Destination Kohler: An American dream

Bathtubs and golf courses.  It’s not usually the first combination of items that you think of when you’re trying to come up with the formula to create one of the best golf resorts on the planet.  

But these two worlds collided near the shores of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, and luckily for us in the golfing world the result was Destination Kohler.  

If that name doesn’t immediately resonate with you, then you most certainly will recognize the name Whistling Straits which houses two of the public five golf courses on property here. 

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting Kohler, then you know that there is a reason why this resort is consistently at the top of most publication’s lists of the best places to visit.  And while we are obsessed with the golfing experience here, during a recent visit we learned a bit more about the history of this incredible property and it made us further fall in love with this special destination.

(top) Whistling Straits; (above) Blackwolf Run

The Kohler family’s impact on golf 

Kohler Co. was founded by John Michael Kohler in 1873 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  First founded to create farming equipment, the burgeoning company shifted gears in 1883 after their original facilities burnt to the ground in 1880 and manufactured their first plumbing product in the form of a cast iron hog scalder/water trough that served as a bathtub. 

The rest, as they say, is history. 

But how did this plumbing empire make its way into the world of golf?

All of that started with a 50-year master plan for the company that was commissioned by Walter J. Kohler. Part of that design was the creation of The American Club which first opened in 1918.

It was designed to house and educate single male employees, most of which were European immigrants, providing them with comfortable accommodations at an affordable rate because Walter Kohler believed “workers deserved not only wages, but roses as well.”

That level of leadership can be unfortunately rare in this world, yet those ideals of focusing on their talent in order to create top-tier products generation after generation is why the name Kohler is synonymous with quality. 

Kohler Co. continued to thrive over the years, and in 1979 a young Herbert V. Kohler, Jr., who was President, Chairman and CEO of the company, went to his Board of Directors with the idea to convert The American Club into a boutique hotel.

Thus, the journey in creating a golf resort began.

Board members turned him down — twice — and after much continued persistence they finally gave in figuring that “he couldn’t lose that much money” on the project.

Mr. Kohler did a bit better than that as The American Club is a Forbes five-star and a AAA five-diamond hotel and serves as the hub for many golf groups on their visit to Kohler.  

Over the years, the resort also added additional lodging selections with the Inn on Woodlake and the Kohler Cabin Collection to further service the increased demand as the resort continued to expand. 

Whistling Straits

Herb Kohler and Pete Dye: A match made in heaven 

Destination Kohler’s entrance into the golf space began with the construction of Blackwolf Run.  

The River Course was constructed on a piece of land once camped on by Chief Blackwolf of the Winnebago tribe that provided some of the best hunting and fishing available in the Sheboygan River Valley.

Formed by a glacial runoff, this inland property provided natural rivers and streams throughout allowing Dye and his team to incorporate water or gorges into the design of 14 of the 18 holes.  The result was a masterpiece, but to say that the whole process was serendipitous would be a bit of a stretch.

Dye and Kohler, Jr. were titans of their industries, and each was known to be quite steadfast in their thoughts on how certain design elements should be implemented. But like most things, those differences in opinions helped each of them push each other to greatness and those early challenges led to a lifelong friendship that resulted in the development of all the 18-hole designs on property at Destination Kohler. 

The first routing at Blackwolf Run opened with 9 holes at a time consisting of the River and Valleys layouts to create the original 18-hole design on property in 1988.  Later the Meadow 9 holes were added to create the Meadow Valleys Course, and then another 9 holes were routed on the River Course to create two exceptional 18-hole designs.  The first 9 of the River Course, which exists today as holes 1-4 and 14-18 today, and the Valleys 9 were utilized for both the 1998 and 2012 U.S. Women’s Open Championship as what is now referred to as the Original Championship Course. This routing is still used in the early spring and late fall for those interested in playing it.

Whistling Straits

Whistling Straits emergence 

After the success of Blackwolf Run, Kohler, Jr. and Dye came together again to create Whistling Straits. Purchased by Kohler Co. in 1995, Dye and his team converted a piece of land that once served as an Army base into the Straits Course at Whistling Straits that opened in 1998. This time around, Dye and Kohler, Jr. worked together to create an entirely different experience for golfers visiting the resort.  While Blackwolf Run provides golfers with two exceptional parkland-style designs, Whistling Straits creates an entirely different atmosphere that gives golfers a links-style experience that feels more akin to Scotland or Ireland instead of Lake Michigan.  This dichotomy of experience is so unique to Destination Kohler, and yet another reason why you will love visiting here.

There simply aren’t enough superlatives to describe how good this golf course is.

The Straits Course has hosted the 2004 PGA Championship, the 2007 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 PGA Championship, the 2015 PGA Championship, and the 43rd Ryder Cup in 2021.  You don’t get to that level of championship pedigree without being elite.  Every hole will leave your jaw on the floor, especially the collection of par-3s which many argue are the best of any course in the world.

On the heels of the Straits Course, Dye and Kohler, Jr. created the fourth 18-hole design onsite with the Irish Course at Whistling Straits. 

With most of the holes located just inland off the shores of Lake Michigan, this challenging layout features a multitude of grass-covered dunes and water hazards combined with a tranquil setting that create an incredible sense of place throughout your round.  This course provides plenty of bite, and it serves as a perfect complement to the Straits Course at Whistling Straits.

Whistling Straits

The Baths of Blackwolf Run 

Unfortunately, the visionary Herb Kohler passed away in September 2022.  Before his passing, he graced the golfing public once again with one final contribution to serve as the cherry on top of a golfing legacy that will never be forgotten.

That last design was The Baths of Blackwolf Run, a 10-hole par-3 course that also features a two-acre putting course for golfers to enjoy. 

The course pays homage to Kohler’s longstanding history in the world of bath design, and you’ll find that influence throughout the round as well as four water features that you can literally swim in if you so desire. 

Designed by Herb Kohler and Chris Lutzke (a Pete Dye disciple), this short course is far from a simple walk in the park as the holes feature incredibly challenging greens and pot bunkers throughout to keep you on your toes. 

The Baths of Blackwolf Run is the perfect addition to the property, and it allows groups to add on that golfing element to a day during your trip that gives you the perfect amount of challenge without requiring all the physical effort of playing 36 in a day. 

Baths of Blackwolf Run


There’s a reason why Destination Kohler receives all the praise that it does year after year.  It’s exceptional.  There’s no other way to describe it.  It’s been the site of choice by both the USGA and the PGA of America for major championships.  As the only two entities in the United States that feature a rotation of courses for their events, if that fact doesn’t sell you on how good this place is then we don’t know what will. 

Our one major piece of advice when it comes to booking a trip here is to ensure that you play all five courses during your visit. There’s no doubt that the Straits Course gets top billing here, and with good reason, but the one thing we cannot stress highly enough is that every course here is special and worth playing during a visit to Destination Kohler. 

Also be sure to check out some of the other amenities onsite that include the Kohler Waters Spa, shopping, world-class dining, fishing, kayaking, hiking, pheasant hunting, tennis and pickleball, a variety of gym activities and wellness activities or a stroll through the Kohler Design Center.