KitchenAid hopes to bring Senior PGA back to Benton Harbor beyond 2014

Senior PGA sponsor KitchenAid is pushing to bring the tournament back to Benton Harbor beyond 2014.

The cash-strapped community hosted the event at Harbor Shores for the first time last year; it will host again next year.

During a presentation to the city commission Monday night, Whirlpool Corporate Vice President Jeff Noel said the success of the 2012 tournament has them hopeful about its future relationship with the community.

"There were people who were introduced to the city who thought it was fantastic," he said. "In fact, one of the pros was in Chicago telling businesses, 'It's a great tournament, you need to check it out.'"

While no formal agreement has been formed, Noel says Whirlpool and KitchenAid are interested in having the Senior PGA back in Benton Harbor in 2016 and 2018.

But, several commissioners and residents expressed some concerns Monday night.

"Either you make sure we get some jobs or we talk about doing something else with our time and our energy and our properties," said one resident. "We got PGA 1, now here comes PGA 2. No jobs then, we're not talking about no jobs now, for certain."

Several commissioners also questioned the positive impact the tournament had on the community; they expressed the desire for more Benton Harbor residents to be hired during the event and for more local businesses to be involved.

But, Noel says about 250 part-time jobs were created when the Senior PGA came to Harbor Shores in 2012. He says several of those workers were hired full-time by a security company in Niles after the tournament.

" I don't think anyone with KitchenAid or the PGA made promises," he said. "What I do know is a lot of excitement in the community because they've never had an event like this. Unfortunately, some of them went online or talked to people and said, 'What's the Masters like?' And, there were some comparisons that were made that were a bit unfortunate. Some higher expectations than perhaps we should have had."

Despite some concerns, the commission passed a resolution to express their support for making Benton Harbor a more permanent home for the Senior PGA. Commissioner Juanita Henry was the only person to vote against the measure.

Noel says the resolution could help as Whirlpool and KitchenAid discuss bringing the tournament to Benton Harbor in the future. He says a formal proposal or agreement could be put together by summer.

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