The Golden Bear comes to Michiana

By: Ryan Famuliner Email
By: Ryan Famuliner Email

A $500 million project is underway in Benton Harbor, and planners say it should create 2,000 new jobs and bring in more than $100 million dollars in new revenue every year.

It's called "Harbor Shores," and it will be complete with a hotel, water park, and the main feature - a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course.

Ground has already been broken on the project, but it took another major step Sunday: the first visit by Jack Nicklaus to the site of the golf course.

He says he'll probably visit between 6 and 10 more times as construction progresses for the course to be ready in summer 2009.

But he says it's off to a good start, even though it may not look like much now. After touring the site in a truck for the first time, Nicklaus says the course looks great – and it’s the first time in his years of designing courses he doesn’t see any major changes that need to be made.

“Now the holes would be changed, but I'm talking the routing and how it fit through this property, which is, you probably figure at best, is two buildings on top of roads, underneath roads and everything else,” Nicklaus said at a press conference near the site of the course.

Organizers say the land reserved for the course, in a highly developed area, is difficult to use for this type of project.

"Anything from the land acquisition to making sure all of the zoning is in place, and we're still working on pieces of that, making sure the environmental permits were in place," said Wendy Dant Chesser, a project organizer.

That process has taken almost three years, and there was also a debate over whether to use lakeside property for the course.

"To not use the lake, when you have it here, to not use some of that area, you would lose 90 percent of your power to attract people, that's the whole reason to have the golf course here," Nicklaus said.

Nicklaus says there will be three holes on the lakeshore.

Although the project has been in the minds of planners for some time, the visit by the Golden Bear is a big step.

“It's now very real, now some of the work can really begin, in making sure that what he envisions when he's out there is what we get in the final product,” Chesser said.

And Nicklaus has a simple goal for future visitors to the course.

"I want them to enjoy it, I want them to come back, I want them to say, hey, we've made a contribution to this area, and this community,” Nicklaus said.

Nicklaus says it's possible the course would be able to host tournaments, such as amateur events, and they're taking gallery space into consideration when designing the course.

Organizers are estimating Harbor Shores would bring in about $140 million dollars in new revenue annually, and nearly $30 million in tax revenue, to an area they say is struggling.

“You've got the opportunity for wonderful impact, between the jobs that are going to be created, the tax base, the new tourist dollar that are going to come to the area,” Chesser said.

Nicklaus says he hopes the project can revitalize the struggling area, and he compared the project to a course he designed a few years ago in Anaconda, Montana.

“Everything in that town, it changed, and it was really neat to be part of that project. You go by Anaconda, Montana right now and that's the hub of that town. That's what that town operates off of," Nicklaus said.

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