Most golfers in the Midwest know about Harbor Shores and these days it may not be much of a stretch to say that a good percentage of visitors to the Benton Harbor area are there because of Harbor Shores.
For those unfamiliar with the property, Harbor Shores is a 530-acre mixed-use development with residential homes, hotels, a lakefront park, and a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course. The course was built in 2010 when Benton Harbor, Michigan was a less-than-desirable place to live. Downtown buildings were being abandoned and the area had become a dumping ground for garbage, oil sludge, and just about anything else you could think of. To make matters worse, the soil had become contaminated. To get the Harbor Shores site ready to build a golf course, over 100,000 cubic feet of solid waste, contaminated soil, and trash were removed. That’s over 60 dump truck loads of trash!
Harbor Shores is the only Jack Nicklaus Signature Course on Lake Michigan and the first beach, golf, and residential community in Southwest Michigan. It offers golfers the opportunity to play a championship golf course in championship condition. In essence, you can play where the pros play, under the same course conditions that the pros play in. When it opened in 2010, Golf Magazine ranked Harbor Shores No. 3 on their “Best New Courses You Can Play” list. A couple of months ago, Harbor Shores earned a spot on Golf Digest’s prestigious list of “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses,” coming in at No. 90 on the list. The club also moved up six spots to No. 19 on Michigan’s Best in State list.
If you’re out to have a good time and be challenged, pick the set of tees that best suit your game. That’s important because if you try to bite off more than you can chew, this course can eat your lunch. Harbor Shores is a fantastic golf course that plays 6,734 yards from the Black Tees. It has a course rating of 73.6 and a slope of 146. 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.
Harbor Shores’ scorecard categorizes the holes into 4 groups: Inland, Dunes, Woodland, and River. The Dunes holes offer fantastic views of Lake Michigan and the dunes that surround it, while the Woodland holes wind through rolling hills, ravines, and a hardwood forest. When I think back upon my round at Harbor Shores, three holes stand out in my mind, Numbers 6, 7, and 10. Every hole out here is memorable in its own right, but these three rise above the rest.
The 6th hole is Harbor Shores’ #1 handicapped hole. It’s a challenging par 4 that plays 389 yards from the Gold Tees with a semi-blind tee shot to a fairway that ends about 230 yards; hit it any further and you’re in trouble. This takes a driver out of many golfers’ hands. There are also three fairway bunkers in the landing area that must be avoided. A good drive will leave an approach shot between 140 and 150 yards, slightly downhill, over water into an angular green protected by both water and sand. Should you not feel up to the challenge, there’s a large bailout area to the left.
The No. 1 handicapped hole is followed by the No. 3 handicapped hole. Six and Seven may well be the most challenging back-to-back holes in the state. Hole #7 is also the course’s signature hole and to me, much more challenging than its predecessor. It’s a dogleg right that plays 396 yards from the Gold Tees and requires a long drive from an island tee box, over wetlands, with a lake on the right, and bunkers. From there, your approach shot plays uphill with about a 25’ elevation change (two or three extra clubs). Should you come up short, you may easily find the deep bunker halfway up the hill which then requires you to be part mountain goat to hit an effective sand shot! Hit it over the green and you could very well find the beach – literally! Once you finally reach the green at the top of the dunes, you’ll be treated to incredible views of Jean Klock Park and Lake Michigan.
The 10th hole was made famous by the Golden Bear himself and the green is recognized as one of his most famous. It’s a 475-yard par 5 with woods on the right, so favoring the left side off the tee helps to avoid all kinds of hazards. A layup shot played down the left side will leave the best angle into the notorious 4-tiered green. The green measures over 10,000 sq. ft. and being on the correct tier is everything if you want to avoid a potential 3-putt – or worse. The 10th green is best remembered for its grand opening round when Jack Nicklaus showed Johnny Miller how to make a 102-foot putt from the bottom level to the upper level. If you haven’t seen it, check it out on YouTube!
Harbor Shores offers some exceptional practice facilities including a full-length driving range, 2 short game areas, and a lighted putting green. The Learning Center uses Trackman technology for game improvement and club fitting,
If you’re hungry after your round, you don’t have to leave the clubhouse to get a great meal. The Grille has a very diverse menu for a golf course. Not only do they take the staples such as wings, burgers, and fries to a new level, but they also serve non-traditional plates like homemade hummus, loaded baked potato fritters, Michigan berry salad, and grilled shrimp tacos. The Big Dog Pork Tenderloin sandwich is almost big enough to be shared!
For those interested in an overnight stay, the Inn at Harbor Shores is a great place to bed down for the night, even if you’re not playing golf the next day. The Inn features 92 luxury guest rooms, a full-service spa, a state-of-the-art fitness center, indoor and outdoor pools, and a selection of dining options. They offer king, queen, and family accommodations with a view of either the golf course or one of Michigan’s oldest deep-water harbors. All rooms 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 with great food for both big and small appetites. They serve brunch from 7 a.m. – 3 p.m., and dinner from 4 p.m. – 9 p.m. 7 days a week. For brunch, they offer several different “benedicts” including the Hillbilly Benny – sausage gravy with bacon crumbles and American cheese on a biscuit and the Still Crabby Benny – tomato, avocado, lump crab, and zesty hollandaise sauce on an English muffin. For dinner, try the Norwegian Sea Trout – seared in a maple chipotle sauce and served with Brussels sprouts, pancetta, cherries, and almonds.
Harbor Shores Resort can be easily reached from three major markets; Chicago is about 90 minutes away while Detroit and Indianapolis are within three hours. The Resort has become a popular weekend getaway destination for couples, buddy golf trips, 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.
If you’re a serious golfer in any of these three markets, test your skills at Harbor Shores. You’ll use every club in the bag…at least once!
For more information on everything that Harbor Shores Resort and Golf Club has to offer, visit them online at www.harborshoresresort.com.