KOHLER, Wis. - An abandoned airfield along the coast of Lake Michigan two hours north of Chicago is an unlikely place for one of America's top golf resorts.
But that is just what Whistling Straits, part of the Kohler Resort, has become in its brief history.
Golf wasn't always the blueprint for the luxury appliance and plumbing company, but when owner Herb Kohler got the golf itch in the 1980s, he decided to expand headquarters into a destination. He became enamored with the designs of architect Pete Dye, and soon after was sparing no expense turning Kohler into a five-star golf resort.
Today, this little village, once full of turn of the 20th century immigrants who came in search of manufacturing jobs, is not only where Kohler manufactures and designs new kitchen and bathroom fixtures, but it is one of America's most sought after golf vacation spots.
Three of Kohler's golf courses are ranked in Golf Digest's Top 100 Public, and the off-course amenities like the American Club hotel and Waters Spa are among the country's most luxurious. It makes the resort the crown jewel of the Midwest and among the most coveted golf retreats in America.
Kohler golf is made up of two separate world-class facilities. Both feature two Dye-designed golf courses and have hosted respective major championships. The facilities themselves are starkly different.
The original golf club at Kohler, Blackwolf Run is just a mile from the heart of the village. Its jewel is the River course, which has won acclaim as one of America's finest parkland golf courses as a result of its hilly, forested scenery along the Cheboygan River.
Perhaps no hole personifies the River course more than the short, par-4 ninth. Though just 337 yards from the back tees, there are three different ways to attack, from an aggressive line over the river to the green, or over trees to a lay-up zone, or farthest left, creating a long approach in. Course management is the real skill test at the River.
Next door, Meadow Valleys features a collection of links-type open and woodland holes. Its design is as imaginative as the River course. The par-3 17th green is guarded by two large maple trees. The 18h plays from a highly elevated tee to a fairway that parallels the River. It also features alternate greens, one in front of the river for women and a second requiring a long carry over the river for men.
Herb Kohler gave Dye an empty canvass and an open checkbook to create a rugged, Irish coastline along the flatter shores of Lake Michigan, which is wide enough to come across as a faux Irish Sea. The result is astounding, including an estimated 5,000 truckloads of dirt imported to create dunes as high and rugged as you can find in the world of golf.
The marquee Straits Course is a sheer beast, tough enough to become a regular PGA Championship stop, not to mention host of the 2020 Ryder Cup Matches. There are too many bunkers to count, and the closing stretch plays dead into the prevailing winds. Its par 3s all hug the lake, including the diabolically long and intimidating 17th hole.
Though set more inland with fewer views of the lake, the next door Irish Course is as equally rugged as its famous neighbor. Holes are just as, if not more, entertaining here, featuring wildly imaginative holes like the par-3 13th, "Blind Man's Bluff," which requires a partially blind shot over dunes to a massive green below.
While caddies are offered at each of Kohler's four golf courses, they are mandatory on the Straits Course, which along with the Irish Course is walking only.
The American Club
The American Club is a tudor-style building over 100 years old. It originally served as a dormitory for immigrants to work in the factories in town. It has since been refurbished into a 5-star hotel with spacious and luxurious quarters. Of course, all rooms are furnished with the latest Kohler water fixtures.
Free transportation is provided anywhere on Kohler property or Whistling Straits. A bonus to guests of the American Club, golf packages booked through Kohler come with free p.m. replays of both Meadow Valleys and the Irish Course.
Just next door, the Waters Spa was also recently renovated and upgraded and features a full menu of spa amenities and treatments. The centerpiece is a 30-foot relaxation pool with an 8-foot waterfall, along with over 50 various beauty and massage treatments. It's perennially ranked at or near the top of practically every travel publication that rates spas, from Travel & Leisure to Mobil Travel Guide.
Getting to Kohler
Kohler is located two hours north of Chicago, one hour north of Milwaukee and one hour south of Green Bay. It is located just off Interstate 43.
For more information visit DestinationKohler.com.