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Senior PGA prepares for swansong in Southwest Michigan

In 2010, Jack Nicklaus opened his signature golf course in Benton Harbor in the signature style, completing a 100-foot putt with some crazy elevation changes and lots of turns left and right.

It was actually Johnny Miller's putt, but it was confused, prompting Nicklaus to ask, “Want me to show you?” while fellow golf legends Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson looked on in amusement.

And show him, well, Nicklaus did it by casually dropping his own ball, smashing it – and, of course, creating a viral clip that's still getting a ton of success today, 14 years later, as his golf club at Harbor Shores is preparing to host the Senior PGA Championship for the final time.

“There's no question that it's a little bittersweet,” Joshua Doxtator, the general manager of Harbor Shores Resort, said in a recent interview with The News. “Things have been great here in Harbor Shores. It did what it was supposed to do: shine a spotlight on southwest Michigan.”

“For us, it’s an exciting end to an incredible time.”

The final Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores takes place Thursday through Sunday this week. It is the second of five major championships on the PGA Tour Champions calendar. Golfers ages 50 and older who will be at Harbor Shores include 26 major champions, 11 former Ryder Cup captains and seven members of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Also in the field is Harbor Shores freshman Steve Stricker, the reigning Senior PGA Championship winner who lifted the trophy in 2023 at Fields Ranch East in Frisco, Texas.

The Senior PGA has been held biennially for Harbor Shores since the first event in 2012. Since then, Harbor Shores has brought many exciting moments to the Benton Harbor, St. Joseph and Southwest communities, as tens of thousands have watched golf's stars of yesteryear play for one of the game's most prestigious trophies, raising more than $1 million in the process -Pumping dollars directly back into community charities, aside from the lucrative economic impact delivered every two years.

“We are very proud of what we have accomplished together,” said Brandon Haney, championship director of the Senior PGA Championship. “This is the right time for change.”

“And we look forward to doing it again.”

Whether Harbor Shores and the PGA Championship have done enough to bring about positive change in the community despite the tax increases is up for debate and has been a hot topic among critics for years. The area is a true have-not story. Benton Harbor is one of the state's poorest communities, with a poverty rate of over 40%, and has had a water crisis that Flint hasn't come close to noticing. Overall, St. Joseph residents are much wealthier, with a poverty rate of about 7%.

Charities that have benefited from the Senior PGA Championship over the past decade include the Boys and Girls Club of Benton Harbor, First Tee of Benton Harbor, the Benton Harbor High School athletic department, the YMCA of Greater Michiana and the Curious Children's Museum of St. Joseph.

The tournament also launched the 2018 Jack and Barbara Nicklaus Champions for Change Scholarship, which will go to a graduate of Lake Michigan College, a two-year school in Benton Harbor, who is pursuing a four-year degree. That goes to one student each year, and tournament officials are expected to announce this week that the scholarship will continue. An announcement about his future is scheduled for Wednesday.

Harbor Shores' other big winner over the years, in addition to the five previous winners, has been the golf course itself. Harbor Shores is one of three Nicklaus Signature golf courses in Michigan, along with The Bear in Traverse City and American Dunes in Grand Haven. In 2023, Harbor Shores was named to Golf Digest's list of “America's 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses” for the first time ever. It ranked No. 90 and No. 19 among Michigan's top golf courses.

Initially, the Senior PGA Championship in 2012, just two years after the course opened, served as the perfect advertisement for an up-and-coming resort. Twelve years later, the resort doesn't need it. The tee sheet is full.

“I would say we have reached an agreement at the regional level,” Doxtator said. “Now we’re reaching national level.”

Officials from the Senior PGA Championship and Harbor Shores have had discussions about extending the partnership, but with the PGA of America's construction of a new headquarters and championship golf course in Texas, that is expected to be every two years Harbor Shores was, with a rotation for alternate years. Next year's tournament will be held at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.

Doxtator is not closed off from bringing future major events to Harbor Shores. But for now, after 2024, the resort will be fully turned over to customers rather than having to worry about the infrastructure buildout for the Senior PGA Championship, which includes week-long and fortnightly construction work on the course that the course will be closed before tournament week and for a week before that no karting is allowed.

This week, four of Harbor Shores' previous champions are in the field, including Roger Chapman (2012), Colin Montgomerie (2014), Rocco Mediate (2016) and Paul Broadhurst (2018). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no tournament took place in 2020. Steven Alker won the most recent Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores in 2022 and was not listed in the final field announcement that came out last month. Alker, who leads the Champions Tour points race, will instead attend his daughter's graduation ceremony.

Stewart Cink will make his debut at Harbor Shores, and the field also includes notable names such as John Daly (who withdrew from the PGA Championship this week due to injury), David Duval, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Retief Goosen, Padraig Harrington and Steve Jones (the 1996 US Open winner at Oakland Hills), Bernhard Langer, Tom Lehman, Justin Leonard, Corey Pavin, Kenny Perry, Vijay Singh (the winner of the 2023 Ally Challenge at Warwick Hills) and Mike Weir from Sarnia (the captain of the Presidents Cup 2024). Masters Champion 2003). Two locals in the field are PGA club pros Scott Hebert (Traverse City) and Chad Kurmel (Okemos).

Some of them will surely experience a daunting putt on the 10th hole, like the one Nicklaus made famous in 2010, or they will create their own memories, adding another chapter to the history of the Senior PGA Championship, whose history takes place in Harbor Shores comes to an end.

“I just hope,” Haney said, “we have played a small role in the growth of Harbor Shores over the years.”

Doxtator said: “It fulfilled the intention. And I'm not saying professional golf is gone from Harbor Shores forever. Who knows. We are always open, we always have conversations. You never know. We like to host the best players in the world whenever we can.”

Senior PGA Championship

When: Thursday to Sunday

Where: Harbor Shores Resort, Benton Harbor

TV: Thursday-Friday — 1-4, Gulf Channel; Saturday — 1-4, NBC; Sunday — 3-4, Gulf Channel; 4-6, NBC

Defending champion: Steve Stricker

Wallet: $3.5 million; Winner, $630,000 (2023 purse; 2024 purse to be announced)

Tickets: From $36; Children ages 15 and older as well as active and retired military personnel are admitted free; Details at srpgachampionship.com

tpaul@detroitnews.com

@tonypaul1984

Anna Harden

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