Kohler becomes a big name in world of golf

By Doug FergusonAugust 7, 2010, 6:13 pm

2010 PGA Championship

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Herb Kohler still isn’t sure how a stack of suggestion slips wound up on his desk, or what possessed an employee from the accounting office at his Kohler Company to put them there.

“That’s what got us into this mess,” he said with laughter that rumbled from his thick chest.

Any golf enthusiast would love a mess like this.

Sipping on a cup of coffee as the third round of the British Open was just starting, Kohler looked across the landscape of St. Andrews from a conference room on the fourth floor of the Old Course Hotel, which he bought six years ago. Next to the Royal & Ancient clubhouse is another property he now owns, Hamilton Hall, a five-story Victorian building of red brick that has become a landmark behind the 18th green at the home of golf.

It gets even better next week for the final major of the year.

The PGA Championship returns to Whistling Straits, one of four golf courses Kohler built in Wisconsin along the shores of Lake Michigan. By the end of the decade, it will have hosted three PGAs and a Ryder Cup.

Rex HoggardGolfChannel.com senior writer Rex Hoggard catches up with Herb Kohler in this Q&A as the season's final major gets set to take place at Whistling Straits.

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All this from the leader of a business conglomerate known for its kitchen and bathroom fixtures.

“He got into the game at a late age,” USGA executive director David Fay said. “When you think about how he wasn’t a golfer, and you consider the courses he’s involved with and the golf properties, it’s pretty remarkable.”

Kohler would be the first to agree with that.

His only venture into golf used to be an occasional game using his father’s wooden shaft clubs. He now counts among his favorite memories that cutthroat match – a $1 Nassau – he had with a two-time Masters champion (Ben Crenshaw), a three-time U.S. Open champion (Hale Irwin) and the 41st president of the United States (George H.W. Bush).

Last month, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem presented Kohler with an oil painting to commemorate his hole-in-one on the 11th hole at St. Andrews. This wasn’t a token gesture. Finchem was playing with him that day, along with Fay and NBC Sports president Ken Schanzer.

“We’re lucky to have him in the game,” Finchem said. “I just wish it didn’t take him so long to get in.”

What got Kohler into golf is nothing short of remarkable.

“It wasn’t because I had any knowledge of golf, or a passion for golf,” Kohler said, still amazed after three decades where a logical response to a recurring question has taken him.

Attribute it all to that pile of suggestion slips.

The Kohler Company, founded by his grandfather, took a dormitory that once housed European immigrant factory workers and transformed it into a five-diamond resort hotel an hour north of Milwaukee. The American Club opened in 1981 and was an overnight sensation, pulling guests in from all over the Midwest who were looking for a weekend getaway from the big city.

“I was convinced that the level of service would be visible to people across the street in manufacturing as to what they had to do in selling products,” Kohler said. “I wanted them to see what five-diamond service really meant. And I was convinced that it would reflect well upon the company. And it would match the level of quality of the engines, generators and plumbing products that we were trying to sell under the name Kohler.”

It offered just about every amenity except one that Kohler never considered – until he saw the suggestion slips.

With some 3,500 acres around the village, why wasn’t there a golf course?

“Guests would write these suggestions out at the front desk and they in turn went to the accounting office,” Kohler said. “Every once in a while, the general manager or someone would go through them and try to collect them by topic. This particular pile had gone for a little more than two years and had gotten to be some size. Some young analyst was wondering who to bring it to— the general manager couldn’t respond to it. And he had the courage to bring it up to the CEO.

“He dumped this pile on my desk and I said, ‘I’ve got to do something here.”’

Kohler eventually hired Pete Dye, the start of a relationship stretching over three decades. He was impressed that Dye could build something as penal as the TPC Sawgrass, yet also create a natural course such as The Honors in Tennessee.

First came Blackwolf Run, where Se Ri Pak won her first U.S. Women’s Open in 1998 and thus inspired a nation of golfers. Later that year, Whistling Straits officially opened and went after a U.S. Open.

The USGA could only promise that Whistling Straits would be a finalist for 2005 (eventually awarded to Pinehurst No. 2). Kohler instead decided on the 2004 PGA Championship, won by Vijay Singh.

And then came a defining moment for his golf course in Wisconsin.

He said the USGA floated the idea of a Women’s Open in 2007, a Senior Open in 2009 and a U.S. Open in 2011. Wanting more than just another major, he negotiated a deal with the PGA of America to bring back the PGA Championship in 2010 and 2015, followed by the Ryder Cup in 2020.

“The toughest phone call I ever had to make was to call David Fay and tell him we were disinviting the USGA for a U.S. Open,” Kohler said.

Whether it’s selling bathroom fixtures or renovating golf properties, Kohler is big on relationships. Not long after Dye complete the first course, Kohler figured he better take the game more seriously. He has that ace on the 11th hole at St. Andrews. His low round is a 78 on a small course in Wisconsin. But his handicap never got lower than 15.

Even so, it’s the people he has met and the places he goes that makes it all so rewarding.

He was along the fairways of South Africa in 2003 watching the Presidents Cup. Three years later, he was in a golf cart with the former president George H.W. Bush at the Ryder Cup. He counts among his most respected friends Sir Michael Bonallack and Peter Dawson, the last two chiefs at the R&A.

“I love the game because of the people associated with the game,” Kohler said. “Some of the finest people I’ve ever met in my life are associated with the game and have devoted their lives to it. And I love the game because of the spotlight it created on what we do. It shines on this company and reflects on its products and services like nothing else could have done.”

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.