Felicia, my administrative assistant, burst into my office and exclaimed, “Herb Kohler is calling on Line 2! He said he’s a fan of GolfConversations.com and wants you to be his guest at The American Club Resort in Wisconsin!”
Longtime readers of GolfConversations.com will immediately recognize two problems with this story:
– My administrative assistant’s name is Irving.
– I don’t have a “Line 2.”
However, on June 5th and 6th of this year, I was a guest at The American Club Resort in Kohler, Wisconsin.
Why was I selected to be a guest at the Midwest’s only AAA Five Diamond (so-honored for 26 consecutive years) resort? I don’t know for sure but I suspect it’s related to the Absorbent Cloth Pledge I signed in 2010 to “neither purloin, pilfer, nor poach towels from upscale golf resort properties.”
Of course, this pledge was not applicable to the Milwaukee airport Clarion Inn I stayed at the night of June 4th.
The morning of June 5th I had a choice to make: forgo making my own waffle at the Clarion Inn … or hustle to arrive at the world-renowned Whistling Straits golf course for a 9:30 tee time. I grabbed a fistful of Fruit Loops and jumped into my rental car.
Ninety minutes later I was driving through farm country. Silos and bovines dotted the landscape. Some of the farm houses had old-fashioned TV antennas affixed to their roofs. I pitied the unfortunate residents of these prehistoric domiciles: they’ll never see Golf Channel’s upcoming “Big Break XIX: The Apocalypse at the Acropolis.”
Then, suddenly, Highway FF came to an end at the entrance to Whistling Straits. I continued along a winding road a half mile or so and the topography changed from plain and flat to wild and rugged. It reminded me of when Dorothy landed in Oz and opened the door to her house: the picture changed from black and white to color. She knew she wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
I knew I wasn’t in Wisconsin anymore. I had been transported to a Scottish fantasyland that I have dubbed Wiscontland. I pulled up to the drop area and the guys came over and grabbed my golf bag, my shoes, and my Hertz “Milwaukee and Vicinity” road map.
I was introduced to my caddy, Brad, who told me he’d be waiting for me after I checked in. I went inside the beautiful clubhouse and, of course, bought a souvenir. I couldn’t decide between the Whistling Straits camisole and the visor. I tried on both of them in front of the assistant pro and asked, “Do you think either of these makes me look fat?”
“Go with the visor,” he replied.
I think his advice was correct. The camisole would not have been appropriate given the gusty winds that were blowing in from Lake Michigan that day.
I had 20 minutes before my tee time and the Clarion Inn Fruit Loops weren’t much of a breakfast. I wandered into the dining area of the clubhouse and saw a tray of fruit perched on a table. I grabbed a banana and a hostess came over and informed me – very nicely, I might add – that the banana was $1. I gladly forked it over and went outside and met Brad.
We walked over to the driving range where, I suspected, Brad wanted to get a preview of my game. I pulled a 5-iron from my bag and told Brad to call out — at the top of my backswing — the shot he wanted me to hit.
“High draw.” “Low cut.” “Knock-down stinger.” “Pastrami on rye.” I hit the shots Brad demanded with a dexterity and ease he clearly had never witnessed before.
“By mighty Zeus himself, I declare that I have never seen anyone with such an efficacious command of his golf ball,” Brad exclaimed.
“Tut-tut, my dear boy,” I replied. “You should see my ball-striking when I incorporate my pre-shot routine.”
I then blasted a few balls with my driver. The students at the Kohler Golf Academy — at the opposite end of the range 325 yards away — took cover as my ICBM-like drives bounced off their assorted noggins.
“Let the Big Dog eat,” I growled as Brad and I walked over to the putting green. I rolled in a few putts but did not tarry, not wanting to waste my valuable time on a part of the game that accounted for only 50% of my shots. It was 9:25 am and I had a date with destiny at the first tee.
Brad introduced me to my playing companion, a gentleman by the name of Ralph who hailed from Santa Barbara, California. If Ralph was nervous about playing with me, he concealed it rather expertly.
After inquiring about my handicap, it took Ralph a few minutes to stop laughing. We wished each other well and I was given the honor of teeing off first. It was a glorious morning in Wiscontland with a blue cloudless sky, the temperature a delightful 65 degrees, and Lake Michigan glistening in the sunshine. I was reminded of the old Scottish saying, “If it’s nae by Lake Michigan, it’s nae gawf.”
I placed my ball on the tee and proceeded to quickly run through my resort-play, pre-swing check list:
Eight minutes later, I swept my ball off the tee and it penetrated the wind like a hot knife through cream cheese, coming to rest on the left side of the fairway. This was exactly opposite of where Brad instructed me to drive the ball. Thus, I established at the beginning of the round that I was willful, a force to be reckoned with, and would submit to no man. Of course, had Brad been a woman, I would have submitted.
