4 golfing greats, 1 great course

Published 2:22 pm Friday, August 6, 2010

Legends Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson will tee off Tuesday in Benton Harbor.


Off The Water

Four of America’s greatest golfers will tee off in a competitive round of golf for the first time ever on Tuesday at the Golf Club at Harbor Shores.

Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Johnny Miller, who have combined for 199 PGA wins and 35 major championships, will play an 18-hole scramble skins game at the newly created golf course in Benton Harbor-St. Joseph.

The Champions for Change Golf Challenge will be part of the grand opening at Harbor Shores. The foursome will play on the Nicklaus Signature Golf Course, which opened all 18 holes for play back in July.

The 18-hole skins game will have two-man rotating teams so that all four golfers get a chance to play with and against each other.

Nicklaus and Palmer will team up for the first six holes, as will Watson and Miller.

The next six holes will pair Nicklaus with Watson and Palmer with Miller.

The final six holes will have Nicklaus and Miller playing together as well as Watson and Palmer.

The event, which is sold out, is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. The entire purse will be awarded to a charity, which will be named the morning of the event.

“Obviously I’m excited about the Harbor Shores project,” Nicklaus said at a teleconference on Tuesday. “I think it turned out very, very pretty. I think it’s something very, very special.”

Nicklaus is not only pleased with the way the course turned out, but also the fact that it will help revitalize the Benton Harbor area.

“It’s going to be a project that is going to make a difference,” he said. “That’s what this event is all about.”

The Champions for Change Golf Challenge has put together four players that changed the face of golf in their era.

Although the four are good friends, Nicklaus, Watson, Palmer and Miller agreed that their competitive nature would take over when they get on the course.

“We have all been competitive for years,” Nicklaus said. “We have all tried to beat each others’ brains out on the golf course and it hasn’t changed.”

“I look forward to playing the golf course that’s going to be the site of the PGA seniors,” Palmer added, “and coming back to southwest Michigan which I have done quite a few times.”

Harbor Shores will host the 2012 and 2014 Senior Championship, it was announced earlier this year.

Palmer also noted that he was pleased to be able to help out the community of Benton Harbor.

Watson said that Nicklaus contacted him last year about being a part of the grand opening and again in January when the two were playing in the Senior Skins Game.

“He talked about the good things they were doing in the communities,” Watson recalled. “That’s very, very important in the long range goal of these communities.”

What is happening with the Harbor Shores project, which is not only a golf course, but a golf resort community, plays right into one of Miller’s hobbies.

He said that he likes to buy old rundown ranches and restore them. He said he has about 15 right now.

“One of my main hobbies is picking up trash and making things better in the world,” Miller said. “I am really glad Jack took up this project. He was the man for the job.”

Watson was equally impressed by the entire project, noting that he was looking at Google Earth at photos taken before the course was built.

“I am really interested to see what presents itself to me when we play the course,” he said. “I know it’s going to be something that is really impressive.”

Watson added that charity events like the one on Tuesday help promote golf as well. The numbers are down, especially among young golfers, so anything that he and his trio of golf legends can do to promote the game, is fine with him.

“As a lover of golf, growing up on golf, you can’t get in much trouble playing golf or on the golf course,” he said. “We need to get as many youngsters involved as possible. We need to create opportunities for golf at an affordable price.”

Miller may have summed it up best.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said. “I am just excited to play these mini-scrambles with three super legends. I am probably a mini-legend, I don’t know. To me, it’s going to be something to be in this group. I am looking forward to a great day.”

The gates are slated to open at 8:30 a.m. with a clinic on the driving range scheduled to begin at 9:30.