Montgomery Ward and Milwaukee beer magnate Capt. Fred Pabst. Interestingly, two pros who worked at that course around the turn of the 20th century – Willie Anderson and Alex Smith – had six victories in the U.S. Open between them. Anderson won it four times, Smith twice.
Romano is on the board of the National Golf Course Owners Association, and he says Wisconsin golf is getting much more respect in the industry now than when he came on the board 20 years ago – which he attributes to golf course developers Herb Kohler, Mike Keiser and Erin Hills owner Andy Ziegler.
“Those three gentlemen have put us on the global map as a must-see destination,” says Romano.
Mary Hafeman Golf Experience
Another business likely to get some love as the whole region focuses on golf is the Mary Hafeman Golf Experience, which is based at Missing Links Golf Course & Driving Range in Mequon.
Hafeman is a former LPGA player who specializes in teaching the game to women and juniors. She’s won numerous awards for her teaching, including a 2016 PGA National Player Development Award. She grew up in West Bend and went to the University of Florida on a golf scholarship, and now she teaches in both Florida and Wisconsin. She started her Mary Hafeman Golf Experience business in Florida in 2009, and has been here going on five years.
“Getting women and kids into the sport, you have to have more unique programs,” she says. She gives both group and individual lessons, and her slogan is “Where learning is fun and results are guaranteed.” Men are among her students, too.
Hafeman also puts together golf trips; many of the people who travel with her are clients or former clients, she says. This year two groups are going to Ireland, and another to Bandon Dunes in Oregon, a resort owned by Mike Keiser, the developer of the brand new Sand Valley Golf Resort in central Wisconsin.
The Oregon course has a high cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and fairways planted with gorse by the Scottish sheep farmer who originally owned the land – just like the fairways at St. Andrew’s in Scotland, Hafeman says.
Next year the destinations will include South Africa and Durango, Colorado.
Golden Mast Restaurant
Another business that stands to benefit from the influx of golf enthusiasts is Weissgerber’s Golden Mast Inn on Okauchee Lake.
Lisa Marks, who owns the restaurant with her father, Hans Weissgerber Jr., expects some of the people drawn to the U.S. Open will want to enjoy the culture of Southeastern Wisconsin’s Lake Country, and the Golden Mast is ready to give them that experience.
“It brings people from all over the country to our area,” says Marks, who manages the restaurant, which is about 20 minutes from Erin Hills. “They can sit outside and get intimate with what Wisconsin lakes are all about.”
The restaurant has a large patio for dining right on Okauchee Lake. It offers steaks and fish and is known for its German food – a staple of old Milwaukee. Fine and casual dining are both offered, along with a newer small-plate menu.
There’s a happy hour during the week, live music on Wednesdays, a popular fish fry on Fridays and an all-you-can-eat Sunday champagne brunch with chefs’ stations – and even flaming desserts.
What makes it even more special: This year is the restaurant’s 50th anniversary.
This boutique hotel, with 38 luxury rooms, also is going to be very busy the week of the Open.
Erin McDonald, general manager, says the place was booked for the weekend of the tournament as early as April. And Delafield itself is ready for the influx of spectators. The inaugural Delafest will kick off during the tournament downtown, with food and drink from local establishments, live music Friday and Saturday nights and family entertainment during the day Saturday.
The city has a special connection to Erin Hills, which is about 16 miles away, McDonald says, because the course’s original developer also was an influential developer in Delafield.
In support of the Open, the hotel will provide transportation to Oconomowoc each day so guests can meet an official shuttle to Erin Hills.
Guests at the hotel also will be close to many additional recreational and free-time opportunities, McDonald says, including free access to the beFitness center next door. There is boutique shopping and fine dining in Delafield’s city center, hiking and biking at nearby Lapham Peak State Park and water sports – rental boats, kayaks and paddleboards – on many nearby lakes.
One of the biggest benefits of staying at the Delafield Hotel is its in-house restaurant, I.d.
I.d. is high-energy, fun and inviting, offering a contemporary shared-plate dining experience with creative American dishes, boutique wines, Wisconsin beer and craft cocktails.
The restaurant is preparing for the golf fans, too. They may move the opening of the bar a little earlier, for spectators taking a break in the afternoon. They also plan to serve breakfast in the restaurant to hotel guests – something that’s usually available only through room service.
The feeling is that there are going to be a lot of people who would probably appreciate a nice, sunny place to sit in the morning, and could benefit from starting their day with a full belly before heading up to Erin Hills.
There’s a veranda for open-air dining, community-style tables and a chef’s dining bar looking into the open kitchen. It was named one of Milwaukee’s Best New Restaurants last year by Milwaukee Magazine. Dinner is served seven nights a week, and brunch is offered Sundays.
The Navy Knot
The Navy Knot, located in Whitefish Bay, is a shop unique to Wisconsin. Owner Lisa Kelly and her daughter Riley have made it their mission to bring exciting labels with a classic, preppy flare to their Milwaukee-area boutique.
Some of the more popular brands include Lilly Pulitzer, Southern Tide, Vineyard Vines and Kendra Scott. However, The Navy Knot also offers so much more than clothing. It is the area’s go-to place for monogrammed gifts, home décor and accessories.
The friendly and helpful staff will help you find the perfect outfit for any event, a special gift for family or friends and that finishing touch for your home.
With the golfers and spectators coming to the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, The Navy Knot’s golf attire is perfect for a day on the links. Shop the trendy, vibrant colors that are all the rage on the PGA tour.
The Navy Knot is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Another place for U.S. Open visitors to eat is Libby Montana Bar & Grill in Mequon, about 35 minutes east of Erin Hills.
The place is very family friendly and casual, says proprietor Libby Wick. “We have a kids’ menu, gluten-free options and something for everyone.”
Plus there’s a volleyball dome with sand courts; if you need to blow off some steam after watching little white balls fly all day, you and your group can reserve a court and hit a bigger one around for an hour or so.
Libby Montana is in a 1911 building used in its early days as a bar and boarding house. Wick and her then-husband bought the place when he retired, and they moved from Los Angeles back to her home town of Milwaukee.
“He wanted to move to Montana, but I was not ready to retire,” she says. But they named the place Libby Montana, so he’d at least have a connection to the state at least in name – and because there is an actual city named Libby in northwestern Montana. Also, she says the place is set up to look like a Montana lodge.
Libby Montana has a private room available for parties, and plenty of tables outdoors, where customers can soak up the warm June sun. ◆