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Published on Monday, October 7, 2019

A golfer's dream

Goofy about golf, TravelMole's Graham McKenzie couldn't believe his luck when he was invited to stay at The American Club, Kohler, Wisconsin. We wouldn't be surprised if he had to be forcibly removed on check-out day. Here's his review...

Location: A year from now the US and European teams will be basking in the glory of victory, or commiserating in defeat, at the American Club, Kohler, Wisconsin, the home of Ryder Cup 2020. On the shores of the Lake Michigan,  a stone's throw from the venue for the competition, Whistling Straits, is the American Club, one of the standout hotels in the whole of America. Kohler is about an hour north of downtown Milwaukee and an additional 60 minutes' drive from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. Originally called Riverside it became Kohler when the company of that name set up a factory in 1900. To this day the vast majority of the 2,500 residents work for Kohler and the design of the town, including the houses, has to be approved by the corporation.

First impressions: High levels of service are evident from the moment you arrive, which in my case, due to delayed flight and roadworks, was at 1.30am. Luggage, including golf clubs, were delivered to my room in double quick time with an offer of refreshments.

The buildings that make up the hotel were built in 1918 and were originally used as lodgings for migrant workers employed by the rapidly-expanding corporation, founded in the 1870s by the father of Walter J. Kohler himself, an Austrian immigrant. He provided an enamelled bathtub to a local farmer and the rest, as they say, is history. Walter felt workers needed somewhere decent to sleep and live and the town we now know as Kohler emerged. Heritage and history seep through the bricks on every corner with frequent reminders of the family's benevolent attitude to the workforce. Today Kohler is one of the world's leading suppliers of upmarket kitchen and bathroom equipment and furniture, much of it produced along the same guidelines as the original bathtub from 1873. The present American Club emerged in 1981 as a full-service hotel and is now run by the expanding Kohler Hospitality company, which operates hotels such as the Old Course in St Andrews but also takes care of a myriad of golf courses including Whistling Straits.

The Rooms: If you take out the modern technology, such as tablet room control and giant televisions, the decor is much as you would expect from a well-appointed room in Highclere castle (home of Downton Abbey). The furniture is very much dark wood based, with heavy curtains and quality throws over the beds which are further adorned with more colourful and decorative occasional cushions. In the bathroom, however, the Kohler might is brought to bear with shower rooms that tempt you to stay in all day. Water comes shooting up, cascading down and firing left right and centre as you can lose yourself in an aquatic dream.

Wining and dining: A full range of dining options are available so for breakfast I tried out the rather posh Wisconsin Room. Waiter/ress service allows you to luxuriate in the surroundings, hushed tones and splendid food. In the evening I went slightly down market to the former local for the workers, The Horse & Plow. Here, in more relaxed, sports bar type surrounds you can sample a wide range of local beers and typical pub fare including the infamous Wisconsin favourite deep fried cheese curds. The opinion is out on them, but the ambience of the local bar is a very pleasant contrast to the more formal surroundings of the hotel.

For a mid-morning snack try the Greenhouse cafe , set amongst the impressive formal gardens in the courtyard and housed in an antique solarium from Chorley, Lancashire.

Leisure: The club has extensive spa facilities but, of course, the real jewel in the Kohler crown is golf. Apart from the Ryder Cup hosting course Whistling Straits, other high-quality challenges are easily found in the area. In fact, Whistling Straits golf has two courses - the Irish just inland from Lake Michigan and the Straits, which will host the USA v Europe match and has hosted PGA majors in the past. Only a 3 iron away is the Blackwolf run set up with the ever so impressive River course and the Meadow Valleys.

Highs: The immediate helpful and deferential demeanour of the staff makes one feel very special, wanted and important but it is service with a smile not servitude.

Lows: For a younger generation I am not sure the American Club would get the same praise as I have offered. The bedrooms could be seen as slightly dated rather than classy and there is a general calm about the place rather than lively action.

Verdict: Definitely one for golf enthusiasts. A stay at The American Club starts at $299 low season but definitely not during the Ryder Cup, when the entire hotel will be taken over by the power of the European and the USA authorities. To play golf is also quite expensive and if you want to test your skills on the same course as Rory and Tiger then you're maybe looking at north of $300 per round including a compulsory caddie fee. In both cases, however, combined packages at different times of the year offer better value for your hard earned cash.

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