Wisconsins American Club is paradise on Earth

By August 11, 2010, 12:15 am


Whistling Straits
The 12th hole at Whistling Straits, host of the 2010 PGA Championship.

KOHLER, Wisc. – The PGA Championship returns to Whistling Straits this year. And while it is home to the world's best golfers, The American Club is an elegant resort that anybody can enjoy. Broadway producers gossip about the foibles of New York's glitterati. Insouciant young television executives hoist frothy yards of beer and joke about ratings. A Hall of Fame catcher and his buddies tee off on one of the world's elite golf courses. Fortune 100 CEOs furtively toil to improve their small-business golf swings. A tabloid darling loses herself in a Watsu massage and rose petal milk bath.

Quick. Where are you? East Coast? West Coast? Neither. This is America's Middle Coast – the western shore of Lake Michigan, to be precise – where discriminating travelers and connoisseurs of the good life escape the bipolar frenzy of both East and West at the Midwest's only AAA Five-Diamond Resort: The American Club.

What began as comfortable, clean dormitory quarters for immigrant workers of the Kohler Company in 1918 is today a 237-room, four-season resort that boasts a quartet of the greatest golf courses in the world, one of the most elegant spas in America, and one of the highest-rated restaurants in the Western Hemisphere. Kohler's American Club is utterly unique in its melding of Old World charm with broad-shouldered Midwestern hospitality.

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A golfer's paradise
Golfers the world over are familiar with the two Golf Digest 5-star facilities at The American Club: Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run. Each venue comprises two 18-hole Pete Dye masterpiece layouts, an enormous, full-service clubhouse, top-notch teaching facilities, and gourmet restaurants. With the exceptional quality of golf offered here, it is no wonder that unassuming little Kohler is ranked by that same publication as the seventh-best golf destination on the planet.

Despite the fact that all four of the courses were designed by Pete Dye, even the well-traveled golfer will be impressed by the variety. Whereas the two courses at Blackwolf Run (The River Course and The Meadow Valleys Course) are intricately carved into rolling, wooded park- and wetlands, the two courses at Whistling Straits (The Straits Course and The Irish Course) are perched atop plunging, windswept manmade dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan. When the PGA Championship comes to The Straits Course in 2004, television viewers will find themselves awe-struck by the stark beauty of the links.And if your swing doesn't feel up to the task of tackling four of Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play courses, the Kohler Golf Academy is the perfect place to hone your ball-striking skills. Master Instructor Ji Kim and his staff of dedicated instructors offer custom private and group lessons in a quiet, private setting. From the far end of the Whistling Straits practice tee, with the imposing gray stone clubhouse and Lake Michigan in the distance, even the most recalcitrant slice cannot help but straighten out.

Kim, who was a top instructor at Oakhill CC and Doral Resort before coming to Kohler, is adamant about providing the best possible learning environment for his students. 'I'll never have more than four people in a golf school,' promises Kim. 'And usually the student-instructor ratio is not more than 2 to 1. It gives people the feeling that they are special.' Kim is also adept at making his students feel like their swings aren't hopeless causes. Using state-of-the-art video equipment, he is quick to point out your strengths, focusing on only one or two key areas for improvement, rather than providing an ego-crushing laundry list of faults.

A sensuous paradise
Even if golf were all that The American Club had to offer, it would still be a prime destination. But the truth is that as many non-golfers come here year-round as do golfers. One of the main attractions is the Kohler Waters Spa, which is attached to the enchanting 52-room Carriage House section of The American Club.

Conde Nast Traveler has rated Kohler Waters as one of the 40 Top Spas in North America and the Caribbean, perhaps the most intimate spa to make the list. Supervisor of Guest Services, Joan Rogers, stresses the personalized service guests receive: 'At some big spas, you feel like a number. We really try to make everyone feel special.'

The spa's signature treatments involve water, which is exactly what you would expect from Kohler Co., one of the world's leading plumbing fixture designers and manufacturers. There are waterfalls, mosaic tile-lined plunge pools, hand-forged copper baths, baths that allow you to sit up to your chin in tiny champagne bubbles, baths with river-like currents in them, and tsunami water massages.

According to Jean Kolb, Director of Kohler Waters Spa, the most popular treatment for female clients is the Custom Facial, and for men, it's the Golfer's Foot Renewal, which is absolute bliss after walking The Straits Course. There is even a 'Twogether Room' where couples, sisters, mothers and daughters, etc. can receive massages and other treatments side-by-side and chat about how they never want to leave this heaven on earth.

A culinary paradise
The American Club's most elegant restaurant, The Immigrant Room and Winery, honors the culinary legacy of the immigrants who helped make Kohler in particular, and America in general, great. Winner of Wine Spectator's prestigious Award of Excellence, The Immigrant Room offers an unforgettable dining experience.

From the yellow fin tuna salad to the wild mushroom cappuccino to the rack of lamb, memories of a multi-course meal here will evoke torrential salivary gland activity for months to come. But unless you are a hopeless sweet-tooth, here is a tip for the discerning gastronome: Instead of dessert, opt for the cheese course, featuring several different varieties of locally hand-crafted cheeses, and a glass of fine port. This is America's Dairyland, after all.

If you happen to be in the mood for something less exquisite, but no less delicious, the Wisconsin Room offers a more casual atmosphere and an equally varied menu in the cavernous hall that once served as the cafeteria for the Kohler workers and dormitory residents. And the Horse & Plow serves up pub-style fare and a beer list almost as long as the Winery's wine list.

The promised land
Walter J. Kohler, grandson of the founder of Kohler Company and 27th Governor of Wisconsin, had a vision of a place where the poor and down-trodden castes from the Old World could come, and through hard work and clean living, they could make something of themselves. Kohler had a vision not only of a profitable factory, but also of a New World, an America where work was an integral, rewarding, part of life. This ideal is forged into the gate of the Kohler Co. factory: 'Life without labor is guilt – Labor without art is brutality.'

Toward the goal of making life better for his workforce, and America better for everyone, Kohler built The American Club as a dormitory for his immigrant employees, in an Austrian Tudor style – complete with lush gardens and Sound of Music gazebos – that would help alleviate some of their homesickness. He also founded one of the nation's first planned communities, Kohler Village, where those same employees could in time purchase their own homes.

Today, Kohler's employees still reside throughout the area, and proudly share The American Club, the company's golf courses and spa, and their peaceful lifestyle with visitors from all over the world. One of the highlights of a trip to Kohler is, in fact, a tour of the factory and showroom, where one cannot help but be amazed at the artistic flair infused into, of all things, plumbing fixtures.

Then again, considering Kohler's devotion to art, perhaps we should not be surprised to discover that even toilets in this promised land can inspire our admiration. The American Club itself houses one of the finest collections of industrial and fine art in the nation. The company has for decades provided fellowships to young artists, who can live here free of charge in exchange for first-pick of whatever they create while here.

The other motto outside the Kohler factory is: 'He who toils here hath set his mark.' Without a doubt, the toil of generations of Kohlers and their employees has set a mark here – a benchmark for luxury golf resorts everywhere.

So forget the snobbish East Coast and the garish West Coast. We'll take the understated, open-armed elegance of the Middle Coast any day.

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.


Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.


Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”

Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)

Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.