Chris Lutzke, the golf course architect who designed Lansing’s Eagle Eye Golf Course, caught the eye of plumbing industry titan Herb Kohler, who created Destination Kohler Resort in the factory village named for his family north of Milwaukee. Lutzke, for years, worked under acclaimed golf architect Pete Dye who designed four famed courses, including the two Whistling Straits lakefront tracks, at Destination Kohler before Dye’s passing in 2020.
Kohler then enlisted Lutzke to design and craft his newest course – an innovative 10-hole, par-three layout called, appropriately, The Baths beside the resort’s inland Blackwolf Run courses.
“I’ve known Chris for more than 30 years,” said Kohler, 82, at the recent grand opening of The Baths, a course Kohler himself, the multi-billionaire chairman of the Kohler Corporation, participated in fashioning. “Throughout the entire process of building The Baths I marveled at Lutzke’s ability to take ideas I’d throw at him in the drafting room or out walking in the field and bring them to life ‘in the dirt.’”
One of Kohler’s more unique ideas was to make the ponds on the course swimmable, Lutzke told me at the grand opening.
“Chairman Kohler wanted people to be able to dive into The Baths so we put sand in the bottom of these ponds. There are some shallow areas where people or kids can walk in and play. It doesn’t always have to make sense but that’s what he wanted,” said Lutzke. He said it was a joy working with Kohler, whom he described as his co-architect.
“For the most part we agreed on everything. He’d come out on-site and we’d look at the design for 45 minutes and then just sit in the cart and swap Pete Dye stories for another two hours. Someone would bring us a sandwich and we’d watch the sun go down,” recalls Lutzke, who was born 20 miles from the site. “I knew the name of the Kohler company before I could walk.”
Lutzke, at the ceremonial grand opening of The Baths, leapt into the pond in celebration.
“Mr. Kohler said, ‘Why don’t you jump in?’ I just said, ‘Okay!’”
As I watched Lutzke dry off with a bath towel he recounted his Lansing connection. “While I worked for Pete Dye in 1985 he sent me to school at Michigan State University because he said they had the best turfgrass agronomy program in the country. He made a phone call, got me in, and even paid for it,” said Lutzke, who, while in Lansing, connected with Michigan-based golf architect Jerry Matthews, who taught him how to draw plans. “Matthews and I, together, built the 27 holes Hawk Hollow for Daryl Kessler. Jerry was the architect and I was on the bulldozer because that’s all I’d ever done.”
Then Kessler then wanted to create Eagle Eye Golf Course on his property on the other side of Chandler Road from Hawk Hollow. He challenged Lutzke that if he could somehow Dye, he would give Lutzke his first design job. Lutzke luckily convinced Dye to consult.
“Pete looked at some of the routing and showed up at the grand opening where he played golf with MSU coaches Tom Izzo and Jud Heathcote,” said Lutzke, who also got a blessing from his old boss to create Eagle Eye’s replica island green 17th hole in homage to Dye’s design at TPC Sawgrass.
Kessler turned to Lutzke again when he also bought Woodside Meadows Golf Course, a faltering nine-hole course nearby. “They had me come in and add three championship finishing holes to combine with the original nine,” explained Lutzke. Ironically Woodside now has 12 holes; while The Baths has 10 – both an unconventional number of holes. “I can’t say enough about the Kessler family I love them all and I hope they build another course because I would be there tomorrow for them.”