It doesn’t matter whether it’s a country club or a municipal golf course, whether it’s open to the public or a private country club, every golf course has a story. Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor Michigan is no different.
Benton Harbor was once a thriving manufacturing area with such notable companies as Whirlpool having its world headquarters here. However, with the economic downturn in the mid-1980s, jobs were lost, buildings were abandoned and the soil became contaminated. The area became a dumping ground for garbage, oil sludge, and just about anything else you could think of. With the nearby town of St. Joseph thriving with tourism, something had to be done to ensure the growth of the area’s economy.
Several community groups got together including Cornerstone Alliance, and the Consortium for Community Development, and plans were put on the table for a 530-acre mixed-use development with residential homes, hotels, a lakefront park, and a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course. Mr. Nicklaus visited the property and after serious deliberation, accepted the challenge.
To get the site ready to build a golf course, over 100,000 cubic feet of solid waste, contaminated soil, and trash were removed. Once that project was complete, the golf course could move forward and according to Jack, very few changes were made to the original routing plans.
Harbor Shores Golf Club plays 6,734 yards from the Black Tees with a course rating of 73.6 and a slope of 146. Unless you’re out to prove something, move up to the Gold Tees (6,159/70.2/139) and you’ll still be challenged yet able to leave with a certain amount of dignity.
A quick look at the scorecard and you will notice that the course is split into four unique areas. Holes 1 – 6 are designated the “Inland” holes because of their inland terrain. Holes 7 – 9 feature great views of Lake Michigan and are referred to as the “Dunes” holes. The “Woodland” holes (10-13) wind through rolling hills, ravines, and a hardwood forest, while the finishing holes (14-18) border the Paw Paw River and are hence known as the “River” holes. At Harbor Shores, you can experience several facets of Michigan golf all in the same round.
The 3rd hole (Sunflower) is a great risk/reward opportunity. It plays 305 yards from the Gold Tees and the Paw Paw River on the left side can be an ominous obstacle. Should you opt for a driver off the tee, the bunkers on the left side require a carry of about 215 yards. Clear them and you’ll have a short pitch shot in. Choose a longer approach shot and you’ll have to deal with the river guarding the left side and two bunkers on the right. The green has three distinct levels, so distance control is important. Low numbers can be had here.
Number 6 (Cattail) is a challenging par 4 that is Harbor Shores’ #1 handicapped hole. From the Gold Tees the hole plays 389 yards and requires a semi-blind tee shot to a fairway that ends about 230 yards; hit it any further and you’re in trouble. A drive down the right side will leave a slightly shorter approach shot. A good drive will leave an approach shot of about 140 yards, over water into the green. Should you not feel up to the challenge, there’s a large bailout area to the left.
Hole #7 (Arrow Arum) is the course’s signature hole. Not only does it feature a significant uphill elevation change, but once you get up to the green the views of Jean Klock Park and Lake Michigan are incredible. Seven is a dogleg right that requires a long drive from an island tee box, over wetlands, a lake on the right, and bunkers. Your approach shot is to an elevated green – that’s an understatement – that sits 25 yards above the fairway on the top of a dune. The green is surrounded by long, wavy dune grass. Hit it over the green and you could very well find the beach – literally! Come up short on your approach shot and you can easily roll back down the hill or worse yet, find the deep bunker about halfway down. Forget your score and look around…all is good!
If you’re a Jack Nicklaus fan, Number 10 (Red Oak) may well be your favorite hole or at least green! It’s where Jack Nicklaus showed Johnny Miller how to hole a 102-foot putt during the club’s grand opening exhibition match. Number 10 is a 475-yard par 5 with woods on the right. Left is best off the tee, and helps to avoid all kinds of hazards. Continue with your layup shot down the left side to have the best angle into a notorious 4-tiered green. Being on the correct tier is everything here if you want to avoid a potential 3-putt – or worse. At over 10,000 sq. ft., this green is recognized as one of Jack’s most famous.
Number 15 (Primrose) is another risk/reward hole. This 487-yard par 5 has several options for longball hitters if you can avoid the fairway bunkers 275 yards off the tee. Mere mortals will layup short of the trap, play their layup shot left and short of the Paw Paw River that crosses in front of the green. It also gives you the best angle to approach the two-tiered green which is very wide and not real deep. A large, deep bunker sits between the river and the green.
Number 16 (Black-Eyed Susan) is another good test of golf. From the Gold Tees, it plays 380 yards and requires an accurate drive off the tee that avoids the lake on the left. Push your tee shot right or hit it too long and you’ll have trees and branches to deal with. A good drive will leave a short iron approach shot into the kidney-shaped green which is protected by water on the left and sand on the right.
Harbor Shores Resort is centrally located between three large, metropolitan cities: 90 minutes east of Chicago, 3 hours west of Detroit and 3 hours north of Indianapolis and is a popular weekend getaway destination for couples, weddings, team-building events, and just about any other reason you can think of that might involve a golf course. The restaurant is a popular waterside spot for boaters from all over the area.
The majority of guests seem to be here for the golf: after all, it’s a highly sought-after destination for golfers all over the Midwest. Harbor Shores will be hosting The Kitchenaid Senior PGA Championship in 2022 and 2024. This is the only Jack Nicklaus Signature Course on Lake Michigan and the first beach, golf, and residential community in Southwest Michigan.
The Grille inside the clubhouse has one of the most diverse menus I’ve seen at a golf course. Not only do they take the staples such as wings, burgers, and fries to a new level, but they have such non-traditional plates as PEI mussels, fried chicken, baked mac & cheese, and a pimento cheese dip that is not to be missed.
The Inn offers guests king, queen, and family accommodations, which have three queen size beds in one suite with a view of either the golf course or one of Michigan’s oldest deep-water harbors. All are equipped with safes, coffeemakers, refrigerators, and balconies where you can enjoy the cool evening breezes. Planks Tavern on the Water is the premier waterfront dining spot in St. Joseph Planks offers some great food for both big and small appetites. They open at 9 in the morning – 8 on Friday and the weekend – and also offer some unique dishes. My favorite breakfast entrée is the Banana Bread French toast with chocolate chunks, whip cream, porter caramel sauce, and white chocolate sauce. For lunch or dinner, I highly recommend the Fjord Sea Trout. It’s pan-seared and served with mushroom rice pilaf, sauteed spinach, and pearl onions, and accompanied with tarragon honey butter.
For more information on everything that Harbor Shores Resort and Golf Club have to offer, visit them online at www.harborshoresresort.com.