Latest Pete Dye, Herb Kohler project draws vocal opposition in Wisconsin

Latest Pete Dye, Herb Kohler project draws vocal opposition in Wisconsin

1. Whistling Straits (Straits), Haven, Wisc. Black tees: 7,790 yards, par 72; rating: 77.2, slope: 152 What a 16 handicapper would shoot: 96 Find out your own handicap in seconds. Golf's version of a slaughterhouse. Witness Tom Watson's wind-whipped collapse at the 2007 U.S. Senior Open, when as the leader, he skied to a 43 on the back nine on his way to 78. Better yet, observe any 10- or 15-handicapper that misses any fairway or any green. More than 1,000 bunkers, Irish-style rough, and a collection of hideously awkward recovery shots await.
Fred Vuich/Sports Illustrated

In late March, we reported that serious golf fans were salivating at the prospect of a new Pete Dye/Herb Kohler Wisconsin collaboration along Lake Michigan near the Town of Wilson. Four months later, the reaction of local residents and environmentalists is somewhat different.

Kohler, 75 and Dye, 88, had been eyeing a Kohler-owned, 247-acre parcel of property along Lake Michigan that Dye determined would have four holes along the water. However, a recent town meeting lasted nearly three hours and drew 300 people, many vocally opposed to the project. Seventy people spoke, with only four in favor of the project, Gary D’Amato reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Supporters cite job growth, tax base assistance, tourism increases and a willingness to be environmentally sensitive as reasons to go forward with the course. Opponents say the parcel is environmentally significant, with untouched old growth forest, the pristine Black River and shoreline habitat for migratory birds likely to be impacted in a negative way. Increased traffic is another issue for some, while others voiced concern that the development would not meet provisions in the town’s 20-year master plan that were designed to limit impact on environmental corridors.

After the speakers had had their say, the plan commission chose to defer action on the Kohler request for a conditional use permit. The course is far from dead, but the Kohler folks might literally have to go back to the drawing board — even if Dye is best known for designing in the field.

Development is inevitably a divisive issue. While we’re content to let the process play out, it’s worth noting that if anyone should be given the benefit of the doubt about treating the environment with respect, it’s the Kohler/Dye duo. What they accomplished in the toxic waste cleanup and habitat restoration on the property that became Whistling Straits, site of the 2004, 2010 and 2015 PGA Championships, should be a model for all to follow. It’s so easy for the local pols to jump on the anti-development bandwagon, but if they would look back less than 20 years and see what Kohler and Dye did in transforming a dangerous eyesore that had been the foundation for Whistling Straits, they would see that the argument is far from one-sided.

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