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U.S. Open is already injecting a lot of excitement into Town of Erin

By Bill Glauber
Published on
U.S. Open is already injecting a lot of excitement into Town of Erin

TOWN OF ERIN, Wisc. -- For Kim Meier, the U.S. Open golf championship at Erin Hills isn't just a sporting event.

It's her neighbor.

For the last few months, Meier has watched from her front yard as the tournament infrastructure has taken shape, with trucks rumbling by, fences going up and construction crews building a portable city. A temporary cellphone tower sits by the old silo on farmland once tilled by her late father-in-law and now owned by her husband and his two sisters.

"From this angle, it looks like an industrial park," Meier said.

When the U.S. Open begins with a practice round June 12, the Town of Erin will be ready for its close-up at the center of the golfing world.

Up to 45,000 spectators, volunteers, officials, workers, media and golfers are expected to descend upon Erin Hills daily during the tournament, a huge crush for a town of around 3,790 residents.

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"It has to be the smallest town to ever host a major championship," said Danny Sink, director of U.S. Open championships for the United States Golf Association.

Sink said over the last 18 months, the USGA worked with town officials and residents to allay whatever concerns they might have about how the tournament would affect local life.

With a bus system that will shuttle in most fans from two remote parking sites and a detailed traffic plan, including permits for those local residents who live near the golf course, USGA officials are confident they can bring off the event smoothly.

"We're not here to inconvenience the local residents," Sink said. "We want to be invited back."

Incorporated in 1846, and tucked in 36 square miles in the southwest corner of Washington County, the town retains its farming roots even as housing subdivisions have popped up over the years.

"It's rural, quiet, that's what the people like," said Dennis Kenealy, longtime chair of the town board.

The town's biggest annual event is the St. Patrick's Day Parade, which often draws several thousand spectators.

Few residents are expecting a gold rush from the event. Some people have been able to rent out their homes for the week of the tournament. Others have landed jobs.

A few families plan on parking cars on their property. It will still be at least a half-mile walk or so to the course.

"Don't know if we're going to get cars or not but it will be a new experience," said Al Oldenburg, a 72-year-old retired spot welder who lives in a house on land his father once farmed.

Kenealy said the town will get around $12,000 for renting part of its parkland and farm fields, and from licensing fees.

The Erin School District will receive $25,000 from the USGA, which will use the school grounds as a drop-off site for spectators.

Kieth Kriewaldt, the school's district administrator, said the biggest benefits from the tournament won't be immediately felt. He said in the wake of the U.S. Open, golfers will make pilgrimages to Erin Hills.

"I think we're going to be spotlighted, highlighted worldwide," he said. "People are going to see the little sleepy burg of Erin."

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There are a handful of businesses in town along State Highway 83. At Goeman's Rapid Mart gas station and convenience store, business has already picked up over the last month with workers from the course stopping by for sandwiches and sodas.

"So many of the workers have come up from the South, our Coca-Cola sales have quadrupled," said Larry Goeman, who runs the business with his son Christopher.

Across the street, Andrew Jepsen of Barbecue Company Grill and Catering, is hoping to lure spectators coming off the course with the smell of smoked meats.

"I build addiction," he said of his barbecue. "You can't get what I have anywhere else."

But Vickie Burgett of O'Shears Hair Salon said she'll be taking a financial hit during tournament week as her regular customers are concerned about getting caught in traffic.

"I have, like, three customers booked that week," she said.

The garden center run by Patricia and Tom Ball and their son Tyler will be shut down during the tournament.

"There's no reason to fight this," Tom Ball said, adding that he thought the tournament would be good for the town.

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Over at Tally Ho Pub & Grill, they've already booked the upstairs party room to groups during the Open week. But they can't predict the traffic. If all goes well, Open week could be like an extended St. Patrick's Day.

"Erin is great for adapting," said Jake Busalacchi, Tally Ho manager.

On Friday, parents at Erin School discussed the tournament as they left with their children on the final day of the school year.

"I'm excited to see how our small, little town will fare with a big event," said Lori Weinert.

Asked how she'll negotiate the traffic during tournament week, Lisa Jelen said: "With wings."

Many of the parents plan to work as volunteers to help with fundraising. Members of the school's Parent Teacher Club will oversee the Johnsonville Big Grill that will be set up Friday, Saturday and Sunday of tournament week outside the Rapid Mart.

Meanwhile, volunteers from the Energizers Dance Team will work a concession stand on the golf course.

Bridge Hubing, a member of the school board whose daughter is on the dance team, isn't much of a golf fan.

But for one week, she'll be all in on the U.S. Open, volunteering in concessions and going out to watch at least one round.

"It's not something that comes in your backyard every day," she said.

This article is written by Bill Glauber from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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