You’ve seen Whistling Straits on TV. The PGA Championship was held there in 2010 (remember Dustin Johnson’s bunker boo-boo?) and 2004. Pete Dye created a links golf course along the shore of Lake Michigan and it is pretty darn beautiful! It’s like being in Scotland … without the haggis.
Lots of undulating fairways and greens … wild grasses … spectacular scenery. It’s a walking-only course. I was told that only Mr. Kohler is allowed to use a golf cart. Plus, you must take a caddy. Which is a good thing because you definitely need a caddy to tell you where to hit your ball and how far you’ve got to hit it.
My caddy, Brad, was fabulous. It was like having Steve Williams on my bag … except Brad wasn’t an asshole. Brad gave me yardages, read greens, found my wayward balls and lots more … with a pleasant demeanor and professionalism. When you go to Whistling Straits, ask for Brad and tell him I sent you. He’ll give you a free narrative of why I have no business being on a golf course.
Now I’d like to talk a bit about the sort of shot values that you’ll encounter at Whistling Straits: I don’t know what a “shot value” is, I never understood the term “shot values,” and this is the last time I’m ever going to discuss “shot values.”
Whistling Straits (Straits Course) Pros: The course is gorgeous and lots of fun! Bring plenty of ammo and go have the time of your life.
Whistling Straits (Straits Course) Cons: There’s a beverage cart parked by the 10th hole where one can purchase snackies and refreshments. As publisher of GolfConversations.com, I feel duty bound to inform my readers of the cost of fruit at the various golf resorts I visit. Thus, I inquired of the young lady womaning the cart the price of a banana. Told that it was $2, I threw a fit and shouted, “$2???? It’s a $1 at the clubhouse!”
The young lady patiently explained to me the extra costs involved, including electricity/fuel/insurance/depreciation for the golf cart. I was outraged nevertheless. But not wanting to appear to be cheap, I bought a chocolate chip cookie for $3.50. You can imagine my surprise when I was informed that the beverage cart – ensconced in “America’s Dairyland” – did not vend milk. So what was I supposed to dunk my cookie into? Miller High Life? Mr. Kohler: I await your response.
A 20-minute drive south of Whistling Straits brought me to the charming village of Kohler. Here is the home of the resort’s two hotels, The American Club and The Inn on Woodlake. Not to mention the Kohler Waters Spa, 12 restaurants, shopping, and more and more and more.
My two-night stay in Kohler was at The American Club. Its history is a unique one. And I quote from Kohler’s web site:
“The American Club resort-hotel was built in 1918 as a boarding house for immigrants working in the Kohler factory. In 1981 it was renovated and serves as one of the area’s most luxurious resort hotels in the Midwest. The American Club presents a very striking first impression with its Tudor architecture and its soaring roof peaks and slate tile. The hotel is filled with traditional American heritage Baker and McGuire furnishings. Acclaimed interior designer Frank Nicholson designed the interior. All 240 rooms have a Kohler Co. whirlpool bath and fixtures in the bathroom. We are most well-known for our luxurious bathrooms.”
I pulled up to the American Club and was greeted by the parking valets who grabbed my overnight bag and inquired about the location of my Hertz “Milwaukee and Vicinity” road map.
My golf bag had remained behind at Whistling Straits. You see, they knew I was playing at Blackwolf Run the following day and they arranged to have my bag shipped there. (FYI, Blackwolf Run is located about 2 miles from the village of Kohler.) Now that’s thinking! That’s efficiency! That shows me that someone up at the top is using his or her noodle. Get the little things right and the big things take care of themselves. Or so I’ve been told.
If you revere wood, you’ll love the American Club. Magnificent wood floors, wood ceilings, and wood furniture. Would that I could only spend the rest of my life there! Elegant but ever so homey and comfortable.
The pleasant folks at the front desk made me feel welcome. I was offered a choice of champagne or lemonade. “Champagne, please,” I replied. “And leave the bottle.”
I headed off to my room and passed by the Concierge’s desk. There sat Cherie, the nicest, friendliest woman I’ve ever met in my life! Plus … she laughed at all of my jokes!
I was so impressed with Cherie’s charm and willingness to help guests that, in her honor, I composed the following lyrics, sung to the tune of Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour”:
La la la la la la
La la la la la la
Concierge Cherie, sittin’ by your desk all day.
Concierge Cherie, where’s my USA Today?
Concierge Cherie, I’m the Press and I want things for free,
Like pedicures while sipping herbal tea,
I don’t wanna spend a dime.
