With the recent announcement of Herb Kohler and Pete Dye bringing another course to the Kohler golf “stables”, Wisconsin will again be the beneficiary of adding to its world class portfolio. Last fall Mike Keiser announced his intentions to build a new resort south of Wisconsin Rapids with the desire to bring his Bandon Dunes experience to the Midwest. SentryWorld, the course that started it all, is preparing to opens its doors in August as the Robert Trent Jones layout debuts a needed facelift. Golf is on comeback in the Dairy State, but is that a good thing? In some ways, maybe not.
While Wisconsin is blessed with some wonderful courses the majority are out of reach for many players. Justifying a $400 greens fee/caddy fee to shoot 100+ on Whistling Straits may not be an appealing option for John Q. Public. It might make a nice anniversary gift or Christmas present from the kids but it’s not likely to be a monthly indulgence. For most it will be like John Calipari’s Kentucky hoops program — one and done.
When golf officials scratch their heads as to why more players are leaving the game it might be due to the fee structures that have arisen with these new “ultra-courses”. It’s easy to see why these facilities come to fruition. Rich people want to play there and they have the bucks to stay a few nights, drink and dine and grab a few $100 embroidered shirts.
Those knowledgable with public golf in the Midwest are familiar with the name Joe Jemsek. Often considered the patriarch of Chicagoland public golf, Jemsek brought the country club experience to the masses with his facilities. Most notably St. Andrews and Cog Hill, multi-course establishments where quality comes through in course conditioning and amenities surrounded by a cold beverage and hearty sandwich. Pine Meadow is another great venue in their collection with a course reminiscent of one you might find in the sandhills of North Carolina. Each property is affordable and each one features a practice area second to none.
While I realize the Kohler Company focuses on making a profit with their hospitality businesses, I wonder if Herb has done all he can to “make his mark” on the sport. No doubt his facilities are top-notch but I wonder if he’d consider building a course for the common man. Structure the fees so others not able to participate in $1600 foursomes could experience play at an internationally recognized facility. I doubt he sees the benefit of such a gesture, which is what it would be. An opportunity to give back to a game that has certainly benefitted his multi-billion dollar empire.
I know Herb Kohler. I like the man. I also know he doesn’t give anything away. It’s his nature. But as he spends the latter stage of his life building his fifth course, it would be admirable if Herb went the extra yard and invited the John Q’s of the sport to play one of his layouts in affordable fashion. Those who come after his passing would remember him for the right reason — a man, like Joe Jemsek, giving back to the game, making it accessible to all. I can think of a few billion reasons why he should.