Spending the weekend at Destination Kohler, one of the nation’s premier golf and spa resorts, is like experiencing the most exclusive country club you can imagine. Luxuriously appointed rooms, first-class dining, championship golf and out-of-this world spa treatments ensure that each of your senses is engaged, no, indulged.
From the moment we entered its lush, tree-lined lanes, the staff lived up to the Wisconsin property’s exclusive reputation. Every lawn, tree and flower bed was neatly manicured. The bellhop addressed us by name all weekend. Tuxedoed waiters appeared as if from nowhere to replace the flatware and fill our glasses, and we got the distinct impression that the concierge would gladly carry clubs to the course herself, if necessary. It’s that attention to every last detail that keeps guests returning year after year. Most of the couples, mother-daughter pairs and golf partners we met during our stay, many of whom travel and golf all around the world—are Kohler ‘regulars’ who keep coming back for an experience unavailable elsewhere.
Just a seven-hour drive from St. Louis, The Village of Kohler (as the town is officially called) is one of the nation’s first planned communities and home to the corporate headquarters of the renowned kitchen and bath company and its subsidiaries, Baker and McGuire fine furniture and Ann Sacks Tile. It was designed in the early 19th centurtry by Walter Kohler (son of Kohler Co. founder John Kohler) and Frederick Law Olmsted, famed landscape architect whose other notable work includes New York’s Central Park and The Biltmore Estate. Today the tiny hamlet (covering just 4.5 square miles) is a mix of residential homes, luxury hotels, shopping, golf, gardens and of course, Kohler’s factory and design center, which is still a family-run business under the helm of Herb Kohler. One of the property’s earliest structures and the current home of its most upscale lodging and dining opportunities is the American Club, designed in 1818 to house the company’s many immigrant workers. Even then the American Club was renowned for its amenities, very atypical for factory workers: private rooms, modern showers and lavatories (with the luxury of hot water), plentiful meals and opportunities for recreation (they even had a bowling alley!). The gesture earned the Kohler family a reputation for exceptional hospitality that continues almost 200 years later.
Today, the American Club is a AAA Five Diamond lodging and the center of the Kohler experience. It houses nearly 200 rooms, the property’s finest restaurant, the AAA Four Diamond Immigrant Restaurant, the full-service Kohler Waters Spa and other nooks and crannies in which guests quickly make themselves at home. Overstuffed couches, courtyard swings and a barstool at the Horse and Plow for a pint of Wisconsin’s Spotted Cow beer all beckoned during our stay, and each delivered more than promised.
The Spa, located in the Carriage House just adjacent to the American Club, offers more than 50 services. Guests should consider themselves warned, get everything else on your agenda done before heading to the spa, because once you’re there you might not want to leave! In fact, some do just that by opting for a room in the upstairs Carriage House, where it’s not uncommon to see guests going to and from the elevators or sneaking some fruit, cheese or a beverage during happy hour decked out in spa robes and sandals. Don’t miss the signature water treatments (trust us, these people know their water), especially the Riverbath or Highland Fling.
Kohler’s passion for design is evident everywhere you look, from the artfully restored period pieces of the American Club’s common spaces (surely a visiting President once sat here, right?) to the sleek spa style of the Carriage House guest rooms. But furniture, linens and flooring all pale in comparison to the resort’s fixtures. An entire story could be written on the ‘sinks of Kohler,’ and after a while I started seeking out the bathrooms of every room or building I visited, regardless of whether nature called. Each is a delight, ranging from beautiful hand-painted porcelain bowls to ultra-mod waterfall faucets. For those design junkies out there, make sure to visit the 36,000-square-foot Kohler Design Center, which offers free tours seven days a week. It showcases the latest and greatest in kitchen and bath design, as well as a history of the company and the Village itself.
With four championship courses designed by Pete Dye, Kohler is a golfer’s paradise. The jewel in its crown, Whistling Straits, has played host to many of the game’s best players since it opened in 1998, and will do so again in 2010 when it hosts the PGA Championship. Arriving at the course (via The American Club’s hourly shuttle), you forget for a minute that you’re in Wisconsin. The course’s green rolling hills, craggy vistas and the rugged Lake Michigan shoreline could be right out of Ireland. Close your eyes and that breeze from Lake Michigan feels just like the salty Irish Sea. The fact that golfers share the course with a flock of Scottish Blackface sheep (yes, sheep) is just icing on the cake.
Even the clubhouse, with its rubble stone walls, slate roof, huge fireplaces and hand-hewn wood ceiling beams, is designed to resemble an Irish barn. If the course wasn’t singing its Siren song, I might have been tempted to spend the day on the huge leather couches near the clubhouse fireplace, it was that inviting. And interestingly, nothing about Whistling Straits seems like a copy, but rather an homage to the game’s humble beginnings across the pond. Thanks to its jaw-dropping setting, a drink on the patio of Whistling Straits clubhouse is something of a Zen moment, whether you are an avid golfer or have never swung a club.
Consistently rated one of the world’s greatest courses by every publication from Golf Digest to Midwest Living, Whistling Straits offers changing elevations, sand bunkers and deep rough. Professionals and amateurs alike are welcomed and guided by the course’s required caddies—which, like everything else about Kohler, is a welcome luxury, especially to weekend golfers accustomed to schlepping their own bags around local courses.
The resort’s concierge will help you get the most out of your stay, arranging tee times and transportation so that you can enjoy all the golf you’re up for, be it once around the links or 36 holes a day. But because the courses are open to the public, be sure to arrange your rounds more than two weeks in advance of your arrival, when the tee times are opened to local golfers.
The resort offers more than golf of course. Outdoor recreation enthusiasts can enjoy walking and hiking the Village’s many scenic paths and public gardens, fly fishing and, depending on the season, snow shoeing and cross-country skiing. Foodies will love the diversity of cuisine and the resort’s pride in it, from the white tablecloths of the Immigrant Room to the homemade pasta at Cucina and award-winning wine list at the Winery Bar. And brunch in the Wisconsin Room? You won’t need to eat for a week! Shop-a-holics will be sated by Kohler’s ‘Shops at Woodlake,’ more than 34 lakeside shops and restaurants. They even make their own boutique line of high-end chocolates (as if there weren’t already enough to lure you there), many, many of which were purchased and stashed in my suitcase for the drive home.