Commentary: Find the fairway

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:09 pm

Golf Digest recently published its list of the top 100 public golf courses in the United States.

Amazingly, 10 of them are located in Wisconsin. Only California has more courses on the list, with 11. Michigan tied Wisconsin for second place with 10 of its own.

For many Americans, Wisconsin is the land of the “frozen tundra.” But when the snow melts, Wisconsin has a lot more to offer and is actually a golfer’s paradise.

A 2010 industry report found golf had a $2.4 billion annual economic impact on Wisconsin’s economy and there’s little doubt that has only grown since, especially with the opening of the acclaimed Sand Valley Golf Resort near Nekoosa. Sand Valley was developed by Mike Keiser, renowned for developing Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon. Two Sand Valley courses made the Golf Digest top public courses list.

When Sand Valley opened in 2017, Golf Advisor named Wisconsin its No. 1 golf destination for the year. “Central Wisconsin is set to boom as the Midwest’s next hot golf destination,” Golf Advisor wrote.

Wisconsin’s best golf courses are drawing golfers from outside of the state to play here, providing a significant economic boost. The state needs to take advantage of its growing status as a golf destination.

Next year, Whistling Straits will host the Ryder Cup. The Straits Course at Whistling Straits, located north of Sheboygan, is the top-rated golf course in Wisconsin, according to Golf Digest, and the third-best public course in the nation.

Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run, both developed by Kohler Co., have two courses each on the Golf Digest list.

Kohler Co. wants to create another championship-caliber golf course at a 247-acre site south of Sheboygan, along Lake Michigan and adjacent to Kohler-Andrae State Park. The company has owned the undeveloped land since the 1930s.

But the bathroom fixture manufacturer is running into legal trouble in trying to get the course built. Earlier this year, an administrative law judge overruled a wetland fill permit for the course approved by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Kohler wants to fill 3.7 acres of wetlands on the site. The judge said the DNR lacked sufficient information to approve those plans and that filling the wetlands could cause environmental damage.

Critics of the Kohler golf course plans would love to see the project killed. Some say the DNR under Scott Walker’s administration gave Kohler Co., which also plans to cut down half of the trees on property, preferential treatment in approving the plans.

Hopefully there will eventually be a resolution to build the golf course with limited environmental impact. We need to accept the fact that any new development changes the original landscape of a site.

But done the right way, a new Kohler Co. golf course south of Sheboygan should be able to protect the site’s most important natural assets and still create a new destination to enhance Wisconsin’s status as the best place to play golf in America.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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