|By Gary D'Amato, Milwaukee Journal
SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
January 6, 2010 --Even with its vast resources, its experience at running major golf events and its renowned hospitality division, the Kohler Co. faces a daunting challenge this year.
The Wisconsin-based company owns the host hotels for two major championships, a first in golf.
Kohler will team with the PGA of America to stage the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Aug. 9-15, with the American Club serving as the host hotel. The company also owns the Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews, site of the British Open Championship, July 12-18.
The Old Course Hotel abuts the "Road Hole," the par-4 17th hole on the Old Course that is perhaps the most famous piece of golf real estate in the world.
Herbert V. Kohler Jr., the president and CEO of the Kohler Co., admitted it's possible even for his company to become overextended, but he doesn't think that's the case this year.
"I'm not worried because we have a significant organization and they've all jumped into this with enthusiasm," he said. "Obviously, this economic climate doesn't make life easy. But they've been very enthusiastic and so far we show no signs of not being able to handle it."
The Kohler Co. plans to enhance the spectator experience at the PGA Championship with more on-course amenities than were available in 2004, when Whistling Straits hosted the first men's major championship in Wisconsin in 71 years.
That PGA, won by Vijay Singh, set a record with 94,470 tickets sold and overall attendance of more than 300,000. The event generated an estimated $76.9 million in spending, according to a study by Madison-based NorthStar Economics Inc. that was funded by Wisconsin's Tourism and Commerce departments.
While Kohler was preparing for the 2010 PGA, the company expanded its holdings in St. Andrews by purchasing Hamilton Hall, a historic building located across the street from the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and visible from most parts of the Old Course.
Besides the Old Course Hotel, Kohler also owns the Duke's Course 2 miles outside St. Andrews and Creighton mansion, built in the 1800s and used as a hospital during World War II.
Renovation work on Creighton mansion has stopped while the company decides what to do with Hamilton Hall, which is in a state of disrepair.
"We can go in a number of different directions, from a hotel to apartments to a bar and grill," Kohler said. "All are possible, and all three might be possible at the same time."
Kohler has been warmly welcomed by the people of St. Andrews, a small town considered the worldwide home of golf, because of his careful restoration of the Old Course Hotel, his renovation of the Duke's Course and his obvious passion for the game and its traditions.
Unlike Donald Trump, Kohler hasn't thrown his weight around in Scotland but has deferred to the locals; he invited public comment on the future of Hamilton Hall.
"It has a great deal of charm and a lot of good people," Kohler said of St. Andrews. "It has a collection of people associated with golf who are some of the finest in the world."
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