If you thought the name Kohler just meant Bathtubs, Sinks and Toilets – think again! The Kohler Family and Company were visionaries starting with John Michael Kohler and then his son Walter Kohler who in 1918 opened the American Club as a home for their immigrant workers. Now led by Herb Kohler the American Club is a resort, golf destination and town filled with friendly people, several lodging options, the Waters Spa, many delicious restaurant options and of course shopping - you can even get a 3-hour tour of the Kohler Factory. But we came for the golf –so let’s talk golf! For more information on Kohler visit their website http://www.americanclubresort.com/.
And Golf we did – in sunshine, rain and fog – lots of fog - we golfed through it all. Thankfully it was not too cold and there was no snow!
There are four courses all designed by Pete Dye. Blackwolf Run is the home of the River and Meadow Valleys courses about 5 minutes from lodging and they are similar but different – as are the Straits and Irish courses housed at Whistling Straits which is about 20 minutes away from the “town”. There are shuttles buses that will take you to both. Each of the 72 holes are named and each have five Tee boxes marked with colored stones (Black(Tips), Blue, Green, White and Red). There are filtered water stations throughout the courses and every bathroom features different Kohler sinks and toilets.
We met some wonderful people during our stay – include the “Great Eight” as we decided to name this terrific group of men from Illinois who for whatever reason we crossed paths with about twice a day. They were so much fun to meet that we swapped information and hope to meet up with them on our next visit to the Chicago area – or perhaps they will head out to NY and play Bethpage Black with us!
OK – back to Golf…we’ll start with the most famous one first…
The Straits Course at Whistling Straits
The most recognized course where the PGA Championship has been held three times and the future home to the Ryder Cup 2020, the Straits is charming and intimidating at the same time.
The Whistling Straits Clubhouse architecture has the traditions of Scotland and adds to the breathtaking atmosphere and views of the course when you first arrive. Due to impending rain we swung by the Straits Course on our first day and we were provided a tour by a really friendly staff member, Katie, that including many photo ops while the sun was shining bright – including a visit with the sheep (which live and roam free on the course)! In many ways there was a similar feel to Pebble Beach and Bandon Dunes as eight holes play along Lake Michigan. It is spectacular. Thank you Katie!
The Straits is a walking only course and caddies are required (and needed)! Our Caddy was Dylan and he was fantastic! He was the perfect combination of guidance, support and fun. If not for his impeccable knowledge of the course, the back nine would not have been playable as unfortunately the fog enveloped the course. Dylan’s use of creative targeting helped us to find the fairways and greens with minimal loss of golf balls and still resulted in decent rounds.
Be prepared – there is a lot of sand on this course. Ask different people and you will get a variety of answers on how much sand was brought in – as this course was built up from flat farmland to mounds and mounds and mounds of sand traps. The par 3 12th hole is reminiscent of number 7 at Pebble Beach – on the edge of the water with no room for error!
Since the back nine was like playing blind (as the fog rolled in off of Lake Michigan by this point), we missed the total experience of the Straits – shucks – guess we’ll just have to get back there to play it again! Thanks again to Dylan for the great round!
NOTE: Our package came with an hour lesson which we took prior to playing the Straits. The lesson was with Mike O’Reilly, the head Golf Professional. Mike was super nice and provided us both with some great tips. Thanks Mike!
The Irish Course
The Irish Course is in the same complex as the Straits so the atmosphere was just as beautiful. We got a full round in tip-toeing through the rain drops and fog.
Lush and green the Irish course has as many sand traps as the Straits Course, is more inland and although it does not play along Lake Michigan, there are water hazards to avoid - so your skills are still put to the test.
Another beautiful walk, take along a Caddy – it will make the experience even better, although you do have the option of taking a cart and/or a forecaddie.
Our first round was actually at the Blackwolf Run’s River Course. We played with a terrific couple – Ken and Kada from WI – we love playing with “locals”. Ken was an inch taller than Jeff – that doesn’t happen very often! Kada hit a great ball and got some great length even with her “older/tiny” woods.
The River course was spectacularly manicured and runs along the Sheboygan River. We later learned this is the hardest of the four courses – mostly because the Greens are like putting on ice – 3 and 4 putts up’d our scores a bit – but the challenge was “fun”, although even by the 18th hole we were still putting passed the cup!
The weather was amazing this day for October in Wisconsin. This was our best day during our visit as the sun shined bright all day! It also happened to be Salmon Spawning season so we caught many a salmon fighting the current. The River is the most picturesque with beautiful flowers, stonework edging the river and an abundance of trees which during this time of year were quite colorful. The design of this course was creative and challenging. There were elevation changes with twists and turns which required thoughtful shot-making – especially being distracted by its beauty. Water was in play or in view on every hole.
Although the course was challenging we had an absolutely wonderful time and enjoyed our round with Ken and Kada – thanks for sharing it with us!
The course appropriately resembles a meadow - as each hole is surrounded by tall grassy shrubbery - which apparently is a natural feature of the Wisconsin terrain. The fairways are generously wide and it is the easiest of the four courses. One unique feature of Meadow Valleys is the 18th hole’s double green. There is a Red Flag for the Red Tee Box and a White Flag for all the other Tee Boxes. The Red Tee Box gets to skip the carry over the water – thanks Pete!
Our Forecaddy was Gary - another swell Wisconsin local! A former professional, his lively and outgoing personality added to the enjoyment of the round.
The Meadow Valleys course was home to the US Women’s Open which was held in July 2012, and the course they played was actually a composite of the River and Meadow Valleys.
If you are a golf enthusiast, Kohler WI is a MUST visit destination! If you want to play all four courses we suggest spending 5 nights/6 days – take one day off from golf to enjoy the town and all its offerings. Plus depending on the package you select, some of the courses have complimentary replays – so leave time for those as well.
We can’t wait to go back!