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Fearsome Foursome: Kohler, Wisconsin delivers 72 holes of Pete Dye fury

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KOHLER, Wisc. -- The words just tumbled out of Tom Kottenstette’s mouth.

“Oh my god,” he exclaimed as he stepped to the tee box of the 13th hole of the River course at Blackwolf Run. “This hole is amazing.”

The shock and awe of Pete Dye-designed golf was in full effect during Kottenstette’s visit to The American Club, a lavish five-star golf resort an hour's drive north of Milwaukee. Dye’s Meadows Valley and River courses at Blackwolf Run and Straits and Irish courses at Whistling Straits all rank among the 'Top 100 Public Golf Courses' in the country by Golf Digest. The magazine ranks the Straits (No. 6) and the River (No. 32) among the toughest courses in the country, too.

All four are challenging, although the vivid scenery takes the sting off the blemishes on the scorecard. Their combination of brutality and beauty can sometimes leave players like Kottenstette gasping for adjectives. For those who haven’t seen it yet, the 13th hole might be the only dogleg par-3 in the world. Golfers must hit their tee shot out over the Sheboygan River and draw the ball around a mammoth stand of trees blocking the entire left side of the hole.

“The beauty (of the River course) is almost overwhelming,” said Kottenstette, who was visiting from Cincinnati, Ohio. “The water and the river seem to be on every hole.”

Obviously, the Straits course remains the top draw. The linksy layout on the shores of Lake Michigan has already hosted two majors – the 2004 and 2010 PGA Championships – and has the 2015 PGA Championship and the 2020 Ryder Cup on tap. Walking with a caddie among the manmade dunes and nearly 1,000 bunkers can deliver euphoric feelings only elite American playgrounds like Bandon Dunes, Pebble Beach Golf Links and the Ocean course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort can attempt to match.

The 2012 U.S. Women’s Open held on a composite course of the Meadows Valley and the River courses serves as a reminder just how good Blackwolf Run is as a “Plan B.” The entire Blackwolf Run complex was recently renovated over a two-year period, resulting in pristine conditions and lightning-fast greens.

“That’s our strength as a golf resort,” said Dirk Willis, the manager of golf operations and merchandising for Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits. “We have four phenomenal courses that are all different. The uniqueness of each course is special.”

After golf: The American Club Hotel

After golf is where the resort’s five-star status really shines. Every guest I interviewed talked about how good the service was everywhere they went. It appears good old Southern hospitality is alive and well north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

The American Club remains underrated as a culinary destination for foodies. The menus of each restaurant are unique, from the comfort food of beer cheese soup and cheese curds served at the Horse & Plow to the steak and S’mores dessert at Blackwolf Run’s log clubhouse. The Wisconsin Room inside the old-world American Club Resort Hotel comes to life with a stocked Sunday brunch of prime rib, seafood, crème brulee French toast and much more.  The private Immigrant Room remains the club’s signature dining experience. The Greenhouse is a gorgeous stop for ice cream and smoothie treats.

For a completely fulfilling vacation beyond golf, add in visits to the Kohler Waters Spa, the Kohler Design Center, the Sports Core Health & Racquet Club and River Wildlife, a private recreational and dining club available to resort guests. 

Yes, The American Club Resort Hotel, one of only 36 hotels worldwide to be AAA Five-Diamond and Forbes Five-Star, and the Inn on Woodlake are nice, but let’s talk about what makes the accommodations truly unique: A Kohler shower experience. It’s hard not to feel a little guilty after 20 minutes of five or more powerful jets raining down on you. But it’s so necessary after all of Dye’s dastardly tricks.

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