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An Interview With: Herb Kohler & Pete Dye

JULIUS MASON: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'd like to introduce the two gentlemen that are with me at the head table right now, the main reason we are actually in Wisconsin this week. First, the chairman, CEO and president of Kohler Company, Mr. Herb Kohler, and Pete Dye, the architect of this masterpiece that we are hanging out with all week long.

At this point I'd like to turn it over to Mr. Kohler for some opening comments and we'll go straight to Q&A.

HERB KOHLER: It's a pleasure to welcome you all. When Mr. Dye and I were discussing the merits of a tournament in 2005 versus the merits of a tournament in 2004, one of the reasons we picked 2004 was because we were not sure we were going to last that long, 2005.

I'm pleased to say, here we are. We made it. The good Lord willing, we made it. And it's been an exciting journey these past five years in preparation. More than enough speculation about this course; we are going to test it. We are going to really test it the next few days. And I predict that it's going to -- regardless of how much it rains and how much it blows, how much the sun shines, this course is going to be a strong test and fair test and it's going to hold it's own.

JULIUS MASON: Thank you very much, Mr. Kohler. We'll go to Q&A.

Q. I hear stories that when Pete was designing this course, you kept urging him to make it harder. Are those stories true?

HERB KOHLER: I'm a character that likes to see stresses and strains, especially amongst those players who are the best in the world. We can watch them week-in and week-out, and we don't see ordinarily the kind of challenge that a major can bring about. And we don't have any score in mind necessarily; we just want to see the best players in the world tested so that we can see aspects of their mental makeup, their emotional makeup and their courage.

Q. So Pete, where does this rank in terms of difficulty with courses you've designed?

PETE DYE: This will be a popcorn (laughing). You can interpret that any away you want.

Sometimes people choke on popcorn. Wait and see.

Q. How do you think overall your designs are appreciated by the touring professionals, and as a follow-up, what was your inspiration for the 18th green here, because that seems to be generating quite a lot of talk at this point.

PETE DYE: You know, when you build a green, it's all hydroponics and the sand you have underneath it to drain and so forth. We just had a little extra. That's about all I can say (Laughter.)

Q. Do you mind if guys are chipping on that green?

PETE DYE: The size, the green that's down on the ride side, just extra sand mix we put down there. It's cut as a green. It's a green, all right. Yeah, they are down there and the pin is on the back right, you could chip it or sand wedge it or anything they want. I don't understand, it's not really -- they will never put the pin down there at all for the Championship. Maybe once in awhile for the guest play we put it down there. It's just a great, big approach. My, Lord, it's like hitting a football field down there. I don't know why anybody is complaining down there.

Q. How do you think touring pros appreciate your designs?

PETE DYE: They don't appreciate it very much. (Laughing).

Q. When you're designing a course, just wondering, how much consideration do you give to prevailing winds?

PETE DYE: You know, this is really interesting. The golf course here, because different times of year, you get a lot of wind on the course, because the lake, it's open coming into the golf course from the west, and all of this area gets different wind conditions. And with the lake being cooler, and sometimes it's warm here in the summertime, you get a variant by the lake so you can stand off the tee and feel like it's coming off your left shoulder and look at the flag and it's going the opposite direction.

I would think normally in August, we would have normal wind, nothing severe at all. People from Wisconsin are great; they will play April and May, November. You get some pretty good winds at that time of year around here, but we shouldn't have too much wind this week.

Q. What kind of factor do you think the wind will play this week?

PETE DYE: Well, the par 4s that have some length, they go different directions, so if the wind comes out of the north it will catch them on a couple of them, and if the wind catches them on the south it will be just the reverse. You go watch these young fellows play a 480 or 490 par 4, that's a drive and a 5-, 6-, 7-iron. All they have to do is hit it in the fairway.

Q. Darren Clarke this morning called this the toughest course he's ever played. Do you take that as a compliment, or how do you react to that?

PETE DYE: He must have had a bad day. It's not the toughest course. Herb and I played last week, we got around pretty good, didn't we, Herb?

HERB KOHLER: We won.

PETE DYE: We won. I didn't have much trouble.

