The American Club

The American Club

About an hours’ drive north from Milwaukee, the American Club can be found in the small Wisconsin town of Kohler next to the Sheboygan River and the city of Sheboygan. What started as a house built in 1918 for immigrant workers who came to work for Walter J. Kohler’s Kohler Company (think kitchen and bathroom products) has eventually transformed into one of the best golf resorts in the world.
Kohler wanted to provide board for the foreigners and a positive social setting for them to assimilate into American society. He said at the opening on June 23, 1918:
“The name, American Club, was decided upon as it was thought that, with high standards of living and clean healthful recreation, it would be a factor in inculcating in men of foreign antecedents a love for their adopted country.”*
The American Club opened as a luxury hotel in 1981, and now offers four championship courses for visitors divided between two facilities: Blackwolf Run opened in 1988 featuring The River and The Meadow Valleys courses next to the Sheboygan River; and Whistling Straits, which first welcomed golfers in 1998 to the Straits Course next to Lake Michigan, and then The Irish links-style course in 2000 just inland of it. Whistling Straits is about 15 minutes’ drive from the American Club.
The Straits is famous for hosting the PGA Championship in 2004, 2010 and 2015, won by Vijay Singh, Martin Kaymer and Jason Day respectively. It was also the site of the US Senior Open in 2007, which was won by Brad Bryant, and is set to be the battleground for the 2020 Ryder Cup. It is an imposing links-style course in terms of distance at 7790 yards (7123 meters) as well as having over 1000 bunkers, according to Mike O’Reilly, Head Golf Professional at Whistling Straits. It can be a frightening view from the tee block, but the landing zone is in view and it is more playable than your first impression might suggest, he said.
“There are 1000 bunkers but not every one of them is going to come into play. You could be looking off in the distance and see a series of eight bunkers that are 200 yards off the fairway. They are not going to come into play, but as you are looking at the hole, it’s part of your view so it’s kind of visually intimidating for the player.

“As you are looking at his different holes, you’re in awe of what you see but then, after you play the hole … (you find) it is very playable.”
The Straits Course, a walking-only layout, was designed to look and play like a classic links course in Ireland or Scotland. Eight holes hug the shoreline of Lake Michigan and there are a lot of mounds and dunes throughout the layout as the course rolls with the undulations of the land.
The Irish Course is similar in style to the Straits with its bunkering and dunes but doesn’t have the aesthetic beauty of being lakeside. There are four streams that wind across the layout and 10 wooden bridges to cross them. Nearly 2000 trees were planted in the creation of this course.
Blackwolf Run is a few minutes’ drive from the American Club. The facility is named after Chief Black Wolf who led a Winnebago Indian tribe in the region some 200 years ago.

The River Course has the Sheboygan River running through it and is, according to O’Reilly,
“one of the most beautiful American-style golf courses that you’ll find anywhere”. The river comes into play on 14 holes and the course also has challenging bunkering and large undulating greens. This 7404-yard (6770-meter) layout requires strategic hitting and excellent ball control.
“The River Course is very much a target golf course – if you miss-hit the fairway you are going to pay a severe penalty,” O’Reilly said. The Meadow Valleys Course is the easiest of the four courses and a tale of two nines, with a flatter opening followed by an outstanding closing run that is built into a valley and features a lot of undulations.
“If you ask any of the staff members here what is the best nine here at the resort they are going to say the back nine at Meadow Valleys.”
Golf Digest ranked the Straits Course No. 51 in its list of The World’s 100 Greatest Courses 2016-17 and the River Course No. 16 in its list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses.

The challenges:
On the Straits Course, the huge distance from the back tees (7790 yards, 7123 meters) and enormous number of bunkers (over 1000) will be tough to overcome. Along with the undulating fairways and large, slick greens, it is no wonder the course rating is 77.2. The Irish Course has similar challenges with bunkering as well as four streams to contend with, but those pale in comparison to the River Course, which has 14 holes with water in play and where you have to stay on the fairway and hit your targets. The natural undulations of the Meadow Valleys course on the back nine will intrigue players but this is the easiest course.
When to play:
The courses typically open on April 10 and the season runs until November 15. Although the peak is in June, the fall colors later in the season are stunning. This is one brutally cold place between December and March.
Par: All four golf courses are par 72.
Slope / Rating / Yardage
Blackwolf Run
Meadow Valley: 145 / 75.1 / 7250 yards, 6629 meters
River Course: 151 / 76.2 / 7404 yards, 6770 meters

