How golf transformed this Lake Michigan community

Harbor Shores Resort, a western Michigan site 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 those factory buildings have stood empty for years, leaving around three million square feet of industrial materials and polluted and contaminated soil, enough to fill an 80-foot-high football field.

But over the past decade, the Benton Harbor resort has sprung up – featuring residential accommodation, a 92-room luxury hotel, upcoming villas, and a Jack Nicklaus Signature Design golf course – along the shores of the Lake Michigan and the Paw Paw River. This revitalization is testament to a vision made possible by $ 900 million in strategic investments, a collective set of projects with community leaders and collaborating organizations led by the Whirlpool Foundation and its benefactor, the global household appliance leader Whirlpool Corporation. .

I have been fortunate enough to play many courses in my home country, but this one is at the top of my list of choices. Nicklaus called it one of his 18 favorite designs of all time. How bad was the earth? Locals often refer to what was here. They say the fourth and fifth holes were a dumping ground for a company that made brakes for automobiles. Holes 14 and 15 were a former Superfund site once occupied by a company that used radium and mercury to make components for fighter jets. In fact, the signage on each hole gives a visual reminder of what was previously in the exact spot. Talk about a fixer rod. Thank goodness someone had the vision and the will to look beyond what was there. Today the course takes place over four different terrains, including a photogenic setting along the coastal dunes of Lake Michigan.

During World War II, the factories and factories of Whirlpool were converted into the democratic arsenal of FDR, making components for fighter jets. The city then transformed into a vibrant manufacturing hub 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 using golf to bring people together and give back remains the region’s ongoing mission. Case in point: Benton Harbor’s first tee – a national initiative to help disadvantaged children play golf – was created as part of the development and is based at the Harbor Shores Golf Club. It is the only First Tee program in the Midwest to be located at a golf facility.

Harbor Shores is now considered one of the area’s best places to live, work and play. The development has created more than 3,200 jobs and attracted a class of discerning travelers. Over 40 percent of the resort’s employees (golf course and hotel) come from struggling census tracts in and around Benton Harbor. The economic impact of tourism revenues in the region has seen significant increases in each of the past five years. And hosting the 2022 PGA Senior Championship will further legitimize it as the ideal golf destination for Midwesterners.

“We’re only 90 miles from Chicago and a few hours drive from Indianapolis, Detroit and Columbus,” says Joshua Doxtator, PGA General Manager at Harbor Shores. “It is positioned close enough to major cities but far enough away to feel like a real getaway. Western Michigan is quickly emerging as a sought-after golf destination and with the addition of the American Dunes Golf Club in Grand Haven in May, golfers have even more reason to find their way to shore. .