Here’s Why Daniel Arsham Turned a World-Class Golf Course Into a Sculpture Garden

A 360 degree collaboration between Arsham, Kohler and Malbon Golf.

Golf
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Fly into Milwaukee, Wisconsin, drive about an hour north and you’ll reach Whistling Straits, widely recognized as one of the best golf courses in the world. Its allure lies in its mixture of natural and artificial, contemporary and classic. At first impression, it looks like a seaside links that was imported directly from Ireland and dropped onto the shores of Lake Michigan.

Whistling Straits is more of a remix than a cover though. Its rising dunes were created by tractors and trailers and the sheep were brought in from who knows where. When you think about it, it’s a fitting location to showcase the work of Daniel Arsham, an artist whose work feels both nostalgic and futuristic. Take Arsham’s eroded bronze sculptures for example, which recreate and recontextualize famous works of art in a sort of faux archaeology. Whistling Straits is also a modern classic.

“The dream is for us to do an actual course together.” – Daniel Arsham

Something of an urban legend, the estimations of how much dirt was moved to build the Straits range from 700,000 to 3 million cubic yards. Our caddie revealed that Herbert Kohler Jr. (yes, the same Kohler who built the billion dollar kitchen and bath company), was having trouble finding enough dirt for the architect to execute his ambitious vision. He solved that problem by buying an entire sand supplier company. Loopers always have the best intel.

Arsham and Kohler have worked together in the past to design an installation showcased at Milan Design Week and bespoke sinks released direct-to-consumer, but their latest project is perhaps the most unexpected to date. To honor the brand’s 150th anniversary, Kohler teamed up with Arsham to bring six sculptures to Kohler, Wisconsin. Each one is thoughtfully placed around Whistling Straits, Blackwolf Run (another one of the family’s golf courses), and the 5-star The American Club hotel. “All of them are in places where you can see them from play, but they’re not anywhere physically on the course,” Daniel Arsham tells us as we find a quiet moment to chat during the opening weekend in Kohler.

In true 360 degree fashion, the Arsham in Kohler collaboration goes beyond art to touch on hospitality, fashion and lifestyle. Those who really want to immerse themselves can book the secluded Arsham Cabin that has views of Lake Michigan and is located just five minutes from Whistling Straits. The two bedroom, two bath cabin complete with a zen garden is decorated with Arsham’s furniture and art, offering guests a window into the artist’s world. Additionally, Arsham and Kohler tapped Stephen Malbon of Malbon Golf to design a collection of golf apparel and accessories combining Arsham’s preferred oxidized green and a customized Buckets logo evoking his signature round frames.

“No one can buy that Porsche that’s out front of Whistling Straits, but they can buy our golf balls with the Kohler and Arsham logo,” says Stephen Malbon. “Then they can take that story home with them wherever they go internationally because this is like a golf hub.” The products can be purchased on Malbon’s website, and the Arsham Cabin is available to book now via Destination Kohler.

Always focused on innovation though, Arsham is already looking to the future to imagine what could be. The 43-year-old artist has played golf since he was a kid but is becoming increasingly fascinated with golf course architecture and its intersection with his own world. Pete Dye, the designer of all four courses at Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run, is famous for his use of deception, tempting golfers to take on more or less risk than they should. Says Arsham: “All courses are obviously different. They’re playing with existing landscapes, seeing what they can do with that. They’re calculating distances and different types of holes. They’re also curating the pace and how people are moving through the landscape. So I think it’s a beautiful art.”

This newfound obsession could at some point lead to a fifth golf course joining the already impressive Kohler portfolio, but this one wouldn’t be designed by Dye, who passed away in 2020.

“David [Kohler] talked about this a little bit last night, the dream is for us to do an actual course together. You know, get some land and think about the course both from the perspective of an art experience and also the golf experience. So I think at some point that’ll happen.” Now that’s an enticing prospect.

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