Q&A With Herb Kohler
HERB KOHLER, 69, might be best known for plumbing fixtures, but he's also the globe-trotting owner of Whistling Straits, Blackwolf Run and the American Club in Kohler, Wis. -- and the Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews.
Q: When you travel, what aspect of lodging is most important to you enjoying your trip?
A: A good bed. A good mattress. A mattress with a pillow top so there's a degree of firmness and yet it's very soft on top. Boy, couple that with a feather pillow and I'm like a baby in a basinet.
Q: What aspect of your five-star American Club are you most proud of?
A: Well, it's way out of the way of the traveler. It's not on either coast. It's in Wisconsin, which is not on the main thoroughfare of either business or tourist traffic, and it's been the only five-diamond resort hotel in the Midwest since 1984.
Q: Say you're leaving tomorrow for a golf trip. What's the first thing you pack other than your golf clubs?
A: I carry a little box of gum. It's made in Australia. Just gum. It's made by the Ferndale Company. It has no sugar. It has menthol and eucalyptus, and it has a wonderful refreshing taste. Whether it's after a meal or during the day it refreshes you. I make sure I have a few boxes of that gum with me all the time.
Q: If someone sent you to an island with no access to the outside the world, what is on your iPod? What one movie would you bring for your DVD player? And what bottle of Scotch is in your luggage?
A: In regards to music, I'd bring my wife and her iPod. She fills our house with music. We like an Italian opera -- you can't beat 'em. The movie that got Best Picture this year -- "No Country For Old Men," I saw it twice within a week and I could go back another two times. I was fascinated by that movie -- many aspects of it. I loved the acting. It was a masterpiece. I probably bring the Glenmorangie 24. I have to tell you I'd also bring a bottle of Bushmill -- which is an Irish whiskey.
Q: If your pilot had problems do you think you could land the plane?
Q: Do you have a pilot's license?
A: I did. I don't fly enough today to maintain currency but I could land. I'd talk on the radio a good bit, [Laughing] but I'd be able to land the plane.
Q: Do you remember the last time you flew on a commercial airline?
A: About a year ago -- to New Zealand.
Q: Are you an aisle or a window guy?
A: [Laughing] In a commercial plane? Because on a private plane you don't have that problem. But on a commercial plane, I'm probably an aisle guy. Although, if I happen to be on the window, it's a nice place to put a pillow.
Q: You own 36 holes at Whistling Straits, 36 at Blackwolf Run and then 18 in Scotland, the Dukes. Other than those five, what's your favorite course in the world?
A: Royal County Down, because it has all the characteristics of a links course you could possibly want. It was done with very little money at the turn of the century. It was built with about 500 pounds back then. It's on an incredible piece of ground that didn't need much diggin', they just needed to cut the grass.
Q: What do you love about Pete Dye?
A: To my knowledge, he's the only designer in golf who is a consummate artist. He doesn't own a computer, doesn't even own a cell phone [Laughing]. He walks the land four or five times personally. Then he takes a topo map and puts a dot for a tee, a dot for a landing area and a dot for a green. He has a routing and then connects the dots. That's the last time, and the only time, a pencil touches paper. And then everything is accomplished by Pete Dye working with a project manager, who he's probably worked with for 20 years. Mind you, he has about a dozen of these fellows, but he'll come to that sight every seven to 10 days. He goes over the details with the project manager, who knows all of Pete's likes and dislikes, and they make adjustments, and they lay out another 10 days worth of work and away he goes. It's absolutely natural -- it's Pete's hands -- and he is such an artist with a great feel for the game. One important aspect is that he always builds five tees. And those forward tees are often very considerate of the amateur but the back tees will screw with the mind of the pro, or the 3 -- handicap or less, in such a way that it will cause them fits. Pete's always screwing around with the mind of the professional and he does it in an amazing way. That's some of the reasons that attracted us to him, and we've stuck with him ever since. In my mind he's clearly the strongest living designer. Tom Doak is a pupil of Pete Dye and he's building some fantastic courses.