WISCONSIN GOLF FAM 2019
In May 2019, Wisconsin hosted its first-ever joint FAM (short for “Familiarization”) Trip for a group of international golf tour operators. This group of International Association of Golf Tour Operator members (IAGTO) made their way from China, Switzerland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Canada to experience everything that the Wisconsin golf market has to offer for the international traveler. The intention is that these operators will go back to their home countries and promote Wisconsin for what we all know it is… one of the top golf destinations in the world.
Sponsored by Visit Milwaukee, this FAM Trip was partially funded by a Travel Wisconsin joint-marketing grant applied for by the Wisconsin State Golf Association. Rob Jansen, Executive Director of the WSGA, was instrumental in getting this trip off the ground with the support of the local golf community. Not to be ignored, the vendors involved stepped up and provided the rooms and tee times necessary to properly showcase the best of the best here in Wisconsin. As the host for the week, I can safely say that the trip was a huge success and each of these tour operators left our state KNOWING that Wisconsin is a world-class golf destination.
NOTE: For the images below, there are more than 4 for each section. Click on any of the images to go through a mini-slideshow for that part of the trip.
Our FAM Trip started with everyone arriving and meeting up in Milwaukee. We stayed at the new Hyatt Place staring right at the beautiful Fiserv Forum and Jacqui Hagius from Switzerland came in the night before and got to experience the Deer District during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals for the Milwaukee Bucks. Those that made it in time on the first night were welcomed with a kick-off dinner sponsored by Visit Milwaukee. Brian Hutchings from Visit Milwaukee hosted the group at Bacchus Restaurant in downtown Milwaukee.
In the morning, Brian and the group were met by Theresa Nemetz from Milwaukee Food & City Tours. The group received a terrific driving tour and history of the area from Theresa. Along the way we stopped at the Milwaukee Public Market, the Harley-Davidson Museum, and the Milwaukee Public Art Museum with its famous Calatrava wings.
Destination Kohler was the first stop on our tour of the state. On the afternoon that we arrived, we headed straight for Blackwolf Run. Bryan Stevens from Kohler was able to greet us for our round on the Meadow Valleys Course. He then hosted the group for a fantastic dinner in the Blackwolf Run clubhouse before we boarded a shuttle for the Inn on Woodlake to check in.
The next morning, Bryan had a Kohler Factory Tour set up for the group. We met at the Kohler Design Center where we not only learned some of the history of the Kohler Corporation, but got to see the inner workings of their foundries and why their products are some of the best on the market. Bryan then met up with us to give the group a quick tour of the Kohler Waters Spa, the Carriage House and The American Club. We then boarded a shuttle for Whistling Straits.
After a great lunch in the Whistling Straits Restaurant, the group got warmed up for our showcase round on The Straits Course, home of the 2020 Ryder Cup. It was one of the most beautiful afternoons on The Straits I have ever seen, with the sun shining most of the time and nary a breeze to contend with. It was a truly spectacular afternoon that left these tour operators speechless by the beauty and challenge that is Whistling Straits. That evening wrapped up with a casual dinner at the Horse & Plow Pub inside The American Club.
The entire staff at SentryWorld was prepped and ready to go when the group arrived for our day there. After allowing each operator to pick out some souvenirs to take home with them, SentryWorld hosted a lunch inside a private room at PJ’s Restaurant. Danny Rainbow and Tawnya Schilt were tremendous hosts and introduced the group to many local delicacies, including their “Legendary Mary” bloody mary full of cheese curds, pretzel bites, bacon and a full bratwurst! GM Mike James met us for golf that afternoon, and except for the fact the the flowers had not been planted quite yet on the famous par-3 16th hole, the course was in great shape!
Dinner was hosted at Muse inside Sentry Insurance after golf. It was a terrific meal all around. Joining us at dinner were two special guests: Tom Coleman from the Stevens Point Convention and Visitors Bureau was there to talk about what makes their area so special, and veteran Wisconsin journalist Gary D’Amato joined us to do some interviews for a feature story on Wisconsin.Golf. You can view Gary’s article by CLICKING HERE The dinner itself was absolutely terrific and the entire day certainly put SentryWorld on the map for these tour operators.
Our full day at Sand Valley Resort introduced the group to what a typical Wisconsin May day can be like. During our morning tour of the property, it was probably high 40s with drizzle all around. By mid afternoon it was almost 70 with sun beaming everywhere. Cierra Pulse from Sand Valley hopped aboard the shuttle with us in the morning and gave a tour of the Sand Valley Course, along with the practice area, tennis courts, and various lodging options available at Sand Valley. We then grabbed a few clubs and played the par-3 Sandbox before lunch.
After a quick bite to eat in the Mammoth Bar & Lounge, we headed out for our afternoon tee times on Mammoth Dunes. I will tell you that the day left a few of the tour operators quite speechless. Many had never seen or played anything quite like Mammoth Dunes, and combining that with the lodging and service provided by Sand Valley… it left a lasting impression on the group. We ended the day with a terrific group dinner at Aldo’s Farm & Table where Cameryn Kwaterski from Visit Rome joined us.
Upon our arrival at Erin Hills we headed straight for the practice range and the course. Rich Tock and Steve Pease from Erin Hills joined us for golf and helped tell the story of what makes Erin Hills such a special place. It was a magical afternoon at Erin Hills with lots of quality golf, some “slight” breezes at times, and many memories made. After a drink out on the patio, Rich Tock gave the group a quick tour of the pub, lodge, caddie barn, cottages and clubhouse.
Dinner was hosted inside the main restaurant where we were joined by Scott Henke from the Hartford Chamber of Commerce. Scott was able to fill the group in on what makes Hartford such a charming Wisconsin town and why it is a perfect complement to a trip to Erin Hills. We ended the evening with some downtime in the caddie barn which opens to guests at 9pm every night. It was a night full of refreshments, billiards, TV viewing, ping-pong, etc. A great time had by all!
Our day in Lake Geneva was the only day we had to really dodge the weather throughout the week. After a quick bite to eat, the group got in about 12 holes on the Palmer Course at Geneva National to start our day before the rain hit. After drying out a bit, Geneva National hosted a great lunch where we were joined by Caroline Cornelison of the Walworth County CVB and also David Spiegelberg of Travel Wisconsin. David was all ears as many of the tour operators discussed what the future could hold for Wisconsin in the international golf travel market.
We shuttled over to Grand Geneva Resort in the afternoon. The staff at Grand Geneva was ready to greet us and get our bags to our rooms right away. Jen Dalsbo and the rest of her team at Grand Geneva did an amazing job of hosting, even scheduling some spa treatments for some of the operators since golf was washed out. That evening numerous members of the Grand Geneva resort & golf staff joined us for an amazing, multi-course meal inside the Geneva ChopHouse.
To finish the trip off, head pro Kyle Kunash joined a small portion of the group on the Highlands Course in the morning for 9 holes before we had to get everyone on their respective shuttles for departing flights.