A press trip to Wisconsin was truly a revelation. I had no idea this Midwestern state had so many facets: agriculture, cuisine, innovation, history, and even world-class resorts. They grow a lot of cherries and cranberries in the state and manufacture the most popular name in motorcycles worldwide, Harley-Davidson.
Milwaukee hosts its championship basketball team, tradition of brewing, a lot of German cooking, and it’s the home of Penzeys Spices. Ninety minutes down the road by car is the village of Kohler, Wisconsin, and The American Club where I was hosted for a couple memorable nights.
The American Club Becomes A Resort
What started in 1918 as a dormitory for male workers immigrating from Germany to work in the Kohler plumbing factory has been transformed into a historic yet truly modern, graceful Tudor-style center of retreat and recreation, not to mention dining and wellness.
A brief history: As the Kohler brand grew and those who immigrated to Wisconsin in the beginning of the 20th century moved into their own homes in the town named after the family business, the former dormitory was no longer necessary for corporate housing, and then-CEO Herbert Kohler Jr. wanted to convert it into a world-class resort, a task poo-pooed by the consultants he hired. The Kohler board ultimately figured “How much money could he lose?” and approved the project.
Recognized on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, Herbert had his way and his ingenuity and perseverance resulted in the five-star, five-diamond American Club Resort that is a jewel of the Midwest today.
Elegant Lodging At The American Club
Rooms here are posh and inviting with deluxe bedding and bathrooms that are, as you can imagine, far and above your ordinary hotel offering. In fact, between the multi-headed shower and the 10 jets around the whirlpool tub, I went back and forth every day, having a mini spa experience in the comfort of my room. The place is quiet and has unique touches like naming every room after a celebrated person in the arts and decorating it with memorable photos or snippets of screenplays or novels. Marilyn Monroe, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Alfred Hitchcock were just some of the names I passed as I walked through the halls. A special treat in each room is a Kohler chocolate turtle, a sweet Herbert Kohler was driven to get just right — and it will be some of the best chocolate you’ve ever had.
Rooms are in a low-lying three-story complex laid out around a central and very verdant courtyard that is home to the Greenhouse Cafe, numerous gardens, and seating areas perfect for reading a good book. Weddings are popular at The American Club as are corporate retreats and meetings, but there is plenty of room to spread out.
The Kohler Waters Spa Whispers Wellness
Just a quick jaunt across the parking lot brings you to the Kohler Waters Spa and one of the best spa experiences I have had in a long time. Not until I started writing this did I realize that the Kohler Waters Spa is the only five-star spa in the state of Wisconsin.
As you can imagine, as innovators of plumbing and spa fixtures, Kohler knows how to design and put together a spa space with something for everyone. Treatments here are immersive and intensely individualized. After being given a robe and slippers and relaxing with tea and a nibble, your esthetician or masseuse will guide you to a quiet, dimly-lit room while asking you where you have an issue or how they can make your experience wonderful.
After a treatment, relaxing in the quiet or reading areas as well as alternating between the hot, cold, and warm pools is the ultimate way to continue the experience. I did not want to leave. The spa store and healthy cafe are also parts of the Kohler Waters Spa.
Dining At The American Club And Its Restaurant Network
The American Club has several restaurants, both informal and formal, within the hotel itself but also has sister properties that allow dining experiences of all kinds only a shuttle ride away. One of the most convenient features of The American Club is its constant array of shuttles running guests to golf courses, restaurants, shopping, and more. Simply step outside at the front entrance and tell one of the many valets that you need to go somewhere, and the van arrives. A car is not necessary once you get to the Club.
Within the five-star hotel is the pub-like The Horse & Plow with its casual dining menu or burgers, salads, and a special plate lunch. Beers are the preferred beverage here and, being Wisconsin, the choices are extensive. The Wisconsin Room is the elegant dining hall that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner of the quality you expect in a resort of this caliber. You’ll find classic favorites like eggs benedict, sometimes with a local twist like trout or whitefish. When you have something special to celebrate or simply want to ratchet up your food and wine experience, a reservation at The Immigrant is the way to go. Carefully cultivated specialties including delicacies like crab, oysters, foie gras, and truffles are on the menu, either a la carte or prix fixe. The adjoining bar is the only place to get a drink later at night and nibbles can be found here, too.
Off campus, memorable meals can be had at either of the golf course restaurants: Blackwolf Run or Whistling Straits on the shores of Lake Michigan. Open continuously from breakfast through dinner, the menus feature a combination of American and British favorites served in yet another classic historic lodge. For a change of pace and scenery, the River Wildlife Restaurant is in a rustic hunting cabin and features hearty food at a location where kayaks are rented, fly fishing is popular, and the sounds of hunting reverberate through the woods.
The Taverne on Woodlake is part of the Kohler shopping complex around a man-made lake several blocks from The American Club. Walk or take a shuttle and enjoy upscale American classics with a view of ducks or paddle boats.
The Kohler Experience Showroom Is Mesmerizing
Once I was happily ensconced at The American Club, I realized how prevalent the Kohler name is in the lives of Americans and how it is now internationally famous. And, walking a block away from the hotel, entering into a showroom like no other confirms Kohler’s status. The first floor has every imaginable sink, toilet, or shower as well as the famous wall of toilets (and one of sinks as well). The second floor is a series of idea rooms where every imaginable bathroom and kitchen combination, from modern to colonial to plush and stark is represented. After wandering the store, I knew that my next visit back to Kohler will be when I renovate my house in Healdsburg, California. That is my kind of weekend: spa, fabulous accommodation, and hours to imagine how my home might look after a Kohler transformation.
Championship Golf In And Around Kohler
Guests of The American Club may be there for a memorable experience that has nothing to do with plumbing or spa treatments. In fact, many of the guests you will meet are in Kohler for one thing: golf.
Once The American Club was renovated into the five-star experience it is today, the Kohler family felt the area and their legacy in resorts needed some 18-hole excitement, and now there are three courses on which to play. Whistling Straits lays along the shore of Lake Michigan and is a challenging but stunning experience. A bucket list course for many golfers, The 2021 Ryder Cup event at the Pete Dye-designed course firmly planted the flag that this is a world-class golf course. Many other PGA and Women’s Open Championships have been challenged by the Straits’ rugged terrain, hills, and holes that sit very close to a very big lake.
Other Kohler courses include The Irish and Blackwolf Run in Wisconsin as well as the family’s foray into golf in its birthplace, across the Atlantic in St. Andrews, Scotland. Here, one of the most photographed buildings in golf is the Hamilton Grand on the 18th hole of St. Andrews’s Old Course, which was purchased by The Kohlers in 2009 and renovated to the magnificence found in this 26 room inn today. Kohler also owns the Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews.
For more on what to enjoy during your American Club stay, read up on 9 Fantastic Things To Do In And Around Beautiful Kohler, Wisconsin.