In many ways this year’s Ryder Cup was a capstone event for Kohler Co.’s foray into championship golf.
After seeing many of its guests at The American Club resort playing golf at area courses, then-chairman and chief executive officer Herbert V. Kohler Jr. decided to build world-class golf courses Blackwolf Run, which opened in the village of Kohler in 1988, and Whistling Straits, which opened north of Sheboygan along Lake Michigan in 1998.
Those courses have been ranked among the best in the world and have held numerous professional golf championship events, including the 1998 and 2012 U.S. Women’s Opens at Blackwolf Run and the 2004, 2010 and 2015 PGA Championships at Whistling Straits.
But the Ryder Cup is probably the most prestigious golf event ever hosted by the Kohler Co. Held every other year, the Ryder Cup pits a team of Americans against a team of Europeans.
The 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits was postponed until this year due to COVID-19. When the event was finally held in September, it was an enormous success, featuring enthusiastic crowds, beautiful weather, a spectacular lakefront setting and a victory for Team USA.
In a Sports Illustrated article, golf writer Joe Passov called Whistling Straits the best course in the history of the Ryder Cup, which has been played since 1927.
“We set out to host an incredible event, showcase Wisconsin as a global golf destination, and I think we really blew people away,” said David Kohler, the company’s current president and CEO and son of executive chairman Herbert V. Kohler Jr. “It really was incredible.”
In recognition of hosting the highly successful Ryder Cup, Kohler Co. is the BizTimes Milwaukee Best in Business Family-Owned Business of the Year.
Designed by legendary golf course architect Pete Dye, Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run put Wisconsin on the international golf map and led to the development of more world-class courses in the state including Erin Hills and Sand Valley.
“We wanted to see Kohler host (the Ryder Cup), recognizing the contribution my father and Pete Dye had to the game of golf in Wisconsin,” David Kohler said. “Their courage and commitment and imagination … led to other investment in golf in the state that has altogether created a tremendous contribution … making Wisconsin one of the most sought-after global golf destinations.”
But now, for the first time in many years, Kohler Co. is not scheduled to host another major golf tournament. However, talks are ongoing, David Kohler said.
“We’re absolutely committed to continuing to host major-level events and championships,” he said. “We’re in conversation with all of the governing golf bodies right now as to which events. We’ve built a pretty incredible resume. It’s just a matter of us, with the governing golf bodies, (figuring out) which events make the most sense. I’m very confident you’ll see signature events continue on these courses.”
Kohler said he “firmly” believes Whistling Straits will get to host more Ryder Cups. With several future venues already picked, the earliest opportunity for Whistling Straits would be in 2041.
The PGA’s decision to move the PGA Championship to May (from August) makes it less likely Whistling Straits would host that event again, but Kohler refuses to rule it out.
“I wouldn’t say anything is out of the picture, but certainly that time of year from a growing standpoint is more challenging when you are in the state of Wisconsin,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kohler Co. is still trying to get its plans for another lakefront golf course approved for a site on the south side of Sheboygan. The project has run into numerous legal and environmental roadblocks, but Kohler said the company is committed to working through the process and expects to eventually get it done.
“We’re very committed to seeing it through,” he said. “We’re long-term oriented as a company and are working through those specific issues and challenges.”
Continuously looking to enhance its offerings, this year Kohler Co. opened The Baths, a 10-hole Par 3 course and a two-acre putting course at Blackwolf Run.
“It’s really fun,” Kohler said. “It’s a delightful experience.”
On the manufacturing side of its business, Kohler Co. is building a 155,000-square-foot expansion of its facility in the Sheboygan County town of Mosel. The expansion, which will become operational in the first quarter of 2022, will provide a “state-of-the-art” production and testing facility for the company’s generator business, Kohler said.
“That business continues to grow at a very rapid pace, with demand for standby power (residential and industrial),” he said. “(The plant will have) significant capability to produce a wide variety of generators for the North American market.”
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