Herb Kohler Jr., the Most Important Figure in Wisconsin Golf History, Dies at 83

This story appears on and is written by GWAA vice president Gary D’Amato. The first few graphs of it appear here with his permission.

Herbert V. Kohler Jr. always maintained that he wasn’t a visionary when it came to golf. Instead, he was a pragmatic businessman who saw golf as a necessary piece of the Kohler Co.’s hospitality division.

Either way, the multi-course empire he built in Sheboygan County transformed golf in Wisconsin. Without Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits, there are no PGA Championships in our state, no U.S. Women’s Opens, no Ryder Cup. Quite possibly, there is no Erin Hills, no Sand Valley, no reason for golfers the world over to visit America’s Dairyland.

It’s with profound sadness, then, that I write the following words: the single most important figure in Wisconsin golf history has died. Kohler, who was 83, passed away Saturday, according to a release from Kohler Co. The cause of death was not announced.


Kohler was many things to many people — wealthy business tycoon, iron-fisted CEO, strong-willed conservative, perfectionist, avid outdoorsman, passionate (if slightly below average) golfer — but to me, he was just Herb, a friend of the game.

Staffers warned me early on to address him as “Mr. Kohler,” and indeed he was wary and guarded the first few times I interviewed him, when he was building his golf courses and I was a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Somewhere along the way, though, he came to trust me. In recent years, my interviews with him were really conversations, and he told me things in confidence that I could not print.

Click here to read the remainder of the Kohler tribute written by Gary.