With 18 major championship victories, it’s often been said that Jack Nicklaus transformed the game of golf. Therefore, it’s fitting that a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course has helped to serve as a catalyst for an ongoing community transformation just 100 miles east of Chicago in Benton Harbor/ St. Joseph, Michigan.
The Golf Club at Harbor Shores is a stunning 18-hole layout that has hosted the 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018 Senior PGA Championships. Although the 2020 event was cancelled, the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship will return to Benton Harbor in 2022 and 2024 .
Featuring 18 holes of spectacular elevation changes, woodland-bordered fairways and breath-taking views of Lake Michigan, this course has it all. How the team from Jack Nicklaus design and a local development consortium was able to turn what was basically 500 acres of neglected waterfront real estate into a blossoming golf course and community is mind-boggling.
The result of this incredible effort is a truly remarkable golf course and an even more impressive community revitalization that is providing work-force training, youth development as well as the beautification of public parks and beaches that border the property.
The Golf Club at Harbor Shores winds its way through flat lands, sandy dunes and densely wooded areas, making use of the native terrain while incorporating familiar Nicklaus design elements such as soft contours and good recovery areas. To help provide some context to this remarkable design, here is a hole-by-hole analysis of how to play The Golf Club at Harbor Shores.
Hole #1 – 423 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 11
It’s good to feel welcome, which is exactly how you’ll feel on the first hole at the Golf Club at Harbor Shores. There’s ample fairway for your tee shot with the primary obstacle being two fairway bunkers on the right side. Depending on what tee you play, and your firepower, these bunkers could be in reach, so left is right with your tee ball.
In addition to the bunker on the left, the primary challenge on your approach to the first hole is a lack of visibility. The green is a bit raised, but it still can be difficult to judge the pin position, which is very important on big greens such as those Jack Nicklaus created for Harbor Shores.
There is a run-off area to the right side of the green, purposely positioned to collect shots that tried to avoid the bunker on the left. Finding the right tier on your approach is vitally important on this hole, and throughout your round.
Hole #2 – 174 Yards, Par 3, Handicap 17
Visibility of the putting surface is once again a challenge on the second hole as the tee boxes are on roughly the same elevation as the green. The tee shot from the back tees is 174 yards and is all carry over an environmentally protected area with extensive bunkering.
The hole features a massive bunker complex that begins in front of the tee boxes and runs the length of the hole on the right side. There’s also a bunker strategically placed just to the left of the green.
Back and left of the green offers another run-off area that will collect shots that miss long and left. The green is a lot deeper than is made aware on the tee, so club selection can vary greatly depending on the location of the pin.
Hole #3 – 324 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 15
The Paw Paw River takes center stage on the 324-yard par 4, 3rd hole. This is a classic risk-reward hole in which the River runs along the left side, affecting both your tee shot and approach.There are four fairway bunkers that will impact your game plan off the tee. It’s possible to reach all four, so a mid-iron off the tee would allow you take the sand out of the equation. However, shorter may not be better since the fairway slopes a bit from right to left.
The approach shot is the true challenge on the 3rd hole at Harbor Shores. The long, narrow green slopes dramatically from back to front and is protected by two deep bunkers on the right and the Paw Paw River on the left.
There’s not much of a target here, especially if you’re coming from the right side of the fairway. An approach from a spot near the river will give you the full depth of the green, but finding that spot won’t be easy.
Hole #4 – 209 Yards, Par 3, Handicap 13
The biggest advantage Jack Nicklaus provides the golfer on the fourth hole is three previous holes to warm up in advance of this monster. This par three can play up to 210 yards, but it can become a whole lot more when the wind is howling.There is no protection from the wind on this hole, so judging its impact is paramount. There’s water the entire length of the hole on the left and there’s a deep bunker long and to the right.
This miss here is in the fairway, short and right. It’s also good to avoid the tall mogul just beyond the green on the right. Thankfully, the green is fairly flat and receptive.
Hole #5 – 573 Yards, Par 5, Handicap 17
The 5th hole is the first par 5 at Harbor Shores. Nicklaus provides ample fairway to load up on your tee shot, as long as you can avoid the first fairway bunker on the right and a second bunker on the left.The fairway slopes slightly from left to right, helping to push some tee shots back toward the fairway. There’s thick rough and fescue grass on the left side berm, so it’s best to avoid the berm and a gnarly lie and the ball severely blow your feet – if possible.
The goal for your second shot is to avoid on the pond on the right, while chasing your approach as close as possible to the green. Once again the fairway slopes a bit toward the pond, so left is right as you make you way towards the putting surface.