HERB KOHLER: We were slightly over our head.

PETE DYE: It was 200 people every day played this golf course up until the tournament, all summer long. 200 of you people out there got around this golf course. I think these boys hit it as far as they do and as straight as they do, they shouldn't have any trouble at all, really. The greens are fair and the approaches around the greens are open. There's not a bunker in front of any green with the exception of the par 3s and the 18th hole. Everything is wide open in front. The greens are pretty good level and size. They are not over-contoured like some of the old greens at Oakland Hills and like we used to. They are not that way. I don't understand their problem.

I'm sure somebody will get to this golf course because it's a fair test. I think the PGA has done a wonderful job as far as setting it up. And the fairways, according to Mr. Kohler, are way too wide and the rough too short. But it's a fair test, no question about it. The fairways are out there, all 30 yards wide.

Q. There are probably some players who suspect as a child you pulled the wings off of flies and think there must be some wicked dimension to your personality. When you hear that you're too tough, you torment players too much, what do you think?

PETE DYE: Well, I don't know. I think they are wrong. (Laughter.)

Q. How did you intend for the sand bunkers to be played? Did you intend any of them to be played as waste areas when you built this golf course?

PETE DYE: No. They are all bunkers. If you ask my bride of 54 years, she would have had a heart attack if they played it any other way. I sit on the PGA board, and they've played golf all their lives; they have played in bunkers and there's no reason not to play bunkers. If somebody gets a footprint or cart stuck in one, you just have to knock it out.

Years ago, the sand bunkers, they used to furrow them and things like that. We always planned to play in the sand bunkers.

Q. I know there was some interesting challenges in building this course and this place. What were the biggest obstacles you ran into and what were the things that you have to do here that you probably didn't have to do at any other sites you had ever worked at?

PETE DYE: Probably the biggest thing was what Mr. Kohler wanted, but the actual ground here along the lake, it was eroding into the lake. So the Corps of Engineers wanted us to do a lot of the excavation along the edge of the lake to stop the erosion. So a lot of the things we did were dictated by what they wanted environmentally.

Everybody talks about the dirt was hauled in here but it's not, it's just -- we just scrolled back the edges along the lake, took that dirt and piled it up in the dunes. It was just an a-to-b operation. I can sit here and say, I can't imagine anybody wanted -- Mr. Kohler said he just wanted the thing to look like an Irish or sand dune golf course. You could just move the dirt from a to b and do that. The big problem is when you put little sand bunkers all through it to keep the sand from sliding off the clay hills. So the biggest construction thing is, all those little pot bunkers and all those little bunkers sand have drains inside of them so that when it rains the sand doesn't erode off of the clay faces. That was the biggest construction problem was the drainage inside the sand bunkers, so that -- I've heard all kind of stories. The sand has placated on where you see it. The rest of that soil out there is all clay.

Q. I know a lot of it depends on what the weather is going to be like this week, but do you have a score in mind or something that you think will be the winning score?

PETE DYE: I could tell you that, but Mr. Kohler is sitting next to me and he would kill me if I came up with something in my head.

You guys don't know where you are. You're in Kohler; you'd better start asking him questions. You're going to get me in more trouble than I've ever been in in my life.

I honestly think one thing is the condition of the fairways are wonderful. They are fescue and that's a little different, but they are in such fabulous condition. The crew here has just done a great job on the condition of the golf course.

The greens are flawless. They will be quick but there's grass on them. They are not quick because they are dirt. They have grass on them. There's not a flaw on the greens.

So the condition of the golf course is flawless as far as fairways and so forth. The PGA has done a wonderful job. I'm trying to get around the scores, might take me 30 minutes, I'll get there sooner or later, but they have done a great job of getting the rough back on the edge of the fairway and it goes in stages.

So if a player is playing good, they are going to shoot some low scores, and I think even with the wind, the greens are of such character and size that they can get to them, so I really think that -- somebody will shoot a 65 or 66. I don't know, I believe they will shoot under par here. With the weather that's forecasted, 8- or 10-under par.

He won't agree with that, but that's about right.

