By Danny and Alice Scott
A golfer’s dream villa at Harbor Shores sits by the first tee box of the Jack Nicklaus Signature course that is making many dreams come true, and not just for golfers. It’s where the Kitchen Aid Sr. PGA Championship is played every two years, but it’s not just about golf champions, it’s about the Champions for Change in Michigan’s great southwest where community leaders and organizations, the Whirlpool Foundation, and other businesses collaborated on restoring the toxic area that was left from the industrial era’s decline.
Within the project, the idea of a golf course generating jobs and income, became a reality when they brought in Jack. This was a massive undertaking, removing 140,000 tons of solid waste and contaminated soil while repurposing much of the materials from the demolished old buildings. His design team laid out a phenomenal routing along the Paw Paw River, wetlands and 530 acres along the shore of Lake Michigan which always feels like an ocean. Reinforcing the natural beautification, metal and glass sculptures of flowers with placards on each hole depict Jack’s 18 major wins, crafted by artists Joshua Andres and Jerry Catania. Some holes also have before photos of the landscape. This is a great environmental and community restoration story while telling the history of The Golden Bear.
The first six golf holes are inland resort style, skirting the river. Ducks were conducting a conference on the riverbank of hole 3 and four swans were swimming behind the green on our first round. The white, yellow, pink, and purple indigenous flowers in the wetlands form nature’s bouquet and no doubt were an inspiration to the flower sculptors. Number four is reminiscent of Jack’s Bear Trap in reverse formation at PGA National. The middle six are dune holes starting with a long ride to number 7 on a wooden bridge around a marsh with another pond to maneuver and the green is straight uphill, guarded by left and right bunkers with the lake and beach far below and behind the green. A public trail cuts through to the back nine and to the beach if you want to take a dip in the cool lake, sunbathe or stroll the creamy tan sand.
Number 10 gives new meaning to the multi-tiered green term. While several of the greens were redone to make them more playable, as is often the case, GM Joshua Doxtator says that without Jack’s famous 102-foot putt, this one would have been leveled. The You Tube video of that putt is very popular. Search for it and watch before you go as it is fun to try and replicate it and see how your ball ends up. Number 13 passes by North Point Brewery that makes “Two on the first” unique cocktails in cans, available from the beverage cart. 14 starts the fun river run back to the clubhouse with a “Beware of boaters” sign and culminates with a gorgeous 18 along the water.
The golfer’s villa is beautiful upon entry with a full kitchen, high ceiling, four deluxe bedrooms with baths, and a spacious living room with golf on TV, leading to a covered patio and Adirondack chairs along the first fairway for live, golf entertainment. At 5am, the grounds crews are busy with conditioning. At 7:30pm, First Tee kids are coached on golf and values. In between, it’s any lucky player or pro practicing. Try to refrain from heckling and wish the players well.
A large gas grill sits in the corner but if you don’t feel like cooking, the Grille at Harbor Shores in the clubhouse serves all three meals. From breakfast wraps to steak and fresh fish paired with fine wines or cocktails, this kitchen needs no aid!
The leadership team at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor managed through the strict Michigan Covid protocols without cutting employees, by “gutting it out.” In 2020 they didn’t know if anybody would show. They opened in May with no carts and no service, but they had inventory through good team instinct and never fit so many clubs. Everybody got through it and now they are implanting a new caddy program. They hired and trained 15 loopers and hope to make them a future requirement for guests. It’s a good idea the first time around to have some course knowledge. Joshua wants to “deliver an experience they pay triple for, and they come back again, because it’s so good.” It really is good! Rounds will be limited to 15k in five months to keep it great. The same conditioning is expected to show for everyday golfers as for the pros in the Championship.
More villas are in the works and for now, the Harbor Shores Inn partners with Harbor Shores Golf to accommodate overflow groups. Located at the Marina, it features a spa, pool, Planks Tavern restaurant on the water and boat rentals. Kayak rentals on the Paw Paw River are also available.
Three developments are popping up for homeownership at Harbor Shores- Fairways, Hideaway and Trailside. The community borders the unique beach town of St. Joe where streets are lined with boutique shops fun for browsing and restaurants with rooftops. Lake Bluff Park and Lookout Park are linked by sidewalks and trails down to Lake Michigan with a canon and swings overlooking the immense splash park, the public beach with volleyball games and the lighthouse in the harbor. It’s seriously a sweet spot to visit or live. It’s hard to believe this beautiful area was ever a dump with condemned buildings. The reclamation project is an incredible success and Harbor Shores is a gorgeous place to reclaim your game.
Chicago Midway is a 90-minute drive for Southwest direct flights and South Bend, Indiana has more connecting flights. It is so worth the trip! www.harborshoresresort.com