By JACK WALKDEN
South Bend Tribune Staff Writer
BENTON HARBOR — The day belonged to Jack Nicklaus.
That shouldn’t be surprising. Tuesday was the Grand Opening of Nicklaus’ latest golf course creation, The Golf Club at Harbor Shores. And Nicklaus stole the show at the Opening’s main event, the Champions For Change Golf Challenge.
Playing with fellow golf legends Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Johnny Miller, Nicklaus grabbed the spotlight at the 10th hole, a difficult 539-yard hole with a three-tiered green.
Miller and Watson were teamed at the time and had a difficult path from the bottom tier of the green, some 100 feet from the pin. Miller began complaining about the green and talked about having to use a wedge. That’s when Nicklaus stepped in, saying, “I’ll show you how to putt this green.”
And he did. The 70-year-old Nicklaus went down to where the ball was marked, dropped a ball and calmly drained the putt, which broke twice on its way to the hole.
“I was just trying to save the green,” Nicklaus said. “Johnny was calling for a lob wedge and I was afraid he was going to leave a divot on the green. The putt wasn’t that tough. But for it to go in was just frickin’ luck. I got a bigger kick out of that putt than anything else that happened today.”
Nicklaus, the 60-year-old Watson, the 63-year-old Miller and the 80-year-old Palmer showed they can still play the game. The quartet combined for 15 birdies and one eagle — a 30-foot putt effort by Watson from just off the green at the 549-yard, par-5 15th hole.
“I enjoyed it,” Nicklaus said. “When Tom, Arnold and Johnny have the opportunity to see something that needs changing, they’re always ready to help. You saw that happen today on the golf course. When I started this golf course, I didn’t know what was going to happen. But what I wanted here is here. It takes a great team to get that done and we had a great team here.
“The course was in fantastic condition. Usually greens are hard as rock on a new course. But they were firm here. This course was not set up as a tournament course, but it can be adapted to one. We set out really to change a community. This wasn’t just about a golf course. This was totally a non-profit project. That’s the important part of it. When we started we had a factory where the first tee is. We had to remove toxic waste and buildings. But the whole course looks pretty.”
“When we made a left to come in here, to see the stands completely full for the clinic an hour before it started was special,” said Watson. “It was a special day for me to be able to play with Jack, Arnie and Johnny. I’ve got to go back a few years with these guys, not as many years as they go back with each other. But I go back a few years. And when I was a kid, this (Palmer) was the King. He was my idol. And here comes Jack and beats him. And I did not like Jack beating my idol.”
“A lot of people didn’t like that,” Nicklaus chimed in.
“Including me,” Palmer said.
Watson stole some of Nicklaus’ thunder. His team won all three separate competitions as the legends changed partners every six holes. Watson finished with $356,250 in skins. Nicklaus was second with $268,750, Palmer third with $181,250 and Miller fourth with $168,750. All the proceeds, which came in a $1 million donation from Whirlpool Corporation, were split between Boys and Girls Clubs and the First Tee Program.
All 3,600 tickets for the event, which began with a clinic, were sold. But the total crowd may have been almost twice that many. And for most it was a day they’ll not soon forget