A visit to Destination Kohler in Wisconsin offers an opportunity to indulge
For me, the appeal was the spa and yoga in the woods. For my husband, world-class golf was the attraction. For both of us, a three-day, two-night stay at The American Club in Kohler, Wis., was just the COVID-19-safe getaway we needed to end summer and celebrate our anniversary. You may recognize the name Destination Kohler for its water-themed spa or its amazing annual food and wine festival. But its likely one of its four popular golf courses —Whistling Straits — which was scheduled to host the Ryder Cup next week that you know the best. That event was delayed a year, but that means you have the chance to enjoy this upscale resort that’s an easy five-hour drive from the Twin Cities.
We made a long weekend of our trip, stopping first to Milwaukee for a fun night exploring that city that was supposed to be in the spotlight this summer with the Democratic National Convention scheduled for mid-August, followed a month later by the Ryder Cup about an hour north. For our return trip home from Kohler, we drove through Green Bay and stopped for a late lunch along the way. In Kohler, I talked to another couple visiting from the Twin Cities and a Chicago couple with a toddler who were staying a few nights before heading to Door County for the week. That is all just to say you can make a quick trip to The American Club or combine It with a tour of Wisconsin’s east coast with views of Lake Michigan.
But first, some background on The American Club and its connection with the famous bath and kitchen fixtures company, Kohler. The company dates to 1873 when John Michael Kohler renovated a cast-iron water trough by extending it 4 feet and enameling it, selling it to a local farmer for a cow and 14 chickens. The modern-day bathtub was born then — as well as Kohler Company. The Village of Kohler was established in 1912, one of the nation’s earliest planned communities, that served the immigrant workforce employed at the factory. The early-day version of The American Club served the families in a dormitory setting that included a pub and barbershop and even bowling alley. The Kohler factory is still a thriving business and sits just across the street from The American Club.
Today, the resort includes two hotels, remote cabins, a spa, four 18-hole championship golf courses, a kitchen and bath design center, a wilderness preserve, fine dining restaurants and a number of shops. The focus on water, healing, and nature are evident across the property and, as you can imagine, the bathrooms in each room at the five-diamond resort are indulgent.
You’ll want to save up for a vacation here if you’re balancing budget with experiences, as the golf, spa treatments, and many other activities each have extra fees. My husband and I enjoyed hosted accommodations and a media rate for the golfing, but it was still a hefty price tag for all we did. But the resort offers a number of themed packages and midweek specials. If you do decide to splurge, here are five ways to enjoy your stay.
Pampering myself was the plan for this trip and Kohler Waters Spa lived up to expectations. As one of only 64 five-star spas across the world, the massive center includes a full menu of treatments from facials to massage to unique therapeutic water treatments. I spent a relaxing afternoon enjoying the spa’s well-appointed locker room with a steam room, sauna, whirlpool and showers. I also lounged in the large relaxation pool with its waterfall for an hour before I received a Healing Waters hydrotherapy treatment. The experience was like no other. The room was equipped with a custom 5-foot-long showerhead (designed by Kohler, no doubt) that swung over me as I lay on a waterproof massage bed. My therapist got a good workout as she exfoliated my body and shampooed my hair while also splashing cold water on me that alternated with a stream of warm water from the showerhead. I enjoyed it, but anyone who fears water or dreads any sense of splashing water definitely should avoid this one and stick with a more traditional massage. Hydrotherapy treatments and massages start at $177 for 50-minute sessions; pedicures start at $100.
Golfing a bucket-list championship course was my husband’s plan, and he said it was spectacular. Located along two miles of the Lake Michigan shoreline, The Straits at Whistling Straits started off as flat, unremarkable farmland, but was converted by famous golf designers Pete and Alice Dye into rugged terrain that looks so difficult on camera. You’ve likely seen it on TV, too, as the course has hosted the 2004, 2010 and 2015 PGA Championships and the 2007 U.S. Senior Open. While COVID-19 delayed this year’s Ryder Cup, golfers are set to return to Whistling Straits in a year for the tournament. We got a kick out of all the Ryder Cup materials still branded for 2020, with no attempt to update to 2021. The no-cart course is open to the public but the starting greens fee of over $400 certainly limits a lot of would-be golfers.
The wind was strong when my husband and a friend hit the links and word was was that English professional golfer Nick Faldo was there practicing. Just thinking about playing there is somewhat frightening, my husband explains, and it certainly can look every bit as difficult as you might think. But if you take it on from the right tees, he says, it’s a playable course that still provides an incredible round of thought-provoking golf. Golfers may face some of the most ridiculous and impossible-seeming shots they’ve ever seen, but with the help of the caddies, it’s not only manageable but really epic, he says.
As a bonus, my husband enjoyed another round of golf the final morning of our visit, staying closer to our lodging at The River at Blackwolf Run. He called this course one of the most beautiful courses he’s ever seen, as the Sheboygan River comes into play on at least 10 holes and factors into a range of shots. This course actually requires more accuracy than the Straits because the long grass and narrow fairways.
OTHER OUTDOOR EVENTS
While my husband golfed Blackwolf Run, I, too, enjoyed the serene setting and beautiful weather of the course with a morning yoga session on a platform in the woods at the course. While we didn’t see anyone teeing off as we walked the 10-minute muddy trail to the platform, the mist from the greens and off the water was gorgeous. The session is arranged through The American Club and maxed out at 10 participants, just enough for all of us to fit comfortably on the wooden platform. After the 45-minute session, we were invited to take our time making our way back to the clubhouse. Other activities throughout the River Wildlife property and nearby parks include hiking, canoe and kayak rentals, bike trails, fishing expeditions and trap shooting. A family pass to River Wildlife is $56 for the duration of your stay.
I didn’t plan to spend an afternoon looking at toilet designs and shower amenities, but that’s just what I did in the Kohler Design Center as part of the resort. In an expansive showroom of kitchen and bath vignettes, the interior design geek in me loved the playful vibe of the modern displays, the color combinations, and the lookbooks for inspiration. While I didn’t come home with any fancy new shower enclosures or kitchen faucet, I enjoyed browsing the latest in trends and ideas. A walk through the showroom is free, and the adjacent Kohler museum was closed for COVID-19 safety precautions while we visited.
DINING AND DRINKS
Finally, with all the golfing, walking, yoga and other exercise, I didn’t feel too guilty enjoying Kohler’s popular Terrapins (their version of a chocolate turtle) and the chocolate brandy. There’s a magic in getting dressed up for dinner each night, too, to enjoy a cocktail in the lounge or a special meal. The American Club offers five restaurants and cafes to choose from, but we headed to Taverne on Woodlake in the nearby Shops at Woodlake the first night for some innovative crispy Korean cauliflower and a prosciutto and fig flatbread that was completely satisfying. The next day, we enjoyed lunch at Whistling Straits first on the patio and then inside by the hearth after rain set in. Home to the annual Kohler Food and Wine Experience, the event each fall is as popular with foodies as the courses are with golfers. But even if you can’t make it for that event, which this year is canceled, Destination Kohler provides recipes to make at home from its chefs. The variety of recipes featured on the very robust and informative website are just one example that this resort offers something for everyone to explore.
DESTINATION KOHLER INFO
Destination Kohler, which includes the five-star, five-diamond The American Club hotel as well as Whistling Straits golf course as part of the resort, is a five-hour drive from the Twin Cities. It is located in Kohler, Wis., about an hour north of Milwaukee and an hour south of Green Bay. Find more at americanclubresort.com.