Whistling Straits
Whistling Straits
Whistling Straits looms over Lake Michigan. (Photo by: Harrison Shiels)

You can create a rainstorm effect right in your own shower, or you can program a three-to-five-minute wakeup shower, for instance.”

Destination Kohler Resort

Thoughts of Wisconsin had always evoked images of cheese, beer, and brats to when conjuring up perceptions of America’s Dairyland and Milwaukee’s Best. And while each of those items certainly made guest appearances, it was a surprisingly watered-down trip I took to Destination Kohler Resort. It turned out to be a real splash!

At daybreak, I crossed Lake Michigan from Muskegon to Milwaukee aboard the Lake Express, a smooth, high-speed car ferry which, at 30 knots, makes the 60-mile crossing from Michigan in two-and-a-half hours.

I stood on deck above the bridge to take in the vast view as the massive, dual-hulled ship slid out of Muskegon Lake into Lake Michigan’s three-foot waves.

But when the captain then opened up the engines the wind whipped and I wobbled hand over hand along the rail back down to the aft sundeck and eventually inside the cabin for the comfort of a reclining seat in which I was rocked to sleep.

Lake Michigan ferry
The Lake Express car ferry is a smooth, fast ride. (Photo by: Harrison Shiels)

Fixtures and Fun at the Factory

Factory tours in the industrial Midwest are a time-honored tradition. I recall a behind-the-scenes brewery tour in Frankenmuth; the Kellogg cereal tour in Battle Creek; and seeing cars made on the Ford Motor Company Assembly Line tour in Dearborn.

Getting access inside a factory was exciting but no one would be thrilled about living next to one – until the Kohler plumbing company master-planned an employee neighborhood north of Milwaukee which eventually also became a destination luxury resort.

“Walter Kohler traveled to see European garden cities and then in 1917 created a space where factory employees could live and work with adequate recreation,” said Angela Miller, who explained that what is now Destination Kohler’s American Club five-star lodge began as a dormitory for factory workers to get three meals a day and their laundry is done at cost instead of staying in substandard boarding houses.

It was in the American Club’s basement pub, the popular Horse and Plow, where I virtually dived head-first into a bowl of the restaurant’s Wisconsin beer cheese soup in such an enthusiastic manner that I virtually needed my shirt laundered.

Destination Kohler
Kohler’s worldwide HQ is dramatic and historic. (Photo by: Harrison Shiels)

Facts and Futures

Miller manages the resort’s Kohler history museum inside the design center, which is open to the public, and where the factory tours commence.

“Guests can discover our past and have a peek into what we’re working on now,” said Jason Keller, senior manager of Kohler’s kitchen and bath group. The products have come a long way since Kohler’s founder, John Michael Kohler, in 1873, added four feet to a hog scalder and enameled it to create a bathtub.

“Intelligent toilets, touchless faucets, a voice-activated digital shower which allows you to program very concise settings and different spa-like experiences including different temperatures for your legs and shoulders, hydrotherapy massage sprays, multi-head showers, steam, lighting, and sound.

You can create a rainstorm effect right in your own shower, or you can program a three-to-five-minute wakeup shower, for instance.”

He also said an intelligent toilet could include a heated seat, a fan, music, touchless flushing, and various functions. “Let’s say it does everything for you,” Miller added.

Kohler Waters Spa

On-site pampering takes place at the adjacent, expansive but intimate Kohler Waters Spa, where my aquatic adventures continued.

I expected a plumbing company’s spa to be special, but even at that, I underestimated how serious they were about making the experience sublime. The spa’s stated philosophy is that “water is essential to life and as water ebbs and flows, so do our lives. Living a life of balance is a gift.”

Destination Kohler
The best place to experience Kohler’s innovations. (Photo by: Harrison Shiels)

The spa’s experts even advise aquatic preparation before a treatment: “two-minute shower rinse at neutral temperature; five minutes in the whirlpool; cool plunge pool dip; five minutes in the steam room; and a two-minute shower rinse.”

I was then, while standing next to a Himalayan salt dome air purifier, shown a menu of one-of-a-kind treatments offered such as Vichy shower experiences named Tranquil Tides; Lavender Rain; Cascading Waterfall Massage; Hydro Rock treatment, among many others.

