Come to Kohler, Wisconsin, for the Ryder Cup, stay for its small-town charm

whistling straits

The Kohler family built Whistling Straits, and just about everything else in town, too.

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Ed. note: This piece is based on an interview conducted Wednesday afternoon in downtown Kohler, Wis., condensed for space and edited for reading clarity.

Okeenow. Say something? Testing, testing. Bogey-par-birdie. My name? I’d prefer just to say Stage Manager. If we could leave it at that, that’d be right nice.

Where am I? OK, you know where am I. Downtown Kohler. Kohler, Wis. What’s it like? Nice town, if you know what I mean. Lotta brick buildings on Main Street. Little bit better behaved than most.

OK, let’s see what you have here. I’ll run down the questions on your sheet here, best I can.

OK, says here Herb Kohler. Herb Kohler is our richest citizen. He built the golf course the fellas will be playing for keeps, come Friday. Built most everything else in town, too, Herb and his family. You can call him Mr. Kohler if you like but he’s happy to answer to Herb, too.

Herb Kohler, right, with 2020 European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington.

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He kinda looks like Santa, but he didn’t the day the PGA fellas announced they were moving their champ’nship from August to May. He had three PGAs in August, but you can’t have a golf tournament in central Wisconsin in May. Don’t feel too bad for ol’ Herb. He’ll sell some tee times and hotel rooms this week, you can be sure of that.

OK, moving on here. Says here local golf. All right. For starters, you can’t imagine a more pretty course than this Ryder Cup course. All those pale-green hills, the dark lake beside it, the heaving fairways. People die in that lake, Lake Michigan, every year, but many more have a good time on it, August most especially. Sometimes it has surf. Not always, but this week it does, with the wind up the moon full. You can surf it. Bring a wetsuit.

OK, says here Accommodations

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Well, to start at the top, both teams — the players, the captains and all those assistants, plus the wives and the partners — are staying at our finest hotel. The American Club, downtown Kohler. Not that AmericInn. That’s down the road, in Sheboygan. The American Club is strictly for tourists, as far as overnight stays. A local couple on their 20th might come for an anniversary dinner. Not this week, though. This week the hotel is battened down like a storm’s coming in, modern security being what it is, plus the pandemic.

Local geography. OK, one of my specialties. This is how our town lies, and I’m glad to tell you because I don’t s’ppose TV will show you much beyond the golf action, if that’s a phrase. Ten miles north from here, Herb’s got two courses, the Straits course, where the Ryder Cup’s being held, and the Irish course, side by each. Resort golf, but not the ticky-tacky kind, not at all. The opposite.

You can make good money, I should say, caddying on those courses — $300, on a good day, cash money. You’ll see the caddies doing their shopping just like we all do, on the outskirts of town, where there’s a Target and a Best Buy and a Home Depot — plus a Tractor Supply Co. store. Most every town’s got the first three. But not maybe the fourth. We’re rural, more than anything else. America’s Dairyland. Though we do have one big employer, of course. The Kohler plant. Take a better look at your faucet, your commode, your shower head.

Talk a little about yourself. OK, a very little. You problee know that Thornton Wilder, the writer, was born in Wisconsin — his father published the Madison newspaper — and I got my start with him. (Stage Manager, Our Town.) You might associate me with Grover’s Corners, N.H. I would say I’m at large. Like Shivas. Shivas Irons.

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Road names. Right. Our road names. Visitors here get a kick out of them. Right here in Sheboygan County we have Playbird Road and County Road O and Y and J, plus FF, and lots of others, making good use of the alphabet.

I should maybe say that visitors here get a kick out of our restaurant names, too. We’ve got the Black Pig, the Blind Horse, the Fat Cow and 3 Sheeps Brewing, though you go to Sheeps more for the tap offerings more than the food. The GOLF.com crowd is camped out there for the week. We say sheeps. We just do.

The Kohler name. OK, there are a whole bunch of things bearing the Kohler name here. A state park. An arboretum. A museum. Various schools. A charity. A large manufacturing plant. The credit union that serves it. Kohler’s a company town. The golf was an afterthought but it’s what got you here. Golf’s been good to the Kohlers and the Kohlers have been good for the game.

By the way, and maybe you didn’t know this: Herb will be back in action next year, in a manner. Years ago, he bought the Old Course hotel, hard by the 17th tee. The Open will be at St. Andrews next year. St. Andrews is a nice town, too. Y’know what I mean?

The Stage Manager welcomes your comments via Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com

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Michael Bamberger

Golf.com Contributor

Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. Before that, he spent nearly 23 years as senior writer for Sports Illustrated. After college, he worked as a newspaper reporter, first for the (Martha’s) Vineyard Gazette, later for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has written a variety of books about golf and other subjects, the most recent of which is The Second Life of Tiger Woods. His magazine work has been featured in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He holds a U.S. patent on The E-Club, a utility golf club. In 2016, he was given the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization’s highest honor.