American Fixture

Kohler Company’s one-time boarding home now houses world-class golf.

As Kohler Company prospered in the early 1900s, it attracted many immigrants to the plentiful jobs in its Sheboygan, Wisconsin, factory. To help provide for its employees, Kohler built a boarding house in 1918, which provided rooms and meals for those who worked in the factory.

Named The American Club, it was a place where foreign-born workers could learn to speak English and get educated about American customs, while they worked toward their dream of becoming U.S. citizens. Through the years, it was a portal through which hundreds of immigrants passed on their way to American citizenship. Today, the boarding house has been transformed into an elegant historical hotel that attracts golfers from around the world.

“In the late 1970s or early ’80s, Herb Kohler decided to turn it into a high-end resort hotel,” explains Mike O’Reilly, head golf professional. At present day, The American Club is a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award recipient, and the only AAA Five-Diamond resort hotel in the Midwest.


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As people discovered and delighted in the newly restored hotel, they also asked for more.

“Over the first several years, we got a lot of feedback that what people really wanted was a golf course,” O’Reilly says.

The first golf course, Blackwolf Run, was unveiled in 1988. Designed by Pete Dye, a World Golf Hall of Fame designer, it was named “Best New Public Course” in Golf Digest, and has continued garnering awards and honors, including being ranked on the list of “America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses” in Golf Digest and the “Top 100 Courses

You Can Play” in GOLF Magazine.

Blackwolf Run features two courses— The River and The Meadow—and each was named for the natural features of the land.

“It’s a very traditional American-style course: very tree-lined, and the Sheboygan River flows through the course,” O’Reilly says. The courses are open to the public, as well as to resort guests.

The courses were immediate successes, and demand became almost overwhelming. By 1994, there was a two- or three-month waiting list to play, and Kohler decided to listen to guests once again.


In 1998, The American Club opened Whistling Straits: a public, daily-fee golf facility that offers memberships through its private club, Riverbend. Featuring two courses, also designed by Dye, it has more of the flavor of golf courses found in Scotland and Ireland—complete with sheep, which are often found meandering on the course.

“It’s a links-style course, so it’s very open with a ton of bunkers and not many trees,” O’Reilly says. “There are sand bunkers all over the place, lots of dunes and elevation changes.”

Whistling Straits’ courses, The Straits and The Irish, are walking-only courses. O’Reilly says the four finishing holes of The Straits are the resort’s most challenging.

“Holes 15 through 18 are the toughest ones to play, and the most challenging by far is hole 17. It’s a long par 3 that hugs the shore of Lake Michigan. It’s really pretty and right on the shore, but it’s also extremely difficult.”

And those who manage to make it through those four holes can win some great bragging rights, playing on the course that has hosted three PGA tournaments and a U.S. Senior Open.

“They’re all great golf courses, but the real gem is The Straits,” O’Reilly says. “The other three just aren’t as well known. Because the courses are so different, you can come in, and spend a few days playing—and have very different experiences on each one.”


Although not part of the original plan, the property surrounding The American Club has evolved through the years into a sprawling resort community. Much like the addition of the golf courses, the additional offerings have all been based upon guest feedback and recognition of how Kohler could better serve visitors’ needs.

“It grew organically,” O’Reilly says. “Over the years, we added a spa, restaurants, shopping, an additional hotel. In the summertime, we’re a destination for golf junkies, and in the winter, we get people who are coming in to snowshoe, go cross-country skiing, ice skating— or who just want to enjoy the spa.”

The resort’s littlest guests get plenty of tailor-made adventure as well, with the Kohler Kidz packages, which comprise supervised indoor and outdoor activities for children while their parents play golf, shop or enjoy the resort’s many other offerings.

About 10 years ago, the growing property was renamed Destination Kohler, which is fitting, given that the one-time boarding house for immigrant workers has become one of the most coveted and luxurious destinations in the Midwest. Culinary offerings include casual Horse & Plow sports bars to a five-star restaurant, The Immigrant, and everything in between.

What once was a place for those coming to America is now one of the prime spots to stop and enjoy the richness of American life.

All photos courtesy Kohler Co.

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