HERB KOHLER: I think it could be. The course as it's set up at this moment clearly is not as difficult as it could be. It could be a lot more difficult. The greens could be 13 as they were at the Masters, instead of 11.5. Fairways could be like Royal St. George. Those of you who were there might remember that, crazy bounces all over the place. Won't be anything like that.

PETE DYE: See, the fescue grass here, normally in August, we would not be watering it. And we haven't watered the fescue fairways. But the man upstairs, he's got a different thought. He's been watering the fairways. So the fairways will play better. As far as the golf professional, it will play better for him, but we have not watered the fairways here.

If it turns dry, they will get drier. But you all have been around Wisconsin here lately, it rains here every day, so the fairways are receptive and the greens will be somewhat receptive, but they will be firm. And when they talk about greens being fast like you all think of being fast, Augusta or the U.S. Open where they did not have grass, they will be okay.

But you've got to remember my friend Ben Hogan won the U.S. Open at Oakmont, the fastest greens ever. They had a system Stimpmeter reading of about 5 or 6. So fastest is something new, and I don't quite agree with it, either. I hate it. It's harder to putt a green Stimpmeter at 5 or 6 than it is one at 11 or 12. But I'm not running the city hall, either.

Q. To follow up on the rain question, we had a little bit this morning, but that didn't seem to slow the course down appreciably. How much rain would it take to slow this course down? And that's not really what you want out here, is it?

PETE DYE: No, you don't want it to slow down now. I think the prediction is that the weather is going to be pretty good out here. If I told you how much money we spent on draining this golf course, this man over here would kill me. But we have spent a few dollars on this thing.

What has happened, as I said, the golf course was placated with clay and we kept top-dressing the fairways with sand, just half an inch, maybe a little more every once in awhile. It would take a lot of rain to change the character of that golf course.

The thing is that the grass itself is more succulent. You can't change that. The rain does. But if it dries out, this fescue, it will dry out in two or three days. It will change real quickly, just stays dry for three or four days. The grass itself becomes more firm than go down, change, but it gets more resilient, and when a ball hits, it will move, and that's what they talk about the old Scottish golf course. I've been in Scotland and Ireland and England and the fairways are identical to this as far as the grass is succulent but then it dries out and then the grass will survive, and this grass will survive, too. It would not take more than three or four dry days to change it overnight. But we would not have to water it or anything like that. The grass would still be there, it would be the length, it would be full of grass, the blade becomes -- firm is a good word, stronger, and the ball bounces.

Q. When you built Sawgrass, it was an understatement to say that the players were not pleased with it, and we are hearing some of those comments about this golf course, even though the tournament has not taken place yet. In your mind, do you think that perhaps today's PGA TOUR player is getting spoiled by the homogenized layouts they play week-in, week-out?

HERB KOHLER: Well, I can only remember -- well, you all remember Ken Venturi and Mike Souchak, great players, and they played in Indianapolis at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1960. I was a general chairman and they had nine holes inside the track and nine holes outside the track. They played a tournament on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and had the race on Saturday and then finals of the tournament on Sunday. They parked the cars on the last nine holes on Saturday and every beer can in the world would be out there that night and every chicken bone, but remember, they were removable objects. I said to Mike Souchak and Kenny, they were staying at my house, I said, are you guys going to be too upset about playing out there Sunday, there are going to be a few chicken bones and beer cans all throughout the golf course.

That was the first time the PGA TOUR had ever played for $50,000 with the exception of George May. Mike Souchak said to me, he said, "Pete, don't you worry about a damn thing." He said, "We'll play right down main street for $50,000."

So maybe you figured out from that, there's been a slight change.

Q. Reading between the lines a little bit, is sounds like you would like to see this course playing more difficult than it is this week.

HERB KOHLER: Oh, I guess some people might say that, but I think it's going to be fine. The fairways aren't 16 yards or 20 yards as they were attributed early on. They are anywhere from 25 to 30 yards in most places. And then you've got a two-inch cut as the first cut, and that goes anywhere from six feet to 15 yards, depending on the nature of the hole. Then you've got the four-inch cut. Well, that's going to be out there 30, 35 yards. So you've got a great playing area.

