Harbor Shores will host the Senior PGA Championships in 2012 and 2014, two of many events anticipated to boost the Benton Harbor economy. (File photo)
Harbor Shores will host the Senior PGA Championships in 2012 and 2014, two of many events anticipated to boost the Benton Harbor economy. (File photo)

Archived Story

Golf course aimed at revitalizing Benton Harbor

Published 10:40pm Tuesday, June 15, 2010

By AARON MUELLER
Niles Daily Star

There has definitely been a buzz in southwest Michigan and the golfing community as a whole about the new Harbor Shores golf course.

In fact, general manager and director of golf Ross Smith says people are probably sick and tired of hearing about the 18-hole, 530-acre course in Benton Harbor designed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus.

“Everybody is tired of hearing about it and ready to see it,” Smith said.

But on July 1 the wait will be over, and the public will be able to play the same course that some of the best senior golfers will grace in 2012 and 2014 for the Senior PGA Championships.

Smith said those who have gotten a preview of the course have been astounded.

“The people that have come out to play it, first and foremost, say that it is in perfect, pristine condition,” he said. “But more than that, they can’t believe the transformation.”

The 15th hole used to be the home of a city dump, and the whole Harbor Shores area used to be a run-down, contaminated landscape, the result of plant closures in the 1980s.

The whole vision of Harbor Shores has been more than golf; it has been about the revitalization of a community.

Nicklaus got involved when he heard the story of the revitalization effort of Benton Harbor through Mark Hesemann, managing director of Harbor Shores and colleague of Nicklaus.
“Jack Nicklaus is one of the greatest players but also one of the greatest course designers,” Smith said.

After an extensive cleanup, Nicklaus’ vision was realized with a 530-acre course that is truly unique.

“What’s interesting about this course is there are three different quadrants,” Smith said. “We aren’t stereotyped into one style of golf course.”

The course is essentially three in one – one course that is thick in trees and hills, another that is along a river and a dunes course. The last four holes wrap around the Paw Paw River and wetlands area.

Smith said it is a challenging course with tough, unregulated greens. It will play to a par 71 at 6,981 yards from the championship tees. But with four sets of tees and relatively wide landing areas, the course can be played by pros as well as the inexperienced.

The world-class course will be the home of the 2012 and 2014 Senior PGA Championships, an event that is sure to be a boon to the southwest Michigan economy.

Smith said the championships should attract about 150,000 people over the eight days. Past Senior PGA Championships have raked in $22 million to $32 million for the host communities.

“The fact that you have 100 to 150,000 people means they all need a place to sleep, eat and drink a beer,” Smith said. “I’m sure it will outreach to Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and South Bend.”

The grand-opening ceremony for the course is slated for Aug. 10, featuring Nicklaus, and fellow golf greats Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Johnny Miller in a charity event called Champions for Change.

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