Golf and Non-golf Perspective: Erin Hills and Kohler

Straits Course, Whistling Straights, Kohler

This post marks the first time I have ever uploaded copy I did not write. After reading an email from my friend KC, I thought it was just too good not to share. KC and her husband are life-long friends of mine and he is a serious golfer, she doesn’t play but knows her stuff.  Together they raised three children who all became golfers at the University of Florida. So, you get the picture, they know golf. Enjoy the read.

If you haven’t yet played golf in Wisconsin at Erin Hills and/or the Kohler courses (site of the 2020 Ryder Cup), I can vouch for both that they are fabulous. We read that the lodge at Erin Hills is in the top few lodges for golf in the country and we found it to be nice, though not extraordinary. Our room was minuscule and had no internet access, though it was well decorated and nicely appointed. There was much needed bottled water on tables in the hallways, in the rooms, and elsewhere around the resort for guests to take as needed. This was definitely appreciated as the sun was surprisingly intense and there is limited shade, so even with relatively mild summer temperatures, we felt parched.

We stayed only one night and that was plenty given the small room and limited non-golf activity options. King beds are a rare find here. For larger groups, there are some cottages with multiple bedrooms and a common area. We arrived the day before hubby’s tee time and he played the warm-up holes (Kettle Loop) in the late afternoon.  We both tinkered around on the putting course, and had a delicious dinner and chatted with a lovely family at the table next to us.

The staff at the resort was wonderful – friendly and helpful and good at their jobs.  We almost felt like we were visiting the home of a very gracious and hospitable friend.  Erin Hills is out in the middle of nowhere and a bit pricey for the room we had and lack of amenities beyond golf-related activities, but there aren’t very many other options nearby except lower end hotel/motels some 8-15 miles away.  However, the entirety of Erin Hills is like a giant playroom for those who love golf with a brand new cool 12 hole putting course, a 5-hole warm-up course, a great practice area, and the course itself, which has hosted multiple USGA championships in recent years. The course looks like the moon with grass on it. You will walk many miles up and down hills to play or observe and there isn’t a tree in sight! Hubby’s caddie was a darling girl whom we just loved having with us on the course. Caddies generally pull a double loop unless you request a caddie for a single.

KC and hubby

Erin is ideal for a guy’s or gal’s golf trip or for a couple who golfs. Non-golfers (as I am) need to know in advance that your best bet is to take a good book and enjoy sitting on the shady porch with a cold drink or to walk along with your golfing friend/spouse as there are limited other options for entertainment in the immediate area.

The very lovely Kohler Village offers a top-notch spa, shopping at Woodlake Village, and golf. The Straits, site of the 2020 Ryder Cup, is magnificent—a lot of golf course! This is a links course along Lake Michigan and looks wild and untamed. The Irish is an enjoyable and beautiful course at Whistling Straits, but the main draw is clearly The Straits course. Over at Blackwolf Run, the River Course is scenic and challenging—the sort you could play on every day and not find boring, while the Meadow is somewhat forgettable (we heard—we didn’t play this one).

What I didn’t have a handle on before arriving is that the two hotels, The American Club and The Inn at Woodlake are not close to the golf courses. Whistling Straits is a 15-minute drive, with Blackwolf a bit closer but in the opposite direction. Both require that you take a car or the free area shuttle. The shuttle to Whistling Straits only ran once an hour in each direction, which made that not necessarily a great option, but the Blackwolf Run shuttle ran on demand and was only about a 5 min. drive to the course. One good point – if you play any of the courses, you can then (on their package plans) play either the Irish or the Meadow for free on the same day. The wording on the website sounded to us like you could replay either of those two courses and we didn’t figure out till we were on-site that you can play them gratis after a round on any of the four courses. Hubby switched out a package round on the Irish for a second go at the Straits for a slight upcharge and played the Irish for free as his second 18 one day. 

River Course at Blackwolf Run.

I thought the whole area had a weird preoccupation with plumbing. As I was booking our trip, the rooms were described to me by their various “shower experiences”. I never quite thought of a shower as an experience before. This one turned out to be quite an experience indeed! There were two handles with no markings and nine separate shower heads that came on in various combinations from different angles depending on how you turned the knobs. Let’s just say each of us had our separate experiences with at least one dousing with icy water when turning the wrong knob just ever so slightly to alter water volume or temperature! We laughed a lot about that shower, and come to think of it, I can’t ever recall having that much to say about a shower in any other place I have stayed.

We stayed at the Inn, which was considerably less expensive than the American Club and more casual in feel. For the little time we spent in the room, it was just fine for us. Our tower room was large and comfortable (even with that threatening shower lurking in the bathroom), modern, well-appointed, and it was quiet. Breakfast was included and laundry facilities are available in the hotel. The staff was more than helpful and pleasant. We had full access to the amenities at the nicer resort and the spa, both a few blocks away, and a free on-demand shuttle to take us around the area if we didn’t want to drive.

The 3-story Kohler Design Center is worth a look-see while in the village as it features both the interesting history of the village and the company as well as the latest and greatest Kohler products with one floor dedicated to vignettes of kitchen and bath design by some of their top designers. We were there for an hour and could have spent a bit more time. The shops adjacent to the Inn at Woodlake are upscale (clothing boutiques, Ann Sacks tile, etc.) and there are several restaurants and cafes as well as an interesting Art Space. Dining options abound at the American Club, at The Shops at Woodlake, and at each of the golf course clubhouses. We had a very nice dinner at Blackwolf Run (followed by a trip with the other diners to the ladies locker room in the basement due to a tornado warning) and another with less excitement at the Wisconsin Room at the American Club. This American Club was originally the living quarters for the immigrant workers at the Kohler plant in its early years and the Wisconsin Room was their dining facility. Things have gone upscale in the intervening years as this hotel is now quite lovely with thick carpets, dark paneling, full concierge services, and an elegant British men’s club atmosphere. 

Most of our time during our 3-day/4-night stay was spent at the golf courses, and one afternoon we drove into Sheboygan (15 minutes from Kohler) which we thought was a charming smallish town where we walked along the waterfront and treated ourselves to some yummy ice cream.    

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