REVIEW: Harbor Shores Golf Course, MI

Bringing some pride back to Benton Harbor
Benton Harbor used to be the vacation destination of MI.  It is a beautiful location right on Lake Michigan and at one time was a bustling city for businesses and vacationers alike.  But over past decades Benton Harbor has gone downhill significantly.  There was an industrial area right along the lake that was just a mess of rundown buildings and hazardous waste, along with a coastline that was a hotspot for the seedy life, rather than a beach for recreation.

Fast forward to 2010, the opening of Harbor Shores changed all of that with its opening.  There has been significant investment into this massive chunk of land.  It is being developed still as homes are being built and good businesses are popping up.  The centerpiece of this development is the Harbor Shores Golf Course designed by Jack Nicklaus.  It weaves and winds through forest land, wetlands, heathlands and onto some dunes land.  It is still growing in, but already will be hosting the 2012 Senior PGA Championship.  This event will only add to bringing back some pride to Benton Harbor.

The current clubhouse is part of an industrial school building, while the new one is being built right off the first tee.  The courses driving range is beautiful.  It has edge to edge bent grass which makes it looks so lush and inviting.  Scatter in a couple bunkers and it is really impressive.

On the first tee, there is an eye-catching piece of art.  It lines up with the name of the hole and commemorates one of Jack’s 18 major victories. (That works out nice for an 18 holes course)  The first hole might be the tamest on the course.  It is relatively flat and the green is only slightly undulated (or at least by comparison).  The second hole is a great par 3 with sand and bunkers everywhere with a tough undulated green.  The next two holes play along the Paw Paw River and make great use of bunkers and this water hazard.  A short par 4 and then a long par 3 are two great holes back to back.  The next couple holes are again solid holes a par5 and par 4 that really make you think and choose the right clubs.  The par 4 7th hole is the best hole on the property by far.  It is long, tough and most of the time I would imagine will play into a prevailing wind off the lake.  The tee shot needs to be threaded between bunkers and wetlands.  It then leaves you with a long uphill shot onto the green perched on top of the dunes.  But there is danger left and right and if you come up short it will run back down the hill.  It ranks up there as one of the hardest par 4s I have played.  The next hole tees up on top of dunes.  To your right you look out over Lake Michigan.  This hole sweeps to the right, with the big sand dunes along that side between the fairway and the lake.  You go back up slightly into the dunes again for the green.  The finishing hole on the front side tees off directly away from the lake from on top of the dunes on this solid par 5.

Making the turn feels like you enter a new course.   The next 4 holes play though some thick forest land.  The fabled 10 green is home to Jack’s 100 foot putt.  At the opening day tournament, Jack, Arnie, Johnny Miller and Gary Player were playing this hole and Arnie was on the lowest tier and the pin was on the back edge on the upper most tier.  He complained to Jack after his ball rolled back to his feet that it was an impossible putt.  Jack said, no its not and dropped a ball and sank the putt.  After a picturesque par 3 the par 4 12th hole reminds me of another “Jack” hole at the Bull in WI.  It is a left dogleg with only minimal room for error.  It is a tight driving hole to a tricky green.  The next par 3 is on the simple side, but then comes a tough par 5 with the Paw Paw River again causing danger on the right side.  It is a beautiful demanding hole.  The next par 5 is even tougher with the same river cutting down the right side, then right in front of the green.  Shot placement is important.  The par 4 16th hole is risk reward.  You can cut off the corner if you can bomb it; otherwise just play safe out the right side fairway.  The straightforward par 3 17th is the last chance to catch your breath before the demanding par 4 18th.  I hit a great tee shot and still had a long shot into this tricky green.  The Paw Paw River winds along the right side of this hole too, leaving not room for error on the approach.

The course itself is very fair and somewhat wide open for most tee shots, but man are the greens undulating.  Jack went a little wild on the greens.  I don’t think I’ve ever played a course with so much undulation on the greens.  If you are not a good putter, you will put up huge scores.  Thankfully, my putter showed up so I scored well.  If you ever have a straight putt, make sure to sink it, because it will probably be one of the only ones.  If you struggle reading greens, this course is your nightmare.  But I think that because of the layout, the green and the beauty, this is a course that you would never get bored playing.  The conditions are immaculate, the staff was really nice and their current yearly membership rates are a steal for what you get.

I think it should be put on your must play list.  It is only about an hour and half from Chicago.   It is just a fun course that brings some pride back to Benton Harbor.  


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Quick Hits
+Awesome Nicklaus Design
+Wide variety of style
+Lake Michigan views
+Challenging yet fair

–Crazy undulated greens