Once polluted land, now a gorgeous golf course.
Harbor Shores Resort, a Western Michigan venue that will host the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship next year, sits on a site where 6,000 manufacturing jobs were lost over an 18-month period in the 1980s. Most of these factory buildings sat empty for years, leaving roughly three million square feet of industrial materials and polluted, contaminated soil — that’s enough to fill a football field 80 feet tall.
But in the past decade, the Benton Harbor resort came into existence — including residential housing, a 92-room luxury hotel, upcoming villas, and a Jack Nicklaus Signature Design golf course — along the shores of Lake Michigan and the Paw Paw River. This revitalization stands as a testament to a vision made possible by $900 million in strategic investments, a collective set of projects with collaborating community leaders and organizations led by the Whirlpool Foundation and its benefactor, global home appliance leader Whirlpool Corporation.
I’ve been fortunate to play a lot of courses in my home state, but this one’s up top on my bucket list. Nicklaus labeled it one of his 18 favorite designs of all time. Just how bad was the land? Locals often refer to what used to lie here. They say the fourth and fifth holes were a dumping site for a company that made automobile brakes. Holes 14 and 15 were a former Superfund site once occupied by a company that used radium and mercury to manufacture components for fighter planes. In fact, signage on each hole gives a visual reminder of what previously stood on the exact spot. Talk about a fixer upper. Thank goodness someone had the vision and drive to look beyond what was there. Today the course runs across four diverse terrains, including a photogenic setting along the coastal dunes of Lake Michigan.
During World War II, Whirlpool plants and factories here were converted into F.D.R.’s arsenal of democracy, manufacturing components for fighter planes. The town then evolved into a vibrant manufacturing center in the 1950s — only to see it all disappear over the next two decades leading community leaders to recognize that change was needed. Leaders say that using golf to bring people together to give back remains the area’s ongoing mission. Case in point: The First Tee of Benton Harbor — a nationwide initiative to help underprivileged kids play golf — was created as part of the development and is based at the Harbor Shores Golf Club. It’s the only First Tee program in the Midwest to be located at a golf facility.
Harbor Shores is now considered one of the region’s best places to live, work and play. The development has brought 3,200+ jobs and attracted a discerning class of travelers. More than 40 percent of the resort’s employees (golf course and hotel) are from the distressed census tracts in and around Benton Harbor. The economic impact from area tourism revenue has seen significant increases each of the last five years. And hosting the 2022 Senior PGA Championship will further legitimize it as a great golf destination that’s easily driveable for Midwesterners.
“We’re only 90 miles from Chicago and within a few hours drive of Indianapolis, Detroit and Columbus,” says Joshua Doxtator, PGA general manager at Harbor Shores. “It positions itself close enough to major cities but far enough to feel like a true getaway. Western Michigan is quickly becoming a sought-after golf destination and with the addition of American Dunes Golf Club in Grand Haven this May, gives golfers all the more reason to play their way up the shoreline.”
I’m a veteran, Southern California-based writer primarily versed in golf and personal technology. Studying Computer Sciences in college, and then working as a