50 Words or Less
Harbor Shores golf course, located in Benton Harbor, Michigan, is a course that will test your ball striking and your mind. Fast greens with testing breaks. Great practice facility and amenities.
If you ever want to convince someone that golf can be a force for good, a source of positive change, point them toward Harbor Shores. Where there was once an environmentally and economically devastated area, there is now a beautiful golf course at the center of a thriving community (learn more HERE). And Harbor Shores isn’t just a feel good story, it’s also a world-class golf course and regular host of the Senior PGA Championship.
The practice facility at Harbor Shores leaves nothing to be desired. The practice green, seen above, has both the speed and breaks to prepare you for the course. It’s also located adjacent to the first tee, as all putting greens should be. A low key great feature of the putting green is that it can be illuminated for night putting.
Harbor Shore’s range has loads of grass to hit from and plenty of targets. There’s also a short game area with a bunker to warm up your wedge game. You have no excuses for being cold when you start your round at Harbor Shores.
Customer Service & Amenities
When you pull up to Harbor Shores, you’ll see the large, tasteful clubhouse and be greeted by staff who will get your golf bag onto your cart. Whether in the clubhouse, on the course, or in the practice area, you’ll have no difficulty finding a friendly staff member to assist you with whatever you need.
The food at Harbor Shores is excellent. The Grille in the clubhouse has a menu with high quality staples and some more exotic choices. They also keep a strong list of local craft brews. On the course, you’ll ride past Jack’s Place – the snack shack – twice. What really stands out is that between holes 13 and 14, you’ll drive past North Pier Brewing Co where you can pick up some cold beer to carry you through the end of your round.
Scenery & Beauty
Harbor Shores travels through a variety of landscapes, a fact which is called out on the scorecard. The first six holes are called “Inland”, and the front nine ends with three “Dunes” holes. The back nine starts with “Woodlands,” and the course closes with “River.” My favorite section is the Dunes, with its peek at Lake Michigan (below), but each part of the course is beautiful.
One thing that Harbor Shores does not lack is water: lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers abound. Even as the course winds between homes and crosses the occasional road, being near the water gave me a sense of being in nature, disconnected from the outside world.
The tee shots at Harbor Shores are dramatically different on the front and back nine. On the opening nine, there are very few “grab driver and bang it out there” shots. The first time player will be regularly consulting the in-cart GPS to figure out what club to hit, how far to hit it, and in what direction. Depending on the wind and the tees you play, you may not hit more than two drivers on the front nine. Once you make the turn, the tee shots become more straight forward. You’ll have more opportunities to see the hole and plenty of fairway in front of you.
What is consistent throughout the entire course is that you can get into a lot of trouble off the tee. There is plenty of water on the course as well as tall grass and trees. This is not an overly long course – it tips out around 6,800 yards – but if you pick tees that force you to swing driver at 110% on every hole, you will be in for a long day.
Where the tee shots vary dramatically between the front and back nines, the approaches are consistently challenging. Virtually every green has one side that is dead – water, sand, hazards – and some have multiple sides that are no good. Add to that the fact that these are tough greens – multiple tiers, significant ridges, and fast speeds – and you have a recipe for a course that demands strong iron play.
If the greenside hazards are not enough for you, consider that the fairways have plenty of undulation. Finally, there’s the wind. Being near Lake Michigan, wind is present more often than not. When we played, the wind was strong enough to demand an extra club or push your ball off its intended line.
The bottom line is this: when you come to Harbor Shores, your iron play needs to be dialed in.
Greens & Surrounds
Often, courses that put a premium on ball striking will give you a break on the greens. That’s not the case at Harbor Shores. The day we played, the greens were running at a 12 on the Stimpmeter, which created the most challenging combination of speed and break that I can remember. Almost every green has at least one significant ridge, and #10 – seen above – has two tiers that are separated by several vertical feet. Three putts are not rare at Harbor Shores.
If you miss the green, you can run into a number of challenges. Hole #2 (above) has loads of tight, putt-able surfaces around the green. Other holes bring more rough into play, though the rough is not terribly thick. Most prevalent is the sand. These amoeba-shaped bunkers aren’t ultra-deep, but they usually sit below the elevated putting surfaces.
With the speed and breaks on the green, you’ll be tempted to try to pull off the perfect short game shot to get up and down. Resist the urge. Get on the green, do your best with the putt you have, and try to get a GIR on the next hole.
#7 – Par 4 – 436 Yards
The toughest hole on the course is also the most beautiful and memorable. From the tee, you can play to the long stretch of fairway left or challenge the water and bunkers to get to the right. Your approach is dramatically uphill to the smallest green on the course – a huge ask if you took the safe route off the tee. Your determination is rewarded with views of Lake Michigan as you putt.
#2 – Par 3 – 174 Yards
This is a stunning par 3 with a deceptive green complex. From the tee, not one person in our group correctly perceived the shape and orientation of the green. A small bunker is surrounded by the green to one side and tightly mowed grass everywhere else. If your first shot is not smart and well-executed, this hole can put a big number on your card.
#3 – Par 4 – 324 Yards
With the Paw Paw River on the left and several deviously placed bunkers in the fairway, there is no comfortable place to put your tee shot on this hole. The green is small, tiered, and well protected by water and sand. This is a short par 4 that can yield birdies or triple bogeys.
Everything about Harbor Shores makes me want to play it again. The customer service and amenities are wonderful, and being on this beautiful course is a joy. Most importantly, I want to see how much better I can play with a little local knowledge on my side.
If you find yourself in Michigan, make sure to book a round at Harbor Shores.