In your restaurants, I worry when I see a bill.
And I hope that you, can comp me ‘till I’ve had my fill.
Concierge Cherie, saying there’s “no charge” fills me with glee,
With cheapskate Tiger Woods I must agree,
I don’t wanna spend a dime.
When I’m checking out, I hope you’ll never hear my howls.
If you do it’s ‘cause, they caught me stealing Kohler’s towels.
Concierge Cherie, won’t you hear my plaintive, heartfelt plea?
I want stuff that’s comp-luh-ment-ary,
I don’t want to spend a dime.
La la la la la la
La la la la la la
Each room in The American Club is named for a famous American. I was assigned to room 325, aka, The Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Jr. room. In honor of Admiral Byrd’s expeditions to the North and South Poles, the room’s air conditioning had been set to a balmy 65 degrees.
And what a beautiful room it was! Elegant wood furnishings, lovely decorative features, a bed that I would like to be buried in, and of course, la Salle de Bain … ze bathroom!
The Kohler shower, sinks, commode, and whirlpool tub beckoned me. I had a 3 pm appointment at the Kohler Waters Spa for a “Golfer’s Foot Renewal Service” so it was time to get cleaned up.I jumped into the shower, turned every knob on the wall, and water surrounded me from every conceivable direction. It was a magical experience. Thirty minutes later I was on the phone to room service, inquiring if I could have my meals delivered to me in the shower.
Ladies and gentlemen: if you do nothing else on your trip to The American Club Resort, devote some quality time to the truly special, mind-altering power of a Kohler shower.
Refreshed, rejuvenated, and prune-like, I walked around the corner to the Kohler Waters Spa. I checked in with the young ladies at the front desk and informed them that I had an appointment for a “Golfer’s Foot Renewal Service.”
To which they replied, “Oh, you mean a pedicure!”
I was somewhat taken aback. To me, the word pedicure has a female connotation. Then I thought about how far I actually drive the golf ball these days and I decided that a pedicure might not be so ridiculous after all.
Catherine, my pedicurist, came out to greet me and ushered me into the spa. Two lady clients were perched on their thrones and looked at me strangely as I took my place in Chair 1. I attempted to put their minds at ease regarding my masculine presence and asked them if they had seen yesterday’s Oprah.
Well, that broke the ice and before you knew it, we were gabbing about the price of organic chickens, Botox treatments, and what assholes our husbands were.
Meanwhile, Catherine had my feet soaking in some warm, fuzzy water. One of the other pedicurists was telling her client a story about foot reflexology. It seems that it’s possible – by massaging the foot in the correct manner – to induce labor in a pregnant woman. OMG! When I heard that, I almost spat up my bon-bon!
Catherine then produced a rasp-like instrument and started “exfoliating” the dead skin on the soles of my feet. “Put some elbow grease into it, Catherine,” I instructed. “Those feet haven’t been exfoliated in over 50 years!”
Then she rubbed some granular, salt-like material all over my feet. It felt great! And when Catherine began to massage the bottoms of my feet, I felt a sharp pain and cried out, “Call the doctor, I think my water just broke!”
We all had a good giggle over that as we flipped through our copies of People and Us. One of the gals asked me what men talk about when they’re on the golf course together.
I said, “Well, it’s certainly not about business and cutting deals. Basically, it’s the same sort of insipid, banal, idiotic drivel that you ladies talk about when you get together … only with the men, the subjects are sports, golf, and sports.”
There was a long moment of silence. Then I shrieked, “Just kidding, girls!!!” Everyone laughed and we went back to munching our bon-bons.
I mentioned that since I’d been a teenager, I had been afflicted with “combination skin.” (Note to guys: this is a condition where your facial skin has both dry and oily areas. Trust me, you wouldn’t wish this on your worst enemy.) Everyone commiserated with me and soon we were all having a good cry.
Catherine was now coating my feet with mud that had been shipped in from Lambeau Field in Green Bay, 60 miles away. She wrapped my feet in plastic bags as if they were two tilapia filets. Brown towels covered the plastic bags, a warm compress was placed around my neck, and I dozed off, dreaming of a Tiffany’s shopping spree courtesy of Newt Gingrich.
I must say I really enjoyed my pedicure. In honor of my golf trip, I wanted to have my toe nails painted Augusta National Green. But that would have risked being sued by that club for “color infringement” so I decided to go with Muni Magenta.
I returned to my room, fired up the computer, and started jotting down some notes. The wireless Internet connection was flawless. (Note to computer hackers: the Wi-Fi password is omigodilovetheshowersinthisplace.)
