New lakefront course in the works at Kohler

An update on the development of the fifth course at the Kohler resort


Wisconsin’s destination golf arms race is heating up. It appears that Herb Kohler has taken notice of the attention that Sand Valley and Erin Hills have grabbed in recent years. Plans have been in the works for a while, but the owner of Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run is making progress on a new lakefront golf course.

Map illustrates new location (middle right) of proposed development

Facing opposition from environmentalist groups, Kohler gained approval from the Department of Natural Resources to start construction on a new lakefront golf course in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Reported by Lee Bergquist of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Kohler has cleared the first hurdle of mitigating the 3.69 acres of wetlands on the 247-acre site. The site is a few miles south of Kohler’s Whistling Straits site and south east of Blackwolf Run. As a compromise, Kohler has agreed to build larger wetlands elsewhere in Sheboygan and contribute $200,000 to state wetland upgrades.

The project has faced intense scrutiny from local environmentalists. Dick Willis, Kohler’s director of golf, stated: “We remain committed to implementing a plan that will avoid, minimize and mitigate potential impacts from the public golf course.” The rumor is that the site plans could produce four waterfront holes on Lake Michigan.

With 247 acres and an initial budget of $25 million, the project is setting its sights high. Due to the effort to limit environmental impact, it appears the course will have a minimalist approach to its design. Another sign of the changing times in architecture. Kohler’s other properties, Whistling Straits, and Blackwolf Run are feats of modern construction where architect Pete Dye moved millions of yards of earth. It seems that the new site will have a distinct feel, cut out of an existing forest preserve. Think Forest Dunes on Lake Michigan.

Planned site of the new course development

With Kohler’s propensity to chase championship golf, I would venture to guess that the golf course design will have major championships in mind. The area has plenty of room for parking and experience with numerous PGA Championships and the upcoming 2020 Ryder Cup. One glaring concern would be the environmental impact that a major championship would have on the construction. One of the things that comes with majors is the need for ample infrastructure (grandstands, hospitality tents, etc). In order to accommodate the infrastructure additional tree removal would be required.

In recent years, Wisconsin has become a hotbed for public golf, and this will add fuel to the fire. Mike Keiser’s Sand Valley has received rave reviews on their first two courses and is zeroing in on an architect for the third. Erin Hills drew attention from hosting the 2017 US Open. The new lakefront course in Sheboygan will turn the spotlight back to Wisconsin’s ritziest resort just in time for the 2020 Ryder Cup.

The 18th at Whistling Straits in the 2016 PGA Championship - Photo Credit: DJ Piehowski

Given the success of the other Wisconsin courses, expectations will be sky high. One question that remains is the architect? In March of 2014 the plans were for legendary Pete Dye to design the course, but with the time that has passed, it leaves room for doubt. Regardless of the architect, this future Wisconsin destination has the potential to be a special project.