There are some areas on this course which have semi-blind tee shots, but if you've played it two or three times, you've got that locked in. You know what your targets are; you just have to hit it there.

John Daly, I talked to him the other day, he's sort of licking his chops. He figures he can go around this course for the most part with a 2-iron, not with a driver, whereas some of his mates have to hit the driver fairly consistently. So John is pretty excited. He thinks this is a course that will separate him from the pack.

That's what a championship course has to do. As long as it does that, it separates these best players in the world. If it does that, then it does it's job, whether it's 12-under par or 2 above par. If it separates them, it's done the job.

Q. Since you've both had an opportunity to play the course last week, what type of player is it going to take to beat this course? Is it long, is it technical? Is it someone who is just a better putter than everyone else? What type of player will beat this course?

PETE DYE: I think that, of course length always has a great advantage.

I don't think that you have to be an exceptionally long hitter to win here. There's par 4s like 13 and 14 and 6 and 1 that they will be hitting a drive and a wedge or 3-wood and a wedge. And the par 3s, 12, and the 3rd hole are modestly in length as far as length in par 3s. Even the 7th hole will not play long.

So I don't think it's exceptionally a long hitters' golf course. So I think that the big advantage here will be that whatever golf professional has spent about as much time trying to figure out the golf course in advance. You know, these players are so great, and they go to the Tour golf courses, the TPC or wherever they are, Augusta, and they have such a limited field at Augusta, the same group always shows back up on top.

But here, none of them have played out here to a great extent. I understand Phil Mickelson has been here two or three days and John. I think it's to a big advantage to the player that's played here four or five, six times and would have a big advantage playing this golf course. So whoever spent the time out there, I think he's way out in front of the field.

Q. Mr. Kohler we have spent a lot of time talking about the course for the players. What's your view of the course for spectators? There's some portions out there it seems you have to have part billy goat in you to get around. What are your recommendations? What are your views for spectators this week?

HERB KOHLER: Wear your golf shoes.

If you get some that grip, you'll be a lot better off, because there are magnificent viewing spots all over this course. If you notice on 17, there are no stands, and yet it's one of the most remarkable holes on this course, but there are no stands because of the natural viewing areas.

I think throughout the course there are stands, but they are fairly minimal, simply because you can go into so many spots and get these great views. There are areas where you can see three or four holes at one time. No. 6, No. 2, No. 7, perhaps No. 18.

Obviously if you go into the grandstands on No. 9, you can look up the 9th fairway and look back to the landing area on the 18th and see both greens. You can do that whether you're sitting on grass or in the stands.

So I think golf shoes and a walking stick or an umbrella with a seat on it are the cat's meow. That's what you need on this course and you'll have a better seat than you will at any course.

Q. Can you just give us a quick recap of when this all came about in your head, when you first started to figure that you wanted to build a golf course and how it came about?

HERB KOHLER: The first course, as you know was Blackwolf Run, and when we opened the hotel, The American Club as a hotel in 1983, we were not thinking golf. We had a little shuttle service to both the public and private courses.

But then a number of our guests kept seeing this farmland adjacent to something called wildlife. We had 500 acres in sanctuary and 300 acres of hunt fields, and they kept looking at the farmland beyond that, and they put little writings on suggestion slips, on those send-in suggestion slips. Well, we got more than our share about why in the world aren't you building a golf course? You consider yourself to be an upscale small boutique resort hotel, why don't you have a golf course. I didn't know a darned thing about golf and I didn't much care, but I kept reading these confounded slips, and a CEO's job is, you've got to listen to your customers.

So one day I sat down and talked with our VP of development, who happened to be a 3 handicap, a fellow by the name of Robert Milburn, and I got sort of interested in quite a number of the things he said. Even though he had never built a course or been a part of tournament play, he knew the game.

And it was at that point that we decided to go out and sort of -- we put a circle on the map as to where we wanted to constrain this architect that we might come up with. We then went out and brought a half dozen of them in, interviewed them, showed them our map with a big circle on it and picked a firm that we thought could do the job that had built a number of courses which had Tour play, were on the Tour circuit.