I flipped on the TV and came across plumber Richard Trethewey from This Old House. “Richard,” I thought, “if you saw the bathroom fixtures here, you would think you’d died and gone to heaven.”
And because Richard Trethewey wasn’t there, I decided to honor him and his contributions to the plumbing industry by taking another shower.
The next morning I had breakfast in the Wisconsin Room with Whistling Straits’ head pro, Mike O’Reilly. (You can read his no-holds-barred interview by clicking here.)
What a spread they had! If you didn’t want to partake of the buffet, the menu had everything you could possibly want for breakfast. And the chef will gladly whip up something special for you although he seemed somewhat resistant to my request for Eggs Benedict with a Hollandaise/Fruit Loops infusion.
Mike prepped me for my round that morning at Blackwolf Run’s River Course. Basically, he suggested I stay out of the Sheboygan River. Armed with that “local knowledge,” I thanked Mike for breakfast, grabbed a couple of Splenda packets for my mother in Florida, and headed back to my room to take another shower.
You don’t need a car at the resort. Shuttle vans take you wherever you want to go. But I wanted to get the lay of the land so I drove over to Blackwolf Run, a few minutes away. I passed through quaint residential neighborhoods on roads flanked by towering trees. (If you revere wood…)
One of the nice things about the village of Kohler is that “Ugly America” has been banished from sight: no McDonald’s, no Wal-Marts, no billboards for chiropractors (“A Spine in Line and You’ll Feel Fine.”) Thus, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra, Kohler is my kind of town.
My golf bag was on a cart and waiting for me when I arrived at Blackwolf Run’s River Course. Inside the pro shop, I purchased a cap as it was looking somewhat cloudy and threatening to rain. The assistant pro showed me the radar screen on the computer and indicated a line of showers and lightning that was headed in our direction. He said that a loud horn would blow if lightning was nearby; that would be my cue to get off the course. Ahh, you see what I mean about getting the “little things right”?
After walking Whistling Straits the previous day, my dogs were barking a little bit and I was glad to be in a golf cart. Well, that’s not exactly the entire truth. The truth is, I didn’t want to ruin my toe nail polish by walking for several miles. There! I said it.
Blackwolf Run is a beautiful and challenging Pete Dye golf course. It has hosted the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open and Andersen Consulting World Championships in 1995, 1996 and 1997. And, in 2012, Blackwolf Run will host the U.S. Women’s Open again.
If you play from the correct tees, you’ll have a great time. If you don’t, well, you know how that story ends. I thought I was playing from the correct tees – the Green tees – until I got to the par-3, 13th hole of the River Course.
The tree fronting the green requires you to start a draw over the Sheboygan River … or hit a straight shot to a landing area of about 6 feet. You can’t hit over the tree and you can’t fade it around the tree.
I attempted to hit a straight ball and aimed for the tiny landing area on the right side of the green near the river. Five balls later, I decided to move on to the 14th hole, my golf balls now tumbling along the bottom of the Sheboygan, making their way to the mighty Mississippi River.
Other than “Lucky 13,” the course is a lot of fun. Oh, I forgot to mention that when I made the turn, the horn sounded and a ranger drove out to find me and bring me back in. Lightning was a few miles away and the sky was turning black.
We told each other the “Lee Trevino-Not-Even-God-Can-Hit-A-1-Iron” joke and off I went back to the Blackwolf Run clubhouse. Soon the skies opened up and it was raining sideways.
I hunted down head pro David Albrecht and we had a delightful lunch together. You can read David’s interview here.
Two hours later, the sun came out and I returned to finish the back nine for a most enjoyable day of golf at Blackwolf Run’s River Course.
Blackwolf Run (River Course) Pros: Lovely scenery, challenging but fair course, the silent-running Sheboygan River soothes one’s soul.
Blackwolf Run (River Course) Cons: The 13th hole must be blown up and re-designed. Mr. Dye: please email me for a free consultation.
Summary: The American Club Resort is first-class in every way. First-class golf, first-class accommodations, first-class restaurants. Oh, and whatever is higher than “first class,” that’s what the showers are.
Remember what I said earlier about “getting the little things right”? That attention to detail is indicative that someone “up there” is thinking? Take a look at these two photos of a hangar from my room at The American Club.
Notice the little plastic teeth on the hangar? Those are there to keep your slacks from sliding off the hangar. I’ve seen many a hangar in my lifetime but NEVER a hangar with teeth. Now that’s attention to detail! They’re really on the ball in Kohler, Wisconsin. It’s a golf resort you’ll want to visit again and again.
I’m pleased to bestow upon The American Club Resort my highest rating:
To see the other awards this resort has received, click here.