Situated about nine miles northeast from the village where John Michael Kohler began making bath tubs and other plumbing products more than a century ago, it was built on a pancake-flat piece of property 560 acres in size, with clay-based soil and a twisting sliver of water called Seven Mile Creek running through. It had once housed an Army anti-aircraft training facility and was later owned by the Wisconsin Electric Power Company, which considered building a nuclear plant there. Scruffy and overgrown, it contained more than 22 hazardous waste dumpsites as well as concrete bunkers and fuel storage tanks. The only redeeming features were the views of Lake Michigan, and some two miles of shoreline.
Those last two features were what drew current company Chairman and CEO Herb Kohler Jr. to the property in the mid- 1990s, as he looked for a place to construct another golf course. You see, the 36-hole facility called Blackwolf Run he had constructed over the previous decade in the southwest part of town had not resolved the golf capacity issues he was having with the destination he was building around those golf layouts and his acclaimed American Club hotel. And he decided he needed to add at least one more golf course.
Kohler considered a couple of sites before settling on the old Army base, and on May 26, 1995, he finalized a deal for the land.
Given the success of the two courses architect Pete Dye had previously built for him at Blackwolf Run, Kohler didn’t even think of hiring someone else for that job. As different as the two men were in many ways, they shared a passion for golf and an innate talent for artistic expression. They also had developed an excellent working relationship, with Kohler playing Lorenzo the Magnificent, the 15th century Medici heir who lavished money and opportunity on Florence’s great artists, to Dye’s Michelangelo, who created masterpieces with this patron’s support.
As good as the layouts at Blackwolf Run were, however, the new layout on Lake Michigan was going to be different. Kohler wanted it to be a true seaside links. With massive dunes and plenty of mounding. With lots of bunkering and fescue grasses for the fairways, tees, rough and greens.
IF THE TINY COMPANY TOWN OF KOHLER, WIS. (POPULATION: 2,001) was the most unlikely place for a AAA Five Diamond resort in America, then Whistling Straits was the most improbable locale for a golf course good enough to host a major championship. Or more
accurately, several of them, including this week’s PGA Championship.
Just 12 years old, Whistling Straits already boasts a distinguished resume of major championships
By John Steinbreder
The 560-acre stretch of land where Whistling Straits now sits once housed an Army anti-aircraft training facility.
THE OFFICIAL PROGRAM OF THE 2010 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP 61