by Greg Johnson
The Grand Rapids Press
When Jack Nicklaus first saw the neglected and abandoned industrial park proposed as a part of the future home of the Harbor Shores beach and golf course community, he wondered aloud where the developers expected the golf course to be built.
“All I could see was old buildings, roads and places where you aren’t doing anything,” he said Monday on a site visit where select media and VIPs toured the property with him as he worked. “Today and on my last few visits, I’ve been saying that it is going to be one heck of a golf course.”
Nicklaus was charged with building a signature golf course through 530 acres of diverse land along the St. Joseph River and the Paw Paw River, that includes three controversial holes which flow through a wetland and natural sand dune and public beach/park area to eventually provide stunning views of Lake Michigan.
“Now, it’s not only a good golf course,” Nicklaus said of what will be a course of about 7,040 yards playing to par 70 on 110 of the acres, “but it’s beautiful. It plays nicely. It flows nicely. It’s going to be something this area is going to be very proud of, and be very happy that it is here.”
Nine holes will open in mid-July with a public rate of $75. Developers have not set prices for the future, but golfers can expect national resort type prices of more than $100.
The Harbor Shores development group, powered by past and present leadership of Whirlpool Corp. at its nearby world headquarters, said eventually $450 million will have been invested in the project.
The development, in addition to the course, plans for about 800 residential lots/homes, a beach and golf lodge, a hotel and conference center and commercial and retail space.
In a news conference Monday featuring Nicklaus, David R. Whitwam, retired CEO of Whirlpool and the presiding officer for the project’s board of trustees, called it much more than a wonderful golf course community.
Some 900 new jobs, millions of dollars in economic impact, increased tourism, environmental cleanup and generation of new tax base were cited.
“This is really a huge enabler to drive community transformation and to drive economic growth not only in Benton Harbor, but throughout Southwestern Michigan,” he said.
Not everybody in the Benton Harbor area has agreed with the project developers, and court cases have resulted.
While the development group lauds the cleanup of 117,000 tons of contaminated soil from part of the site, others are critical of the city of Benton Harbor and decisions by the National Park Service and Army Corps of Engineers that allows 22 acres of Jean Klock Park beach and sand dune area to be used for golf holes. One case against the development is slated to be heard later this summer in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.
Meanwhile, Nicklaus was changing bunkers, green sites and what he called “tweaking” holes, including bulldozer shaping work on the fairway of the three beach-area holes Monday morning.
“The golf course is about 85 percent done,” Nicklaus said. “I’ve tried to close that gap between the very good players and the average golfers so that everybody can enjoy playing it.”