Three massive sand traps can collect approach shots long left and short right. The green features three tiers that slope from back to front. Finding the correct tier on your approach could be the difference between a birdie and a bogey.
Hole #6 – 417 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 3
The par four 6th hole requires a long, straight drive to a blind landing zone. The fairway is protected by thick rough and fescue along with three sand traps.Depending on your tee box and the prevailing wind, a well struck shot could reach the end of the fairway, which plummets into a pond and native grasses 30 feet below. So it’s vitally important to be aware of the distance for your landing area.
Knowing the danger ahead, it’s quite common to consider a shorter club to avoid those potential pitfalls. The problem with that strategy is the approach to the green below is one of the most challenging at Harbor Shores. Lay up too far back and you’ll be faced with a 200-yard approach over water to a well-guarded green.
The green itself is framed by a landing area short left along with mounds behind the green and a bunker short right. This massive green is slightly elevated and features multiple potential pin placements that can dramatically impact your approach and potential success.
Hole #7 – 436 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 1
A highlight of the outward nine is the foreboding 7th hole which is a dogleg right that plays its way into a stiff breeze coming off bordering Lake Michigan finishing with green hidden from view by a steep incline that is fronted by massively deep bunkering. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more unique and challenging hole in the Midwest.
On a course loaded with memorable holes, it would be hard not to consider the par four 7th hole the most memorable. The drive to the island tee boxes across the winding wooden platform sets the stage for one of the most remarkable golf holes that you’ll find anywhere.
The tee shot over wetlands requires navigating a pond directly in front with deep rough and bunkers on the left. Once again, it’s difficult to see the ample fairway available, so many golfers choose to aim directly across the pond, often finding the three large sand traps on the other side.
Long and straight into the fairway is optimal because the true money-maker on this hole is a blind approach to a green that is 30 feet to the top of the dune. The correct miss on your approach is to the left where there is a tightly mowed area. A miss to the right will find one of two deep bunkers that are surrounded by thick fescue.
Choosing your approach club is another major hurdle as it’s often difficult to see the pin at the top of the hill and the wind off Lake Michigan also is a factor.
The green is wide with a major slope from back to front, but the undulations are significant. An errant chip on the 7th hole from the back rough to a forward pin can find it’s way all the way back down the hill.
Hole #8 – 384 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 9
The par four 8th hole plays 384 yards from the black tees, which are located at the top of the dune. The target area on the fairway below is primarily hidden by the dune.The fairway is sizable and plenty wide. However, Jack’s strategy is to visually lure golfers into choosing an aggressive line off the tee. Unfortunately, the side of the dune is littered with deep fescue and rough, along with the hopes of many golfers who mistakenly thought they could carry this danger and find the fairway.
The fairway itself slopes a bit from right to left, but is free of any sand traps. Deep rough lines the leftt side of the fairway.
Navigating this memorable triple-tiered green can be quite a task, especially if you’re not on the same tier as the pin. This big green slopes from back to front and is protected by a deep bunker short left and the sand dune on the right.
Hole #9 – 578 Yards, Par 5, Handicap 5
The final hole along Lake Michigan is the par 5, 578-yard 9th that offers a tee box 60 feet above the fairway with beautiful vistas of the Lake and the fairway below.
Two fairway bunkers are strategically placed left and right in the landing area, therefore requiring accuracy, as well as length with your driver. The wetlands will frame the entire left side of this hole, while deep rough and fescue grass are the penalty on the right.The goal for your second shot is to find a place in the fairway to set up your approach while avoiding two deep bunkers located about 100 yards from the green. The fairway slopes from right to left, but is fairly receptive and available for an even lie.
In addition to the water left, there is a bunker short left and another to the right of the 9th green. The green once again offers multiple tiers that primarily slope from back to front.
Hole #10 – 539 Yards, Par 5, Handicap 12
The back nine begins the start of the Woodlands terrains section of Harbor Shores. Holes 10-13 wind through rolling hills, ravines and a hardwood forest.
The par five 10th hole is a fun dogleg right from an elevated tee with a forest of trees on the right and thick rough on the left. With wind usually blowing from left to right, you’re forced to hit a drive along the left side of the fairway to avoid hazards in the landing area. It’s wise to consider the left side of the fairway for your approach shot towards this treacherous four-tiered green. Mr. Nicklaus created one of the most famous and largest greens here, covering 10,500 square feet.
With elevated tees and wind that usually pushes from left to right, an optimal shot is along the left side of the fairway. A sloped berm on the left features thick rough, while dense forest is the option on the right side.
