Whistling Straits Owner Herb Kohler Dies

Tributes have been paid to the businessman, who passed away on Saturday, aged 83

Herb Kohler during the prize-giving after the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The owner of three-time PGA Championship host Whistling Straits, Herb Kohler, died on Saturday aged 83.

A statement released by Kohler’s family read: “His zest for life, adventure and impact inspires all of us. We traveled together, celebrated together, and worked together. He was all in, all the time, leaving an indelible mark on how we live our lives today and carry on his legacy.”

Kohler, who was born in Chigaco in 1939, made his name when he began working for his family’s plumbing and manufacturing business. After becoming CEO in 1968 and president in 1974, he eventually helped to grow the company into a worldwide leader in the industry. Finally, he became Kohler's executive chairman in 2015.

However, while Kohler's record as a businessman is impressive, his influence on the world of golf was equally impactful. He oversaw the development of Wisconsin’s American Club resort in 1981, Blackwolf Run in 1988 and, in 1998, Whistling Straits. Designed by Pete Dye, Whistling Straits quickly became established as one of the most renowned courses in the professional game and is one of the very best public courses in the US. Indeed, in its relatively short existence, it has hosted three PGA Championships, most recently in 2015. It was also the venue for the 2007 US Senior Open and the 2020 Ryder Cup.

Kohler’s influence on the game didn’t end there, though. He also purchased the famous Old Course Hotel at St Andrews in 2004 as well as the The Duke’s Course, overlooking the Scottish town.

Following the news of Kohler’s death, the PGA Tour released a statement saying: “Herb Kohler was a larger-than-life figure whose enthusiasm and love of golf helped bring significant men's and women's professional events to the State of Wisconsin over the last 25 years while transforming his home state into a golf destination. A First Tee trustee, Herb was a great friend of the PGA Tour, and his regular presence over the years at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am gave us all a first-hand look at his passion for the game. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Kohler family.”

Padraig Harrington also paid tribute to Kohler. In a message posted on Twitter, the 2020 European Ryder Cup captain said: “Sad to hear of the passing of Herb Kohler. A gracious host of the 2020 @rydercup at one of his life’s great accomplishments, Whistling Straits. Just a lovely man who left his mark on life and the game of golf. RIP.” 

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Kohler is survived by his wife, Natalie, daughters Laura and Rachel and son, David. He also had 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. 

Mike Hall
Freelance Staff Writer

Mike has 25 years of experience in journalism, including writing on sports such as golf, football and cricket. Now a freelance writer for Golf Monthly, he is dedicated to covering the sport’s most newsworthy stories. Originally from East Yorkshire, Mike now resides in Canada, where the nearest course is less than a mile from his home. It’s there where he remains confident that, one of these days, he’ll play the 17th without finding the water. Kevin Cook’s acclaimed 2007 biography, Tommy’s Honour, about golf’s founding father and son, remains one of his all-time favourite sports books.