Herb Kohler, golf course pioneer, passes away at 83

  • Herb Kohler

Herb Kohler, CEO of the Kohler Company and a golf course pioneer, passed away on September 3 at the age of 83.

Kohler was an active member of the NGCOA and at one point was listed in Golf Inc.’s annual list of the most powerful people in golf.

Kohler used his position and wealth to greatly expand the golfing presence in Wisconsin, first by creating the famed Blackwolf Run course in 1988 with renowned course architect Pete Dye. They soon created another 18-hole course at the site because of the popularity of the first. In 1997, they teamed up again for Whistling Straits, a course themed after the vision Kohler had of the Irish countryside, complete with an imported flock of black-faced sheep to serve as de facto groundskeepers. As with Blackwolf Run, the course proved so popular that they again added a second 18-hole course, creating a destination golf experience that hosted three PGA championships, a U.S. Senior Open and a Ryder Cup in 2021.

Several industry figures commented on his impact on the golf industry.

“Herb Kohler was truly an industry giant and did a lot for the game of golf,” wrote Jeff Woolson, Managing Director of CBRE Golf & Resort Properties on LinkedIn.

“I was always amazed that a man of his stature would attend our industry conferences,” wrote Jay Karen, Chief Executive Officer of the NGCOA. “Mr. Kohler would sit in the audience at NGCOA events just like any other member. Except he wasn’t just any other member. He was a titan.”

“Thanks to Herb Kohler for not giving up on his pursuit of a hospitality division and recruiting Pete Dye as his co-conspirator,” wrote Joe Steranka, former CEO of the PGA.

After graduating from Yale in 1965, Kohler joined the family company as a research technician and quickly moved up the ranks. He became director in 1967, vice president of operations in 1968, executive vice president in 1971, chairman of the board and CEO in 1972 and finally president of the company in 1974, a position he held until 2015 when he became the executive chairman, with his son, David, taking over as president and CEO.

"His zest for life, adventure and impact inspires all of us,” his family said in a news release. “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.”

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