We talked a little about their philosophy. We had them stake out five holes, and we decided in our inimitable wisdom that we do not want them, so we terminated them. The interesting reason why we terminated them was they insisted that the landing area on any par 4 or par 5, from a drive, or from the tee on a par 3, the landing area -- or from that point on, you had to look down on the green. That makes it interesting in an easier golf course which is appropriate for resort play. But if you think about it and you look at the location we were in, in this river valley with 70-, 80-foot embankments, if we really maintained that rule, we would be in and out of that river valley with very long green-to-tee walks. Okay if you had a cart for resort play but very inappropriate for tournament play.

So, we terminated this firm and went on and brought in another half dozen, and lo and behold, Pete Dye was in that group. He got us quite interested not only because he had built some great courses like TPC and Harbour Town, but he had also done things like Chattanooga. Those of you who have seen the Honors Course, it's a magnificent blending of golf and nature. Things are not manicured. Things are not sweet and prissy. It's a rough hewn but a wonderful blend, and he didn't need the Audubon Society to help him out. We love that about Pete Dye. Pete Dye moved a lot of earth, had a reputation for moving a lot of earth, but when all was said and done, there was a blend with the natural environment that we saw nowhere else.

So we went forward and picked this character and fell in love with the game in the process.

Q. On that point, can you speak about how your relationship has evolved during this project, and what was the bigger test of the relationship, losing the trees or losing the black sheep?

PETE DYE: Let me get that straight. Those trees weren't elm trees, they were box elders. I didn't cut them down; there was a little tornado that went through town and then lightning hit them and put them on fire, and that dog of mine was trying to save that sheep.

HERB KOHLER: He was running 300 yards on the lake trying to rescue them.

PETE DYE: Took his life in his own hands trying to save that sheep. I was really worried about the dog. (Laughter.)

HERB KOHLER: We had quite a conversation after those trees came down. You could imagine, there were six huge piles of 70- and 80-foot elm trees, all piled up, there were a few box elders but mostly elm. It was the only grove in Wisconsin that had escaped the beetle.

We had a conversation after that, and we never had a problem since. Even though he keeps lying to me all the time. (Laughter.)

Q. Do you have anymore projects scheduled or is this it here?

HERB KOHLER: We are just in a slow period while we prepare for this championship. We keep looking all over the world, truly, for an appropriate spot where nature has blessed it and there happens to be a commercial airport within an hour or so.

Q. Bringing a major has been your goal ever since you got in the golf business. Would you tell us what you're feeling this week?

HERB KOHLER: I'm starting to get excited. When you can sit down and talk to Darren Clarke or John Daly, and they are in your backyard, you can't help but get excited. It's something we work for. It's always around the corner, but here we are. It's great stuff, it really is.

What moves me is to watch the communities around this place. If you have a moment one of these days, take a drive throughout this county and the periphery of this county and watch how they have fixed themselves up for this tournament. It is amazing, just amazing. And not just the town, but the townspeople, their homes and whatnot. It's thrilling to see it how this entire region has come together in support.

JULIUS MASON: Questions? Questions twice?

PETE DYE: I'll add one thing. The thing about this core, or haven or wherever they are, are the golfers are Wisconsin. You don't have to are worry about the golfers of Wisconsin. They are the most ardent golfers. They love the game of golf. They come out here time and time again. They don't come play once. They come back; they keep coming back. And don't worry about them climbing those hills. They have been climbing these hills for five years and they are going to climb all over the place.

These golfers, the State of Wisconsin has the second highest golfing population in the United States, our country. These people are ardent golfers. They love the game of golf. They don't know if it's raining or snowing. They play out here and they keep coming back.

And you worry about the gallery, I would worry about the gallery if this was in New York. But in Kohler, Wisconsin, those people don't know there's a hill out there. He doesn't, either. Go out and watch him. They are just different, just a different group and they are great. They love the game. They won't even know there's a hill out there. Watch them. You're out there today, you don't have enough parking right now and I can tell you this is the first day and nobody is here, it's true.

JULIUS MASON: For more of the Pete Dye and Herb Kohler Show, ladies and gentlemen, tune in Sunday at 5:00. Thank you very much.

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