The biggest laugh generated a few weeks ago at a press conference for the Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid (next week: May 22-25) occurred when defending champion Kohki Idoki was asked, through an interpreter, what he thought about the greens at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Harbor Shores GC in Benton Harbor. “Ooooh,” he said while making roller-coaster hand motions aptly miming the undulating slopes of the putting surfaces. To the delight of the gathering, no translation was necessary. Despite the challenges of the greens, the Japanese native cruised around the course in even par that morning, hitting every fairway (his trademark) and making three birdies and three bogies. About the course, he said: “Fantastic. It requires you to focus on each shot.”
To those familiar with the amazing economic and community development story behind Harbor Shores itself, Idoki’s gleeful expression of “Ooooh” may be a worthy summation. And when looking back at the herculean efforts to make it a reality after almost 20 years of collaboration, “fantastic” is no hyperbole.
The roots of Harbor Shores’ development began back in 1996 when leaders of the twin cities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph—with vital impetus by Whirlpool Corporation’s civic-minded CEO and Chairman David Whitwam—got together to develop 422 acres of land, including one parcel deemed as one of the most contaminated sites in Michigan. Facing heavy skepticism, the Edgewater Redevelopment Project brought together the leaders and community groups of the two communities along with regional and state officials. Slowly but surely, the project made strides in land reclamation and development and in the process injected a new sense of hope, energy and cooperation for the distressed area. Most importantly, it laid the foundation for the Harbor Shores development which formally began in May 2007. And Whitwam’s worthy successor, Jeff Fettig, has continued Whirlpool’s unwavering leadership and support for the project.
Thanks to over 3500 citizens and several highly committed community groups such as the Whirlpool Foundation, Cornerstone Alliance and the Consortium of Community Development, Harbor Shores is now a world-class 530-acre residential, golf and recreational community. Along the way, it has turned the land and its many contaminated parcels from an ugly duckling into a graceful swan. It has restored beauty and charm to this scenic Lake Michigan shoreline by renovating Jean Klock Park, cleaning up pervasive solid waste, junk and building debris, and preserved wetlands. Consider these facts:
Enough trash and debris were removed from the site to fill a football field 60 feet high.
Over 3 million square feet of abandoned buildings have been cleared from the site.
Over 140,000 tons of solid waste and building wreckage have been removed.
A 12-mile walking trail was built and extended throughout the site.
The centerpiece is Harbor Shores Golf Club, the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course. The Golden Bear’s design firm was selected due to its high profile namesake and legendary golfer and several other critical factors. Nicklaus’s Signature Golf Courses (i.e. the brand where Jack is personally and highly involved) were, in the words of one history of the project, “recognized as destinations with real estate absorption and values of unit sales higher than any other designer.”
In other words, Jack’s courses sell home sites and attendant real estate better than anyone else in the business. Although his design competitors and industry observers might challenge that claim, Nicklaus and Co. definitely delivered the goods on a similar Michigan project. In 1990, he successfully designed TPC of Michigan on a former industrial debris and waste dump owned by Ford Motor Company. The course then hosted the PGA Tour’s flagship Senior Players Championship for 15 years and more importantly became the focal point for a thriving residential community in Dearborn. When you hire Nicklaus, one receives the added bonus of his powerful and influential connections within the golf industry. And the opportunities for his courses hosting newsworthy and publicity-rich special events and tournaments are part of the equation, especially when combined with the ample resources of such corporate good neighbors as Ford and Whirlpool. As such, it’s good news the PGA Seniors Championship will return to Harbor Shores again in 2016 and 2018.
Before attending the press conference at Harbor Shores, I had the chance to drive around the development. It was the first time I’d been back since the 2012 PGA Senior Championship when Roger Chapman took home the oldest trophy in senior golf. (Note: the first Seniors PGA was held in 1937 at a little place called Augusta National GC.) I took note of the continued progress of the various residential areas where new homes and construction were seen throughout. On Klock Rd., I noticed some new housing that piqued my interest. Later I learned they were modestly built two-story cottages with covered front porches looking out at the sixth hole, dunes and marshland. Although the marketing efforts for Harbor Shores remains focused on the high end Chicago market, a tournament volunteer told me the multi-priced development has also attracted buyers from the immediate area as well as Whirlpool’s salaried and hourly employees.
Most impressive was the new nine-story Inn at Harbor Shores set in the marina area. Now officially opened, it offers 92 rooms and suites along with condominium residences with terrific views of the marina and Lake Michigan. Its roof-top deck was where tournament officials smartly arranged for Idoki to hit some shots toward a target green 215 yards away. On a cold windy day, it took the defending champion several attempts and different clubs to finally hit the green but he prevailed. Through an interpreter, Idoki joked to media about his shot, “It was a great setup but since I’m afraid of heights, it was hard for me to hit from here.”
When considering the many noble and positive outcomes that have transpired with the birth of Harbor Shores only seven years ago, thank goodness area leaders were never deterred by the countless challenges and obstacles posed for rejuvenating a community with big, bold and dynamic goals. Now approaching the dizzying heights of their endeavors, they remain committed—like Idoki—to reach the target. No translation necessary.
Note: Harbor Shores: Part of a Community Transformation is an excellent history and resource material.