By Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM correspondent
BENTON HARBOR, Mi. -- The Champions Tour returns to Michigan next week for the Senior PGA Championship and will christen a new Jack Nicklaus design -- the Golf Club at Harbor Shores -- as a major championship venue.
Harbor Shores is the centerpiece of the redevelopment of Benton Harbor, a community in the southwest corner of Michigan on the shores of Lake Michigan. The residential component surrounding the public course has 12 neighborhoods with nearly 800 homes, recreational elements, a marina village, conference center and restaurants.
Harbor Shores was built with the hope that it would stimulate a transformation of a community desperately in need of an infusion of economic and environmental revitalization. The Senior PGA Championship is presented by KitchenAid, a Benton Harbor-based corporation.
The return of major championship golf to that corner of Michigan is another step in the progression.
"I'm obviously excited about the Harbor Shores project," Nicklaus said during the grand opening festivities in 2010. "It's more than a golf course. It's a community revitalization project I deeply believe in."
The design of Harbor Shores was a challenge but not only for the normal reasons.
"When I went up there, we looked at a piece of property and I said, 'Where is the property?'" Nicklaus recalled. "There were factories, toxic dumps, everything you could think of."
In that respect, Nicklaus said, the project was similar to the course he designed on the other side of Michigan, in the metropolitan Detroit area. The TPC Michigan in Dearborn was a project commissioned by Ford Motor Company for the Senior Players Championship. The Senior Players was held there 16 years, between 1991 and 2006.
The Senior PGA Championship is the first of two Champions Tour majors in Michigan this year. It will be followed by the U.S. Senior Open at Indianwood Golf and Country Club in Lake Orion, about 40 miles north of Detroit, July 12-15.
At the TPC Michigan, the course construction team dredged up all kinds of automobile manufacturing items, including car relics. The Dearborn project became a success and earned plaudits for transforming previously unusable land from eyesore to an essential part of the community landscape.
"I'm sure Harbor Shores will be, too," Nicklaus said.
Harbor Shores will play to 6,800 yards and par 71 at the Senior PGA Championship.
"There are some holes on sand dunes. Two rivers run through the property. There are some beautiful wooded areas. I think it turned out to be very, very pretty and is something very, very special," Nicklaus said. "The PGA of America must think very highly of it for giving us the opportunity to have the 2012 and 2014 PGA Senior Championship at Harbor Shores.
"It's going to be a project that's going to make a difference, and that's what it's all about. I'm excited to be a part of it."
Nicklaus expects some good scores because, he said, "any course you can't score on isn't a very good golf course."
He used Pebble Beach Golf Links as a model in that regard and said that elements outside of the design -- in this case the winds off Lake Michigan -- will dictate in great measure how the course plays and what what the players post.
"It's difficult and with those winds coming off the lake, if we get them, those northwest winds in May, it will be one heck of a test," said Tom Watson, the defending champion who won the Senior PGA Championship last year on another Nicklaus design at Valhlalla Golf Club.
"I'm hoping that the good weather that we'll have there, meaning that it's going to blow about 25 miles an hour, be about 55 degrees -- which is Watson weather -- that I'll be able to compete pretty successfully."
Watson played the course during the grand opening in 2010 in a foursome with Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Johnny Miller. The contours of the greens made an impression on that occasion and no doubt will be much discussed next week during the Senior PGA Championship.
"Greens can make it interesting or kind of dull," Watson said. "I'll tell you one thing, Jack has not made them dull. Especially that 10th green ... He's made a very, very good golf course from my standpoint. Not just from the green standpoint, but from the tee to the green."
The focal point of the layout is three holes with tremendous views of Lake Michigan. The short par-4 seventh moves dramatically uphill toward the lake to a small green. A magnificent green complex is set up on the dunes. The eighth hole is a medium-length par 4 that doglegs right around the dunes.
The par-5 ninth hole has a tee high above the shores of the lake. The downhill tee shot comes inland and begins a gentle right-to-left turn of the fairway.
"Being able to use some of the areas by the shore there, that certainly adds a great flavor to the golf course," said Watson, who also won the Senior PGA Championship in 2001 at Ridgewood (N.J.) Country Club.
Another unique element of Harbor Shores is the course's tie to the local arts community. Each hole is named after a plant indigenous to the area. A metal sculpture, each with a hand-blown glass image of the plant, includes a plaque describing each of the 18 major championships won by Nicklaus.