KOHLER, WI - If you’ve pegged Wisconsin as America’s cheese capital, give yourself credit. The state actually produces more than 600 different varieties of cheese. Golf fans, however, might know Wisconsin — Kohler, in particular — better as home of the American Club Resort and its famous Whistling Straits Golf Course (its sister course is Blackwolf Run) where in August (2015) the PGA Championship will return for a third time.
A disclaimer, though, lest you think I’m about to take you on a literary journey through this links-style course — although I come from a golfing family and once played competitively, albeit in high school, I swore off the sport years ago. In fact, when I recently spent a long weekend at the American Club Resort, I didn’t even pick up a club.
I did, however, dine at Whistling Straits Restaurant, which overlooks Lake Michigan and the course, and stroll a few holes, and for a second, I think about taking a few swings. The course, after all, reminds me of scenes I’ve seen on TV of Scotland’s famed St. Andrews, and the lakeside setting is certainly appealing. But then the resort beckons, and I immerse myself in a weekend of water, food and wine, and yes, chocolates.
If Kohler sounds familiar for reasons other than golf, take a peek in your bathroom where you’ll probably find the Kohler logo on your sinks, tub or toilet. Since 1883 when the company sold its first plumbing product, Kohler’s been a household name in bathroom fixtures and design.
Ironically, the American Club has those early roots to thank for its creation, for in 1918, the structure was built to house immigrant workers who only had to walk across the street to work at Kohler’s factory. For $27.50 (U.S.) per month, each man received a single room, board and washing.
In 1978, the American Club earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places and closed its doors for renovations. Three years later, it reopened and is today a AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five-Star luxury hotel with 240 rooms. (There are also other lodging choices, including an annex to the American Club called The Carriage House; Sandhill, a secluded nature retreat; and the three-star Inn on Woodlake.)
Not surprisingly, each of the rooms at the American Club features Kohler bathroom fixtures. Mine, for instance, boasts one of the fanciest tubs I’ve seen, and if my time weren’t already occupied, I might be tempted to spend my stay there.
Instead, I spend my soaking time at the Kohler Waters Spa. Although I don’t usually enjoy hanging out for long at spas — I have trouble sitting still — the environment is so appealing that I give in. I split my time between a cozy room with a fireplace and a lounge with a large cascading waterfall that empties into a swimming pool.
Through my whole spa experience, in fact, I hear nothing but water, which only seems fitting. It lulls me into a zen-like calm before I plunge into the RiverBath, a treatment that includes a soak in a tub with flowing currents and soft but colourful lighting.
In all honesty, I’ve come to the resort for the Kohler Food and Wine Experience, an annual, four-day culinary event that features celebrity chefs and wine experts from around the world. Even if you’re not staying at the resort, you can attend free lectures, sign up for special presentations or enjoy complimentary demonstrations and tastings. (During my stay, I catch a cooking demonstration by celebrity chef Cat Cora, sip tasty brews at the Belgian Beer Café, and enjoy a beer and food pairing seminar led by Marc Storefront, Belgian Master beer sommelier.)
The resort features a dozen restaurants and eateries spread throughout Kohler Village, five of which are at the American Club.
For instance, there’s Horse & Plow, a casual tavern that once served as the taproom for Kohler employees who lived at the Club. Today, it serves upscale pub food and craft microbrews. Or you can visit the Winery Bar and choose from almost 500 wines and more than 40 Wisconsin cheeses.
The ultimate gourmet experience, however, is the Immigrant Restaurant, which features six rooms — Danish, Dutch, English, French, German and Norman — that honour the early settlers of Wisconsin. Although it’s a little fancy for my taste, especially since men must wear jackets, I enjoy the intimate ambiance with the mahogany wood flooring and candlelit tables.
I find, though, my favourite at the Greenhouse, a solarium that was shipped over from Chorley, Lancashire, and then reassembled here. It’s my morning haunt for coffee and tea, but I don’t need the caffeine buzz. The natural light is enough to give me an energy boost.
What surprises many guests, though, is that this isn’t solely a resort but a village as well. It was created to be a community for Kohler employees, and although the company still maintains a presence there, the pedestrian-friendly village has become a hub for tourists.
There are running and hiking paths, even a state-of-the-art health and racquet club, and a design centre which warrants a visit, even if you’re not in the market for anything bathroom-oriented. There, you’ll find three floors of bathroom products, whirlpools, professionally designed kitchens and bathrooms, art gallery and various displays highlighting Kohler’s history.
And then, of course, there’s the golf. It’s quite possible that if I watch the PGA Championship on TV, I might have a small pang of remorse about not playing.
Any chance I can call for a mulligan at that point?
To find out more about the American Club Resort, go to www.americanclubresort.com
/ The Straits Course at Whistling Straits will welcome the 2015 PGA Championship, and in 2020 it will host the Ryder Cup Matches. Both Whistling Straits and its sister course Blackwolf Run were designed by the great Pete Dye. / A number of U.S. and Canadian airlines can get you to Kohler, Wisconsin via Chicago or Minneapolis from Toronto.