Jack Nicklaus leaves lasting imprint at Harbor Shores
Jack Nicklaus set the bar high when he designed Harbor Shores, the biannual host of the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. The 18-time major champion and architect behind the Jack Nicklaus Signature Course, serves as a constant reminder to the greatness Harbor Shores aspires to each and every day. A sculpture on each of the 18-holes at the public course celebrates its architect and educates players about Nicklaus’s major achievements as they make their journey around the course.
“If you host a major championship, you better look like it every day,” said Joshua Doxtator, General Manager at Harbor Shores Resort. “That’s the direction we have been going and we are headed, and we continue to go down.”
That’s an aspiration that was only made possible in the last decade.
“When [Nicklaus] came on site the first time he said, ‘you want me to build a golf course where?’” Doxtator recalled. “I think once Jack learned what was really going on, what was happening in the community, and the reason behind it, he took it head on.”
What was happening was not just the building of a golf course, but the transformation of a community.
Located in Southwest Michigan, Benton Harbor and St. Joseph sit along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. In the 1980s, thousands of manufacturing jobs were lost, and once humming factories were abandoned on a site large enough to fill a football field, eight stories tall. That’s where Nicklaus was asked to create a new golf course.
“I’m sure it was frustrating at times based on everything that had to be moved,” Doxtator said about the work done by Nicklaus. “I truly believe it’s a masterpiece of his and he’s called it one of his top 10 designs he’s ever created.”
In 2010, Harbor Shores Resort opened after undergoing an extensive renovation of more than 500 acres. The revitalization was led by Whirlpool Foundation and Whirlpool Corporation, which call the area home and Nicklaus Design transformed the site into a major championship venue and resort destination.
“Because of all the waste that was here, the factories, the buildings, it’s an incredible layout when you understand what was here prior,” Doxtator explained. “When you can see some of the before photos and all the work that went into cleaning up sites that were contaminated previously, to create this golf course, it’s just exceptionally pleasing to the eye.”
The unique layout features four distinct styles of play, which incorporate the natural beauty and terrain, including Lake Michigan. Doxtator describes the first six holes as having a resort-style feel, with open landing areas and extensive bunkering. Nicklaus’ focus was on creating a second-shot golf course that put a premium on being precise with a wedge or shorter iron in hand. At the turn, holes wind along Lake Michigan and incorporate the lake’s natural sand dunes. Holes 10 through 13 are referred to as the Woodlands, featuring tree-lined holes with bunkers and massive undulating greens. The closing stretch meanders along the Paw Paw River and has the traditional feel of a Midwest golf course.
While the terrain varies, what is constant is Nicklaus’ influence. Locally crafted metal sculptures on each hole tell the story of the Golden Bear’s career, and he’s also left his mark on the design of many of the holes which cater to his go-to shot throughout his career.
“You can tell it’s a Jack Nicklaus design because you have a lot of holes that favor a little cut,” Doxtater said. “When you play Harbor Shores and you learn more about the man, I should say the icon, that helped transform a community into a beautiful destination.”
Harbor Shores maintains its commitment to the surrounding community as a not-for-profit development, which helps fund local job training and educational programs. The course is also home to The First Tee of Benton Harbor.
Since the course’s opening in 2010, Nicklaus has maintained his presence at the venue. He returned for the opening of the facility and participated in the Harbor Shores Champions for Change Golf Challenge alongside Johnny Miller, Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer. In 2018, he returned again to Michigan with his wife, Barbara, for the creation of a scholarship in his name to assist local students with post-secondary education.
In May, Harbor Shores was slated to host the 2020 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, which was forced to take a hiatus due to COVID-19. The major championship will return to Benton Harbor in 2022. Until then, Harbor Shores continues to serve as a source of escape for its residents during what has been an extremely challenging time and will remain steadfast to upholding the standards of its architect.
“We’ll continue to look for ways to make the best playing conditions possible,” Doxtator said. “That’s our goal on a daily basis.”