Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

U.S. Open Course: A Tale of Beauty, Death

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

U.S. Open Course: A Tale of Beauty, Death

Article excerpt

ERIN, Wis. * The man who first imagined the grassy Wisconsin cattle farm as a potential piece of the U.S. Open's hallowed history will see that vision come to life this week.

Steve Trattner will be watching on television from prison, 40 miles away from Erin Hills.

Trattner, 55, is the onetime software programmer whose passion for golf led him to call a Milwaukee-area millionaire businessman, Bob Lang. He persuaded Lang to look at the farm on what's known as the Kettle Moraine, a land formation in east-central Wisconsin shaped thousands of years ago by buried glacial ice.

Lang, who had long dreamed of building a golf course, fell in love with the location and bought the territory. But he went on to lose millions of dollars in developing and eventually being forced to sell the 11-year-old layout.

Through all that, Lang and Trattner fulfilled their mission of building a course to host a U.S. Open. And Erin Hills puts to rest the notion that a major championship course needs decades' worth of golf stories to enjoy a rich history.

"It was as close to an obsession as there can be for him," Trattner's attorney, Lew Wasserman, said. "It was his life."

But only seven months before Lang cash strapped and in need of revenue rushed the course to open to the public in 2006, Trattner pleaded no contest to first-degree reckless homicide for killing his wife, Sin Lam. He is serving a 35-year prison sentence.

Trattner is appealing his plea, arguing he was not properly represented in his earlier hearings. Wasserman argues much of the evidence was mishandled or omitted.

The attorney says he finds it "sadly ironic" that at the time of his sentencing, Trattner, who worked part-time as Erin Hills project manager with a salary of $2,000 a month, was "portrayed as being this kind of bum who was puttering around with this land near Holy Hill."

"If you're a judge, sitting up there with this guy sitting in front of you, and you see his wife who was supposedly strangled to death for no reason, you're not going to care about some golf course that nobody knows about," Wasserman said.

According to the criminal complaint and other court documents along with testimony from authorities:

* Trattner told police he was in the couple's kitchen on the night of Jan. 3, 2006, when Lam told him she wanted a divorce.

* Trattner grabbed his wife by the shoulders, and she hit him on his chest. He threw her against cabinets, banged her head on the floor 10 to 20 times and punched her face. He "used his hands around her throat until she stopped moving," the complaint says.

* Trattner went to bed and woke up the next day to get the couple's two children ready for school. Not until that afternoon did he call the police.

* Trattner told police he placed sleeping pills next to his wife's head to make it look as if she had committed suicide. …

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