The massive 10th green is the site of one of Jack Nicklaus’ most famous shots – at least in recent memory – when he sank an incredible, winding 100-foot putt during an exhibition match with Johnny Miller, Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer.
Hole #11 – 144 Yards, Par 3, Handicap 18
The par 3 11th hole plays from the elevated back tees and requires flawless accuracy and distance control. The putting surface is shielded by three large bunkers and deep rough on all sides.
The tee shot is completely over a water feature on the right side of the green. The miss here is a fairway area short left. However that location leaves a treacherous shot to a raised green with lots of danger long.The green is bisected by a large crest in the center, providing a sizable elevation change from the front right to the back right and back left segments of the putting surface. Choosing the proper club is essential to success on the 11th.
Hole #12 – 412 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 10
Jack Nicklaus didn’t become great by ignoring his weaknesses, which is why he wasn’t afraid to design a hole like the 412-yard par four 12th hole. This sharp dogleg left requires a draw, as opposed to Jack’s preferred power fade.
The secret to success on this hole is to avoid the spacious bunker at about 250 yards on the left side of the fairway. Following that recommendation can be difficult as Nicklaus’ design forces your eyes and brain to want to cut off as much dogleg as possible.The slightly elevated, three-tiered green is framed by a large bunker on the left and a runoff area on the right. An accurate approach to a pin on the appropriate tier can provide a birdie opportunity.
Hole #13 – 197 Yards, Par 3, Handicap 16
The final hole of the Woodlands terrains section of Harbor Shores is the par three 197-yard 13th hole. Deep rough, native grasses and a monstrous sand feature make the right side the wrong place to miss on this hole.An equally massive 7,000 square foot putting surface is both wide and deep. A miss short left provides a chipping option to just about any section of the green.
Be sure to enjoy the breathtaking view from this unique vantage point on the 13th green. You’ll see the upcoming River holes 14-17 that border the Paw Paw River, Ox Creek and its wetlands.
Hole #14 – 450 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 2
The 14th is the longest par four at Harbor Shores and features a wide fairway that is bordered by the Paw Par River on the right. A tee shot to the left side of the fairway is definitely preferred.A solid tee shot provides a long iron into a deep putting surface that slopes dramatically from left to right. The miss here is left as a bunker and the river are the right side alternative.
Hole #15 – 549 Yards, Par 5, Handicap 8
The Paw Paw River follows you on the right side of the 15th hole. There is ample landing space off the tee on this fun par 5, especially if you can stay to the right of the lone fairway bunker.The river crosses in front of the 15th green, warranting an important decision on whether to attempt reaching the green in two. The fairway slopes from left to right as you get closer to the narrow green, making even a short 3rd shot over water anything but easy.
This wide green clings to the river, making distance control essential for any approach. If you fail to clear the river, the drop zone is on the green side, which offers a playable finger of fairway that stretches 30+ yards to the right of the putting surface.
Hole #16 – 422 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 4
The par 4 16th hole plays 422 yards from back tees and shares a couple similarities to the 12th hole. Both feature sharp doglegs to the left and both entice the golfer to risk a penalty with an aggressive line over a hazard on the left.
The educated play is to avoid the danger on the left with a focus on the welcoming fairway on the right. if you accept a safe line off the tee, you’ll be faced with a mid-iron into a kidney-shaped green complex that is sloped from back to front.
The proper miss on your approach is short, which will help you avoid the bunker guarding the right side of the green. Left is out of bounds and long leaves a difficult chip back down the slope.
Right is better than left on this hole as is evidenced by the struggles of John Daly on the 16th hole during his opening round of the 77th Senior PGA Championship.
Hole #17 – 210 Yards, Par 3, Handicap 14
The 17th is the final par 3 on the course, playing to 210 yards from the black tee. This hole features a deep, somewhat narrow green with a sizable collection area short left.Bunkers guard the left and right side of the target. The putting surface offers an undulating spine in the middle, which in turn segments the green, providing groundskeepers with numerous potential pin placements.
Hole #18 – 420 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 6
As you cross North Shore Avenue to the home hole, you’ll pass over the Paw Paw River on a winding wooden bridge similar to the tee islands on the 7th hole. Once again, the river is a continued hazard along the entire right side of this 420-yard par four.Trouble off the tee is primarily right, with bunkers and wetlands that are adjacent to the river. A lone fairway trap is strategically positioned, but there is plenty of landing area to avoid this bunker on the left.
A 225-yard drive will leave a mid to long iron to a wide and fairly deep green that hugs the river on the right. The deep sand traps also collect shots that come up short right.
400 Klock Road
Benton Harbor, MI 49022