Kohler makes golf great; immigrants made Kohler great
While writing about The American Club in Kohler, Wis. and the courses at Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run, I was struck not only by the amazing variety and imagination of the Pete Dye courses and the sumptuousness of the resort, but also by the history of the place.
In fact, the history made a larger impact on me than anything else.
Here’s an excerpt from my 2002 article that provides a thumbnail summary of what I’m talking about:
“Walter J. Kohler, grandson of the founder of Kohler Company and 27th Governor of Wisconsin, had a vision of a place where the poor and down-trodden castes from the Old World could come, and through hard work and clean living, they could make something of themselves. Kohler had a vision not only of a profitable factory, but also of a New World, an America where work was an integral, rewarding, part of life. This ideal is forged into the gate of the Kohler Co. factory: ‘Life without labor is guilt - Labor without art is brutality.’
“Toward the goal of making life better for his workforce, and America better for everyone, Kohler built The American Club as a dormitory for his immigrant employees, in an Austrian Tudor style - complete with lush gardens and Sound of Music gazebos – that would help alleviate some of their homesickness. He also founded one of the nation’s first planned communities, Kohler Village, where those same employees could in time purchase their own homes.”
Kohler furthermore provided English lessons, pubs, a bowling alley, and plentiful recreational activities for his workers, who were grateful enough to have running water and clean sheets in their dorms, much less all these luxuries of the New World.
What did this largesse get Kohler? Well for one thing, arguably the premier plumbing fixture company in the nation. And for another, the best golf resort in the nation between the east and west coasts. (And in my opinion, it gives many of the big-name ocean-side resorts a run for their money.)
As I listen to the nauseating narrow-mindedness of anti-immigration factions howling today about how America is threatened by the very same people who built it into what it is today (immigrants), I am equally sickened by strident Pollyannas on the other side of the debate, who offer few concrete solutions to serious problems. We can no more fling open the doors indiscriminately than we can deport 11,000,000 undocumented workers upon whom a large part of our economy depends.
So imagine how refreshing it was for me to hear the story this morning on NPR about American Apparel in Los Angeles, the largest single garment factory in the U.S.
As reported by NPR, nearly all of American Apparel’s 3,800 workers are immigrants, and all are documented according to the letter of the law. More importantly, they are treated like human beings, not chattel. Employees earn twice the minimum wage, receive subsidized health insurance, subsidized lunches, free bus tokens, free on-site English classes, and company bicycles to get to work. Massage therapists even roam the factory floor giving free massages to workers.
This is humanity and respect. This is good business. This is how America went from a ragtag band of dissenters at best, terrorists at worst, to the world superpower in two short centuries. This is how Kohler ended up giving us such amazing golf.
Somewhere, Walter J. Kohler is smiling.
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