Whistling Straits
The Straits: 152 / 77.2 / 7790 yards, 7123 meters
Irish Course: 146 / 75.6 / 7201 yards, 6585 meters
Best hole(s):
The Straits Course’s intimidating hole No. 17 features a 249-yard (228-meter) par 3 that hugs the shore of Lake Michigan. You’ll want to miss the large pot bunker on the right side of the green, while the left side has a 20-foot (6-meter) drop off to a series of bunkers before reaching the water.
The Irish Course’s 398-yard (364-meter) hole 10 is a beautiful and difficult par-4 dogleg left, with mounds, dunes and bunkers on the right of the fairway and a large green protected by several bunkers and a sharp drop off the back. On the River Course, the 427-yard (390-meter) par-4 hole 5 has an elevated tee that gives you a stunning view of the fairway, green and Sheboygan River. It has a large bunker on the right and small pot bunkers down the left side of the fairway as well as a large undulating green. “In the fall, when the leaves have changed and the salmon are running up the river, it’s hard to find a better hole in the world,” said O’Reilly. And on Meadow Valleys, the 227-yard (208-meter) hole 15 is a par 3 you will remember. You must carry a large valley to a sloping 18,000-square-foot (1672-square-meter) putting surface.
The pro says:
“As a resort, what is really unique here is that we have four golf courses and they are all four unique experiences. They are challenging golf courses. I’d say of the four, the Meadow Valleys and The Irish are probably the tamest and they are rated that way as well. The River Course is very much a target golf course – if you miss-hit the fairway you are going to pay a severe penalty – and the Straits Course is long, and if it is windy – it is right on the shore of a huge lake and we can get a lot of wind here – it can get very challenging.”
– Mike O’Reilly, Head Golf Professional Whistling Straits

The resort experience:
The American Club is a five-star, five-diamond hotel that has a lot to offer guests in each season of the year. The redbrick building was once an immigrant dormitory and pub in the early 20th Century, but now offers accommodation and services at the height of luxury. The rooms feature opulent and modern interiors and décor. Next door to this historic hotel is the five-star Kohler Waters Spa, which offers a variety of water-inspired treatments such as hydrotherapy as well as specialty massage treatments like Bamboo Bliss. There’s even a rooftop deck with a lounge, fireplace and jacuzzi. The American Club was listed as one of the Top 15 Wellness Retreats in the World by Conde Nast Traveler in 2017 as well as receiving Golf Magazine’s Platinum Award for Premier Resorts – 2016-17.
Other Kohler accommodation can be found at the three-diamond Inn on Woodlake (121 boutique-style guest rooms by a scenic lake) and Sandhill cabin, a secluded retreat on 350 acres (142 hectares) of Wisconsin wilderness. Both of these options give you access to the resort facilities. Most of the resort’s outdoor activities can be found at River Wildlife Lodge, which is about a mile (two kilometers) away. A shuttle service can transport you to the various Kohler facilities and properties.

Dine and wine:
The American Club features four restaurants and one bar. Enjoy four-star, four-diamond dining at The Immigrant Room, which actually has six rooms dedicated to early Wisconsin settlers from Germany, France, Denmark, England and Normandy. The contemporary American cuisine has European influences. I’ll be starting with a King Crab, progressing to the 30-Day Aged Prime Tenderloin with Béarnaise sauce, and finishing with the Vanilla Crème Brûlée. A California Cabernet Sauvignon will go well nicely with it. Otherwise you have the Horse & Plow tavern (pub fare), Wisconsin Room (the original dining hall for immigrants with locally-sourced, seasonal food), The Green House (pastries, ice cream and afternoon tea), and the Winery Bar (fine wine with Wisconsin cheeses). River Wildlife Lodge has a restaurant that has Midwestern fare for lunch with a game theme. Inn on Woodlake has one restaurant and three cafes. You’ll find fine dining and superb views at the Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits restaurants, too. And sleepy heads don’t have to get out of bed to enjoy fine food with the 24-hour room service, as well.

The accommodation:
The plush interiors include fine hand-crafted furniture. The Standard Room (263-349 square feet, 24-32 square meters) has upholstered chairs, ottoman, work table and king-size bed or two doubles. The Presidential Suite (1429 square feet, 133 square meters) has two wet bars, a separate powder room, fireplace, and a King Baker bed. You can expect the bathrooms to have only the finest Kohler fixtures and shower. Those on a smaller budget should consider the Inn on Woodlake or secluded Sandhill cabin.
Other activities:
There are plenty of activities to enjoy in summer and winter at the American Club. Perhaps starting with some Yoga on the Lake (35 classes a week) by Wood Lake or head to Sports Core Health & Racquet Club for tennis, swimming, the jacuzzi and steam room. Young people can sign up for Kohler Kids with games, crafts and movies at the Inn on Woodlake, but the whole family can enjoy the nature walks (all seasons) and pedal boating, canoeing and kayaking in summer. Snowshoeing, ice skating and sledding are all available in winter. Many of the outdoor adventures take place out of River Wildlife Lodge where you can go on a guided horseback trail ride, try trap, clay, or air-rifle target shooting, and fish for trout and salmon as they make their way up the Sheboygan River in season.
* Source:

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