From garbage to golf, Harborside is a study in urban renewal

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

CHICAGO, Ill. -- The Chicago area is packed with great golf courses, but strangely enough, within the city limits there is just one premier layout. Actually, there are two. Both at the same golf facility, both within view of the city's impressive skyline, and both built right on top of 500-acres of industrial garbage.

Plus, this is the place where former President Bill Clinton had his first, and to date, his only, hole-in-one.

Harborside International Golf Center is an absolute marvel of environmental transformation, urban renewal and golf course design. Illinois-based architect Dick Nugent and his son Tim were asked in the early 1990s to turn a landfill full of abandoned construction materials and inorganic waste near Lake Calumet on Chicago's industrial South Side into two first-rate golf courses.

"We had more sludge than we knew what to do with," says architect Tim Nugent. "But we did a course in Hawaii that was on ground covered in lava and standing amongst the broken concrete, debris
and garbage, I knew we could do the same sort of work."

He also knew it wasn't going to be easy.

The rubble and waste on the site was so expansive, the Nugents had to use three feet of clay, dirt and sand to cap the mess. And because that much clay doesn't allow for the growth of trees, there was no doubt the design for all 36 holes clearly would be links style.

Kevin Fitzgerald, the head golf professional at Harborside, believes the two courses, appropriately named The Port and The Starboard, are fun alternatives to what you usually find in the Chicago area.

"We have so many tree-lined courses, this place really stands out," says Fitzgerald. "Plus, it is just absolutely amazing that they could come up with 36 holes of great golf from acres and acres of sludge and waste."

The Courses

The transformation at Harborside won several engineering and environmental awards. But the end results, the golf courses, have been praised heavily.

Since it opened in 1995, the Harborside International Golf Center has been named one of the best public golf facilities in America by several golf publications. And because it offers two 18-hole tracks, it's also one of the easiest Chicago facilities to score a tee time.

The Port course rolls out to 7,164 yards and is the easier of the two. But the veterans on the The Champions Tour (formerly the Senior PGA Tour) played the SBC Senior Open on this layout, it's clear it is far from a pushover. There are cross bunkers dangerously close to landing areas, and although the greens are large and inviting, if the approach shots don't land in the correct spot, a three-putt is a distinct possibility.

The signature hole on The Port is named "Anchor." It's a par-3, topping out at 216-yards from the back tees, surrounded by sand. There is an island of fairway cut in the shape of a large ship's anchor.

Lake Calumet comes into play on the final three holes - two 400-yarders and a superb par-5 measuring 522 yards. There's a good-sized landing area off of the tee on the home hole, if you can avoid the water. As you move toward the green everything narrows, and each shot must be more accurate than the next.

On The Starboard side of the golf facility is Harborside's second course. The Starboard is similar to The Port, but it has the most memorable of all 36 holes. The 13th is a stunning 225-yard, par-3 along Lake Calumet. It is modeled after the picturesque 16th at Cypress Point.

Jim Flick Golf Academy

One of the biggest draws at Harborside is the incredible practice facility that will be the home of the Jim Flick Golf Academy in the 2003 season. The practice area has been named one of the Top 100 Golf Ranges in the country by Golf Range and Recreation Magazine and includes 58-acres of bent grass, numerous target greens and a short game area with separate greens for chipping and sand work. Plus, the place is illuminated for night practice.

And because Harborside is just 16 minutes from the heart of Chicago's loop, the facility is a fantastic spot to take a break and hit a couple of buckets of balls.

Super clubhouse, great food

Because Frank Lloyd Wright had so much impact on the Midwest's architectural history, it's not surprising that Harborside accentuates that tradition with a prairie style clubhouse.

The 24,000-square-foot clubhouse sits near the 18th greens for both courses, and the views are magnificent. You can take a break after the round on the balcony and watch golfers make their way down their final holes

The food is fabulous. How could it not be when the well-known creations of one of Chicago's finest restaurateurs, Phil Stefani, are on the menu at Pier 37?

Bill's big adventure

Harborside sees a number of local and national celebrities take to its links. Michael Jordan has been known to play there, along with former Chicago Bear Otis Wilson, and Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley has his annual golf event at the facility.

But the most famous to play Harborside is Clinton.

In the fall of 2001, Clinton was in Chicago for a speaking engagement. And, as he has been known to do, wanted to squeeze in some golf during the day. He played with some Chicago friends, shook hands with the starters and even posed for some pictures. But the event of the day was what happened on the 125-yard, par-3 sixth hole of The Port course.

Clinton recorded his first hole-in-one.

Word spread around the course, and when the former chief executive finished his round he was greeted by applause at the clubhouse. He then promptly bought a round of drinks for everyone in Pier 37.

Harborside International Golf Center

The Port
Slope- (back tees) 136
Rating- 75.1

The Starboard
Slope- (back tees) 137
Rating- 75.2


From downtown Chicago - Take Dan Ryan Expressway (I-94) south to Bishop Ford Expressway, exit at 111th and go east. Entrance is on frontage road.

16-minutes from Chicago's Loop 40-minutes from O'Hare Airport 25-minutes from Midway Airport

Things to Checkout Before or After Golf

The Science and Industry Museum
5700 South Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois
(773) 684-1414

Shedd Aquarium
1200 South Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois
(312) 939-2438

The United Center (To see a Bulls/Blackhawks game)
1901 West Madison Street
Chicago, Illinois
(312) 455-4500

Dave BernerDave Berner, Senior Contributor

Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons" and "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed." Follow Berner on Twitter @DavidWBerner

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