Teed up

A successful PGA Championship next week could go a long way in helping Whistling Straits and the Kohler area attract the grand prize of golf tournaments events in the future -a U.S. Open.
Kohler Co. will host the PGA Championship Aug. 9-15 and the U.S. Senior Open in 2007, both at Whistling Straits located just north of Sheboygan, and the company hosted a successful U.S. Women’s Open in 1998 at Blackwolf Run.
The tournaments provide a significant economic boost to the regional economy. The PGA Championship is expected to attract about 250,000 golf fans. The economic impact for the event has been estimated, by some, at around $75 million.
And Kohler Co. is not done hosting big-time golf tournaments. Alice Edland, group vice president of hospitality and real estate for Kohler Co., said the men’s U.S. Open is at the top of the list of major golf tournaments the company hopes to attract.
"Obviously, we’d love to have a U.S. Open," she said. "The U.S. Open is the one thing we would love to get. We know the U.S.G.A. will be visiting us that week," she said.
However, the company will not be hosting the U.S. Open any time soon. Sites for that major golf championship have been selected through 2010, Edland said.
Kohler Co. would also like to host the Ryder Cup, but the earliest Kohler Co. could host that event is 2020, she said.
Hosting another U.S. Women’s Open is also a possibility, Edland said. The 1998 U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run set an attendance record, which held up until this year. The success of that event was a big reason Kohler Co. was able to land the 2004 PGA Championship and 2007 U.S. Senior Open at Whistling Straits, a course that has only been open since 1998.
The company began preparing to host the PGA Championship about four years ago, Edland said.
Work to attract the major golf tournaments takes even longer. Blackwolf Run opened in 1988, and the next year, the company started working to bring a major professional golf championship to Sheboygan County.
"In 1989, I started calling the USGA and the PGA, talking to them about events," she said. "Then I started attending events and meeting with the decision-makers. We were lobbying them, and eventually we extended formal invitations for the events."
Attending the other events helped Edland and other Kohler Co. officials learn what it takes to run a successful golf tournament and manage the large crowds that attend. Edland attended the 10 U.S. Women’s Opens prior to the 1998 tournament hosted by Kohler Co.
Sheboygan County has long been known as the bratwurst capital of the world, in large part due to the presence of Johnsonville Sausage LLC. However, Kohler Co., a firm long known as a plumbing fixtures manufacturer, has made Sheboygan County a visitor’s destination, particularly for golfers. In 2002 Golf Digest named Kohler Co.’s American Club the second-best of the top 75 golf resorts in the United States. The top resort was Pebble Beach in California.
In the1970s, Kohler Co. chairman and president Herbert V. Kohler, Jr. wanted to convert the American Club, an old brick building built in 1918, as a dormitory for the company’s immigrant workers, into an upscale hotel. Consultants said the company should tear the building down or convert it into office space, but Kohler convinced the company’s board of directors to go along with his idea for a luxury hotel.
The resort, which opened in 1981, has been an enormous success and is the only resort in the Midwest with a AAA five-diamond rating.
"I think one of the things that has helped is the whole Kohler brand," said Edland. "The company is known for having a high-end, quality product."
Kohler fixtures are used throughout the resort, and Kohler-owned Baker Furniture products are in each room.
"I think it’s a kind of understated elegance and graciousness to everything," Edland said. "People tend to be pleasantly surprised. When people come to the village, they are so amazed everything fits together so well. They can’t believe a five-diamond resort sits across the street from a factory."
Many of the American Club guests play golf at Sheboygan-area courses during their visits, and Kohler grew tired of sending them elsewhere to play the sport. So in 1988, the company opened Blackwolf Run.
In 1998, Whistling Straits opened to significant buzz in the golf world. The course pays homage to the origins of golf and resembles links-style courses in the British Isles or Ireland. The 18-hole Straits Course was built along two miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, and each hole offers a view of the lake. Whistling Straits also includes another 18-hole course, called the Irish Course.
Golfers at Whistling Straits, in keeping with the historic nature of Whistling Straits, must walk the course. No carts are allowed.
"It was a risk to make Whistling Straits a walking only course," Edland said. "People going to golf resorts are used to being able to ride a cart. But it’s such a special experience, the golfer that really appreciates that will not mind. Mr. Kohler isn’t afraid to take those risks and do something different."
Kohler is looking to build another resort, but not in Sheboygan County. He is considering sites around the country and overseas.
"If he could find a really spectacular piece of property (he will build the resort there)," Edland said.
In Sheboygan County, Kohler Co. is planning to tweak and refine its hospitality entities, but no major changes are planned, Edland said. The company is planning to expand its spa, adding more treatment rooms and a few hotel rooms. That project could begin in October.
Company: Kohler Co.
Hospitality properties: 237-room American Club resort, 121-room Inn on Woodlake, Shops at Woodlake, Blackwolf Run, Whistling Straits, Sports Core fitness club, Kohler Waters Spa.
Web site: www.destinationkohler.com
August 6, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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