Herbert V. Kohler, Jr.
Innovative golf resort developer
Herb Kohler’s (Class of 1965) route to his Yale graduation in 1965 was unusual. His mother died when he was thirteen. He recalls being such a handful for his father that he was sent off to prep school. After one year at Exeter, he was asked to leave. He did finally graduate from Choate in 1957 and, like his father, went on to Yale. He left Yale after one year. The dean, after assessing Kohler’s freshman performance, challenged him “to find a purpose in life.” He moved to Switzerland and studied advanced math and physics (in German), he recalls proudly. Next he attended Knox College in Illinois and studied theater, before returning to Yale. He graduated with a B.S. in industrial administration. Kohler took a corporate job, but shortly his father asked him to join the family business. Two years later, in 1972, his father died unexpectedly and Kohler took control of the company.
Herb Kohler is now chairman of the board and president of the company his grandfather founded in Kohler, Wisconsin. The Kohler Company is a world leader in products for the kitchen and bath. The Kohler Interiors Group is a leading manufacturer of power systems and furniture. In the last twenty-five years, Kohler developed a fourth major business in hospitality and real estate. “Destination Kohler” and “Destination St. Andrews” have become just that for serious golfers.
Herb Kohler first used 1,000 acres along seven miles of the Sheboygan River to develop River Wildlife, a private hunting and fishing club. To accommodate guests, he converted a former dormitory for the company’s immigrant factory workers into the American Club. Then he built four golf courses for his guests. Pete Dye designed two courses at Blackwolf Run and two at Whistling Straits. The Straits course at Whistling Straits was the site of the 2004 PGA Championship. Kohler, Wisconsin is going to be a destination for major championships and events for some time to come, with commitments for the 2007 US Senior Open, 2010 PGA Championship, 2012 US Women’s Open, 2015 PGA, and the 2020 Ryder Cup.
The Kohler Company’s latest acquisitions are the Old Course Hotel and the Duke’s course, resort, and spa at St Andrews, Scotland. The Duke’s course was designed ten years ago by Peter Thomson, but it has been redesigned and renovated by Tom Liddy, who apprenticed with Pete Dye. It certainly appears that the name Herb Kohler deserved to appear on the cover of the January 2005 Golf Digest, as one of the “top five golf people of the year.”