A Healing Waters Treatment meant being soothed by continuous warm water from a Kohler shower while lying back for a series of exfoliations, lymphatic drainage techniques, and a Moroccannoil hair treatment followed by bursts of cooler water to awaken the senses along with sounds, colors and deeply-breathed aromas.

My therapist Corrine was probably the best I’d ever encountered worldwide, and the facility had unexpectedly thoughtful touches such as a table that arches to slightly lift your knees and upper body during the portion of the treatment in which you are on your back.

This took away any stiffness of back pain sometimes experienced at the end of the treatment when one tries to climb off the table. I also appreciated a small mirror on the wall in the treatment room to adjust my hair before resurfacing into the common areas after the massage.

Without that most people emerge looking like the Bride of Frankenstein. Opening my locker revealed bottled water and a cup of almonds with a cup of yogurt-dipped raisins. 

Other thoughtful treatments offered are holistic. “When Life Hands Your Lemons” is designed to offer deep calm for those who have gone through a difficult time. Acupuncture, reflexology, reiki, and VibraAcoustic baths are there to explore as is the RiverBath, which simulates the flow of river currents and soft color hues.   

Destination Kohler spa
Pampering pleasantries near the pool. (Photo by: Harrison Shiels)

Fishing for Compliments

This generation’s Herb Kohler made his mark at Kohler by creating the resort destination it is now largely by collaborating with architect Pete Dye to put four golf courses on the map.

But even the golf courses are known for not fairways but waterways…due to their adjacency to the Sheboygan River and Lake Michigan. Blackwolf Run’s Meadow and River courses hosted the World Championships of Golf and U.S. Women’s Opens. The parkland layouts are accented by the river running through them and I couldn’t help but be transfixed by the sight of fly-fishermen casting in the current.

Blackwolf Run
A river runs through Blackwolf Run’s courses. (Photo by: Harrison Shiels)

Lake Michigan crashes against the Straits Course at Destination Kohler’s Whistling Straits complex. The target-links-style course has hosted three PGA Championships, one U.S. Senior Open, and will host the 2021 Ryder Cup Matches.

Describing it as dramatic doesn’t do it justice as virtually every hole offers a panoramic view from above Lake Michigan. The Irish course at Whistling Straits gives some grand glimpses, too.  

Kohler Straits golf course
Kohler’s famed Straits course. (Photo by: Harrison Shiels)

Inn on Woodlake

Aside from the American Club, Destination Kohler’s campus includes a lodging option called the Inn on Woodlake, which is, you guessed it, on the water.

It’s a contemporary, quiet hotel with up to two-bedroom suites and attached to the Shops at Woodlake and within walking distance to Sports Core Health and Racquet Club with its indoor lap swimming pool, indoor family pool, outdoor, fireside jacuzzi, to speak of still more water features. Yoga, tennis and a fitness center are part of an array of active offerings.

I spent part of each day working out and swimming and walked each of the golf courses, which meant miles of hoofing. Despite my erstwhile efforts, I was no match for midwestern hospitality.

As I trudged up tugging my clubs from green-to-tee during the middle of my round on the River Course I encountered a concession stand.

“Would you like a brat? I just made some fresh ones,” said Becky, the young woman behind the counter with a smile in her voice. I stopped in my tracks before the continued. “You’re walking this course so nothing you eat counts!”

Who was I to argue with that mathematical, caloric logic?

Becky even went to far as to offer to apply any condiments on my brat, so I didn’t get slippery mustard on my golf glove.

It was a different sales pitch at the halfway house on the Irish course the next day.

“This wouldn’t be Wisconsin without a brat,” the blonde woman implored.

She then caught be eyeing a local can of craft beer on the countertop called “Waterslide,”

“Want to try it?” she asked.

Her tone was very similar to the waitress the previous evening at Kohler’s Taverne on Woodlake restaurant who tempted me with a menu item called the “warm beer donut” with caramel sauce and salted pecan maple glaze and cayenne bacon.                  

Destination Kohler is an hour north of Milwaukee and 60 miles south of Green Bay.

Wisconsin brat
“Would you like a brat?” (Photo by: Harrison Shiels)


Read more of Michael Patrick’s work at The Travel Tattler, or contact him at [email protected]

Michael Patrick Shiels

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *