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The American Club, Kohler, WI

The Courses
Blackwolf Run
Whistling Straits

Where to Stay - The American Club

The shores of Lake Michigan were for years the home to anglers, canoeists, and those warm to the northern wilderness mindset. A love for the land is essential—campfires in July are not simply festive here; they are necessary, as nighttime temperatures can dip down into the ranges where frost forms. Indeed, up until the mid-1990s, the western shore of this Great Lake, running basically from the city of Chicago up into the rocky shields of the upper peninsula of Michigan, was from which bass and pickerel were pulled, not waterlogged golf balls. A grand leisure initiative from the Kohler Company, though, came to completed fruition with the opening of the Irish Course at Whistling Straits in August of 2000, rounding out the 72-hole complex at the American Club. Located directly between Milwaukee and Green Bay just off of Interstate 43, The American Club boasts a handful of industry credentials usually reserved for affluent havens on the coast, in the Rockies, or overseas; a perennial five-star ranking from AAA, and from Golf Digest, the seventh-best golf destination in the world. Between the club and the village of Kohler, exceptional golf, accommodations, and shopping are all concentrated in an exciting that was once no more than an afterthought on a drive up the coast.

In fact, the edifice that has been restored to become the American Club resort was built in 1918 as a boarding house for immigrants hired to work at the Kohler Company. 80 years later, the traditions of the industry are very much preserved in the luxurious appointments offered in each guest room. Each room features locally made Baker and McGuire furnishings of the finest , and the bathrooms feature many of the most recent designs from the Kohler Co., including whirlpool baths and elegant sinks and faucets. The Governor and Presidential suites take the service standards of the American Club to new heights, offering two-story accommodations in many cases, with separate living room areas, wet bar, honor bar refrigerator, and in some instances a private powder room and vanity area. Offering the privacy and tranquility of a remote lakeside cabin, but with the modern amenities of an urban residence, the American Club is true to the roots of its name.

Indeed, it is true to all of its surroundings. As one might expect from a great lodge in the northern Midwest, the menus from each of the fine restaurants reflect the character of the land and water, and the bounty that it provides. As a nod to the heritage of the county and company that have made Kohler what it is today, The Immigrant Restaurant and its six rooms are each a testament to the respective cultures that settled here in the state’s early days. An extensive list of wines with plenty of robust reds complement menu of fine contemporary cuisine, its roots found in the land. Gifts from the earth, like seared foie gras, rabbit loin, and Midwestern lamb, conjure a complex appreciation from the palate. Jackets here are required for gentlemen, appropriate dress for such a fine dining room.

At the south end of the American Club, guests can slip out of their formal wear and into the warm comfort food served up in The Wisconsin Room. Simple and superb are the most apt adjectives here. Sunday brunch and the Eggs Benedict with asparagus are perfect starts to the day, while in the evenings, honey-roasted Wisconsin duckling is smoky sweet and tender, while the Friday night seafood buffet is exceptional, especially when one considers how inland Wisconsin is. In addition to this fine pair of on-site restaurants, several other eateries at The American Club offer elegant Midwest dining, featuring regional cuisine and great views of the local wilderness. Blackwolf Run, namesake restaurant to the golf course, overlooks the Sheboygan River and the 18th green. In the warmth of the gigantic fieldstone fireplace that centers the room, guests fresh off a round can recount their birdies and forget the double bogeys over beef medallions or a grilled Sheboygan double bratwurst, a regional specialty. Likewise, the Whistling Straights Restaurant, on the main floor of its clubhouse, affords diners great views of Lake Michigan and the finishing hole at the Straits course, winding its way up in the foreground. Again, regional game punctuates the menu. Dishes like the quail appetizer and the antelope entrée summon the spirit of the Midwest, and the dining room’s Irish-American flair is on display in the rich selection of desserts and specialty coffees. Whereas these restaurants nod to a greater cultural theme of the environs, River Wildfire, set on a 500-acre nature preserve just outside town puts you right there. The menu is “country gourmet,” the setting a rustic lodge in the woods, and the membership exclusive. Guests of the American Club can purchase day passes to dine with the club’s regular members, where pheasant and duck are masterfully prepared by chefs who know the discerning palates of their clientele.

There is, indeed, much more to the Kohler complex than just golf, though Pete Dye’s 72 holes are beginning to garner international attention, with the game’s greatest field coming to the Straits Course at Whistling Straits for this fall’s PGA Championship. Between Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run, the history of the Midwestern landscape is very much documented. On 560 acres of windswept Wisconsin coastline, the two courses at Whistling Straits ebb and flow through soaring fescue dunes and climb to plateaus of tranquil grasslands, giving the course the look and feel that it has laid on these grounds from the time the Chippewa and Dakota tribes passed through. In many ways, this harmony with the land is a breakthrough for the designer as well, and leading industry panels have agreed since the courses opened. The Straits Course opened in 1998 to much critical acclaim, and wasted little time reeling in a series of prestigious awards. GOLF Magazine anointed it the fourth best public course in the United States, and in 1999 ranked it 67th among the Top 100 in the world. The Irish Course, which winds around the perimeter of the Whistling Straits complex, features the cavernous bunkers and ruddy knolls common on the links from the homeland for which it is named.

The 36 holes at Blackwolf Run, built on a tract of land sculpted by run-off from the last Ice Age, features a pair of courses beautifully cut out of the natural environment. The Meadow Valleys Course here is true to its name, as the front nine winds through meadows eerily reminiscent of a Scottish Links-style course. The back nine at the Meadows Valley turns into a more defined landscape, playing through ravines forged in a natural river valley basin.

The River Course is the more dynamic of the two courses at Blackwolf Run, an extremely challenging layout that offers stunning views of the Sheboygan River Valley. Carved through rolling terrain and meadow flatlands, with an abundance of glacial lakes, the beauty of the River Course is paralleled only by its difficulty; with a slope of 151 from the 6,991-yard back tees, it is among the sternest tests in the country, and played host to the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open. Both courses are among the elite 16 in the United States that have earned a 5-star ranking from Golf Digest – a notable gauge of what Blackwolf Run truly has to offer.

Around the resort, a few intriguing outings present themselves. Touring the Kohler plant, located across the street from the American Club, gives historical context to the big business dreams that have turned this Wisconsin hamlet into an icon in the American industrial world. 17 miles worth of trails weave through the grassy highlands that surround the resort, providing the perfect paths for biking or walking, or get the heart rate up at the health and racquet club or watching the wildlife in the thrilling 500-acre reserve. Carriage rides through the village can be arranged, and treatments at The Salon and Day Spa offer therapy and relaxation in an old-world setting. In fact, the therapy and tranquility found at Kohler is not limited to the treatment rooms and massage tables. A long walk to the crest of a dune, fly fishing in the Sheboygan River for Chinook salmon, or just taking in the late summer sunset with a drink in hand brings the experience of Kohler to its brim .

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