Let Them Eat Golf in Wisconsin

[So much for my summer blogging silence. But these days errant opinion (that of others, not my own)  seldom takes a vacation.]



Photo by CleverCupCakes (Some rights reserved.)  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Photo by CleverCupCakes (Some rights reserved.) Creative Commons license


What’s the strategy for improving both the environment and economy of Wisconsin? According to the Kohler Co. and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial Board, it’s golf. 

Yes! to yet another Kohler Co. golf course says the Editorial Board, for the course would aim to be, says the company, one of the fifty best in the world!!! (And who, exactly, would be the judge?) Such a course, opines the Board, would be “a boon to Wisconsin’s tourism industry”, create jobs, and “enhance the state’s reputation as a golf mecca.”  As our family farms and pastures dwindle away to be replaced by factory farm feedlots, one way to keep Wisconsin green (at least in the warmer months) would admittedly be to replace our pastures and fields with golf fairways and greens. It would have the added benefit of giving our retired/bankrupt farmers something to do. Dairyland can then be rebranded as “Greenland”, or maybe Putterville.

Of course the land in question that Kohler owns in Sheboygan County is not a farm but a forest, river, wetlands and beach beside Lake Michigan. The Journal Sentinel did a good job of covering the issues involved,  and then promptly came to the aid of “one of the largest private corporations in Wisconsin” with an editorial that typically defends building something by minimizing the “concerns” of local people and conservationists, saying only that care must be taken:  “The DNR and local officials must ensure that the proposed course would not severely impact the lake shore or nearby habitats.” But is it possible to turn about 250 acres of good forest and dunes into an 18-hole golf course without severely impacting them? Whistling Straits, already a Kohler golf mecca on Lake Michigan,  may be a relatively lovely and wild place to play golf (if you can afford it), but you can’t say the land hasn’t been changed in a significant way for a very narrow human purpose; it is no longer a relatively undisturbed natural area with all the aesthetic, spiritual and ecological benefits of wilderness as well as the economic benefits of attracting tourists seeking peace and quiet.

Not to worry, says Kohler Chairman Herbert V. Kohler, Jr., for the proposed golf course “captures and enhances the natural beauty.” (The editorial also notes approvingly this environmental improvement.) In other words, replacing the forest and beach with the golf course will actually make the land more beautiful. Such logic would lead us to conclude that we as a nation have made a grave mistake by not turning all our national parks into national golf courses, but perhaps the House of Representatives is working on such a bill.

The Kohler Co. now has a business-friendly DNR and, more importantly, a sympathetic administration in Madison. While it was certainly generous of Kohler to donate 280 acres of lakeside land to the state back in 1966, the bill has apparently come due. Kohler wants a few acres of that land back in an easement to build a road into their new money-making golf course which would be built right next-door to the state park. And the new course would, of course, CREATE JOBS. But these days “job creation” tends to mean wealth creation for the wealthy: you make a pittance, the “job creators” make a bundle, and too often the wealth of nature is plundered. Of the $51, 304 in state campaign donations from Kohler employees between 2009 and 2013, Chairman Herbert Kohler gave $44,500 of it, and almost all of the company donations went to Gov. Walker and two GOP state senators. The Journal Sentinel reports that Kohler met with the DNR to discuss the golf course plan. Has anyone from the Town of Wilson opposed to the golf course been invited to Madison to chat about it?

At what point are we going to start protecting precious land, water and air from rapacious development? The state and nation are not suffering from a lack of golf courses or the relatively few jobs they provide. We have more than enough grass and fertilizer, more than enough pollution,  loss of wetlands and developed beaches. What we need are more piping plovers (among other things) and much more of the sort of work and leisure that makes more piping plovers possible.


 Update— See also James Rowen’s reaction to JS editorial on the proposed Kohler golf course.




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