I wrote this back in 2003. Mr. Mike and I went to Kohler, aka Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 2003 to check out the Kohler built golf courses. Here is what we saw.
Any trip to Wisconsin evokes images of cheeseheads, dairy farms, snowmobiles, and the Whistling Straits Golf Course in Kohler, WI. You have probably heard of Kohler, but here is something from their website: Kohler Co. has been leading the way in style and innovation since the company was founded in 1873. Austrian immigrant John Michael Kohler made the first of many bold business moves when he purchased a cast iron and steel foundry in Sheboygan, WI. His vision and dedication to excellence helped transform Kohler Co. into a highly successful family of businesses with operations on six continents. Most of us think of Kohler when we are in the bathroom or water closet. But Kohler also does kitchens, interiors, power, and hospitality. Herb Kohler is currently at the helm, and is a golfer and golf fan of the “n”th degree.
Rather than bore you about Kohler tubs and sinks, I prefer to tell you about their great golfing resort in Kohler, WI. My friend Mike and I embarked on a golfing trip to beautiful Sheboygan a few years back. Four golf courses, combined with beautiful Wisconsin wooded streams, and the famous American Club drew our attention. Sitting on the banks of Lake Michigan, Whistling Straits has two courses, the Straits and the Irish, built almost directly on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Two more courses at nearby Blackwolf Run, the River and Meadows courses, are just down the road.
Super 8 Motel
Whistling Straits gets all of the publicity. But truth be known, the River course at Blackwolf Run is as pretty as any course in the middle half on the United States. Straits imported too much sand, and has a very “contrived” feel to hit. Bunkers are placed not for penalty of a faulty shot, but for “ambience” and a place to put the sand that was imported. The idea of course, was to make both Straits courses feel like an Irish links. It does not. It feels like too much sand located too close to Lake Michigan. But what do I know? Both Straits and Irish are rated in the “Top 100” must play courses in the United States.
Straits and Irish are open, with few trees, rugged, and windy. It stretches along almost two miles of Lake Michigan. The Straits course, where the PGA Championship will be played for the second time, is a Pete Dye design and ranks third on Golf Digest’s 2009 Top 100 Ratings. We played both the Irish and the Straits. The Irish is a little prettier with grassland and dunes, read that as less sand, and a little easier. After a day on the Irish, the Straits course looks like the Sahara Desert in comparison. Oh, and we endured the windswept, sand infested course with a caddy, who seemed to know less about golf than we did about nuclear physics. I also hit the best 6 iron of my life there on an approach shot, over Lake Michigan, with a strong left to right wind, for my only birdie on the Irish course.
The rustic clubhouse shared by Irish and Straits is straight out of a picture book of Irish farm houses and countryside. It is small, but really authentic in its feel and function. The pro shop even has a fireplace. The cool breezes off of Lake Michigan require long sleeves, hot toddies, and frequent stops in front of the fireplace. We had breakfast there one day, and of course, a few rounds of after golf adult refreshment. Our first two days on these courses made us appreciate West Coast golf even more. The constant sand and wind got somewhat boring after 36 holes of golf.
Our evenings were much more interesting. After checking into the ultra luxurious Super 8 Motel in Sheboygan, we had one of the best prime rib dinners anywhere. Then on Friday, we had to partake of the famous Friday night fish fry. Just about any and every restaurant, coffee shop and greasy spoon serves fried fish, chips (fries), and maybe a veggie or salad. The restaurants are busy, as the Friday Fish Fry is quite inexpensive. Add a few cold beers, and the meal is almost complete.
I say almost, since we heard so much about Wisconsin ice cream. We drove around beautiful downtown Sheboygan, looking for an ice cream parlor to no avail. As we combed the streets, I finally spotted a small placard in the shape of an ice cream cone, in front of a small, old gas station. We drove over and parked, not knowing what to expect. The lady customer in front of us was buying about six or seven items. Imagine our shock when her bill came to about $4. As the clerk apologized for the delay, we each ordered a two scoop cone, with our total bill coming to about $3.00. We sat at a plastic table and chair area and tried to finish the cones. Mission impossible. These were the best, hugest, and cheapest ice cream cones I have ever experienced!
Fully sated, we headed back to our luxurious digs and got a good night’s rest for our last day of golf, and the long drive back to Milwaukee. I might mention that earlier that evening, we had a few drinks at the famous American Club at Kohler. We drove through the cute little town of Kohler, with company owned homes, tree lined Kohler village, the huge Kohler showroom, and a small shopping village. The American Club, a former Kohler employees’ dormitory, is where “village charm meets old world elegance”. It is the midwest’s only AAA Five Diamond Resort. Also located within is the famous Kohler Waters Spa.
The American Club in Kohler, WI
Talking to the bartender, we found that Mr. Kohler had been touting his Straits course to the PGA as a potential venue for its yearly Grand Slam event, the PGA Championship. But the area lacked amenities that both the corporate types and the players expected of a Grand Slam venue. So, Kohler built the American Club, and as they say, the rest is history. This week, he will host his second PGA Championship. The last one, in 2004, Vijay Singh outlasted Chris DiMarco and Justin Leonard in a three hole playoff for the Championship.
Our last day of golf was perhaps the best, quite unexpectedly I might add. We played the River course at nearby Blackwolf Run, near the little village of Kohler. The beautiful river basin was formed by the flow of glacial runoff. They will host the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open. Several of the holes run along the beautiful Sheboygan River. In the Fall, when we were there, the leaves were turning color. And the fisherman were wading in the river, while dodging our errant golf shots (just kidding). The River course was not only more scenic than its famous big brothers over at Whistling Straits, the clubhouse was made of Canadian lodge pole logs, with huge vaulted ceilings, a massive fieldstone fireplace, and the rustic comfort of a Midwestern crisp fall day.
River Course (full of trout?)
So, a four day trip to Sheboygan, three days of golf with my good buddy, some memorable meals including the Friday Fish Fry, and Wisconsin ice cream, and a few birdies for good measure. Though I would not go again, I am glad I went. Only the professional golfers can appreciate the wind and the sand of the Straits course. For the record, keep me in California, within view of the Pacific Ocean is a bonus, a cool breeze, a trickling brook, a good 18 hole walk equals a great day. Fore!!!!!
PGA Championship, Final Round, Sunday, August 16, 2015. I still do not like this course. Let me put it another way. I enjoyed watching the Open Championship from St. Andrews infinitely more. It brought back such wonderful memories of walking and playing the Olde Course. All I remember about Whistling Straits is the sand blowing in my face all day long. And the ice cream!!!