Memorial Weekend, May 25-28, 2012 – Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid
Just returned from a 4-day weekend over the Memorial Day Holiday weekend where we wanted to experience and write about getting away to play golf as well as attending one of the four professional golf events taking place this year. All 4 PGA & LPGA events are roughly 2 to 3 hours of driving distance from Chicago, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Benton Harbor and other nearby cities, depending on which tournament you decide to take in.
We decided to combine our Memorial Weekend festivities with some area golf and a day at the Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid. Before I talk about the tournament, I’d like to give you an idea of how we planned our trip to get the most out of it for lots of fun and some much-needed rest and relaxation.
We started off the weekend, with a twilight round of golf at The Course at Aberdeen (photo on left) in Valparaiso, Indiana roughly about 30 to 40 minutes driving from our starting point of Crown Point, Indiana. If you haven’t played Aberdeen yet or it has been awhile since you’ve played the course, there are lots of changes that have taken place there and will continue to take place over the next couple of years. KemperSports is now the new management company that came in this spring to manage the facility. Aberdeen has a beautiful layout with lots of elevation, trees and abundant nature. KemperSports is working to restore Aberdeen to the once well-known status of being the premier course in Northwest Indiana.
The golf course was in much better shape than it was last year and it will continue to improve with the changes that are taking place as of this writing. We had a chance to talk with the new General Manager, Andy Perez, and he told us about the new bunker renovation that is underway this year and should be in process as of this writing. The bunker renovation will be a major capital improvement. We also noticed that much more of the course is visible with tree trimming, removal and opening up areas on the fairways that has taken place to make your round more enjoyable.
I absolutely love the Aberdeen area, which is seriously tucked away off of Route 30 heading east towards Valparaiso. There isn’t a sign as to where you turn to go towards the very quaint community of Aberdeen, so you’ll need a GPS or to call the pro shop and get directions. If you want to make a night out of it like we did, I would encourage you to book a night at the Inn at Aberdeen after you finish your round of golf — which is walking distance (if you choose) from the course. This fabulous Bed, Breakfast & Conference Center is owned by John Johnson and features a handful of Victorian style suites all furnished in different decor with Jacuzzi hot tubs, fireplaces, four poster beds and more. In the morning, you are greeting by a friendly face and a homemade breakfast that is served in the dining room. Many of the suites have small private sitting areas outside or balconies … or you can venture outside to the spacious gazebo and enjoy a glass of wine or cup of hot coffee outside. What I love about this Inn is the attention to detail they have and the wonderful snacks and goodies they have complimentary to all guests … including a slice of cheesecake they keep in the refrigerator for you when you return from your evening out. The city of Valparaiso is a great place to go for dinner and it’s chocked full of 7 or 8 great restaurants and eateries all within walking distance in the downtown area.
We opted to walk across the street for dinner to a wonderful little Italian restaurant called Trio’s. It was wonderful! You can go casual or you can dress up a bit if you’d like. You can sit outside on the patio, or inside near the bar/dining area or in the bar area. My meal of Caesar salad, homemade pasta and chicken marsala topped with a glass of red wine was just want I wanted after a round of relaxing golf. The food was fabulous and is reasonably priced. What I loved afterwards was to walk across the street to my home away from home for the night, along with a hot soak in the Jacuzzi tub, that had my name on it.
The next day we go up early, enjoyed a homemade breakfast by the staff at the Inn at Aberdeen and then headed up to the Golf Club at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Michigan for the Sr. PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid. With the threat of severe weather, the tee times were changed around and starting times were pushed back with golfers going off both Holes 1 and 10. After checking into the Media area, we picked up our credentials and headed onto the course to catch up with some of the players and the current leaders. The Golf Club at Harbor Shores is not an easy course to walk by any means. Everything including transportation for spectators was well planned and thought out for this event. You had options of taking trolleys or coach buses from various key boarding points with 6 locations on the course – Hole Nos. 1, 5, 7, 13 and 15 which were running every 12 minutes. It was nice to hop on and off to get from one area of the course to another. The weather started off rainy and chilly but within minutes the sunshine was out and the weather warmed up 20 degrees. We walked a lot of the course taking pictures of the players and also took advantage of the available trolleys that ran constantly. This tournament was set up in a way that you could really get close to the players teeing off as well as watching them practice at the range and the putting area. Grand stands, corporate tents and pavilions were set up strategically throughout so that you would never want for food, beverage or a place to sit and watch. Also, KitchenAid did a wonderful job of incorporating their products and latest state-of-the-art kitchens and outdoor dining areas complete with walkthroughs and knowledgeable staff members.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to yet play The Golf Club at Harbor Shores (photo on right), I would highly encourage you to make the trip to Benton Harbor/St. Joseph, Michigan and make a weekend out of it. Here’s the great thing, you can play several top-rated golf courses in addition to Harbor Shores. I would first stop on my way and play Whittaker Woods in New Buffalo, MI which is right at Exit 1 at the state line on Interstate 80/94. You can then continue and play Harbor Shores which is off Exit 23. Your next stops would be Hawkshead Links and then the Ravines (photo on left) in South Haven and Saugatuck respectively. Four fabulous courses with all different price points — you can stay at any of the several hotels in downtown St. Joseph or at the HawksHead Inn in South Haven. There are also various hotels along the way if you wish to book a room at a well-known hotel chain.
We’ve had the pleasure of playing Harbor Shores in 2010 as well as 2011 and again in 2012 (a few weeks before the Sr. PGA). This magnificent Jack Nicklaus first ever Beach & Golf Community will give you an experience unlike no other, captivating you with pristine white sand bunkers, protected wildlife areas with scenic lake areas, lush carpet-like fairways, tiered undulating greens, and scenic views of Lake Michigan — all with the sounds of the Lake Michigan shoreline waves and cooling breezes in the background as you tee off or make your way around the course. With a full field of professional golfers we were excited to see some of our favorites — Freddy Couples, Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin, Tom Lehman, Kenny Perry and local favorite, Jeff Sluman from Hinsdale, IL to name a few.
We were excited for the opportunity to play Harbor Shores a few weeks before the Sr. PGA Championship and was invited to attend the Play Golf America Day at Harbor Shores that was attended by over 400 registered players including children, parents, golf professionals and media. What a wonderful event to get kids excited about learning the game with fun events, group lessons by area professionals and other fun events. Even with periodic rain and chilly weather, the event was well attended and the spirits high.
We were teamed up with Rory Spears, a fellow well-known media colleague, avid golfer and sports writer. We enjoyed teeing it up with Rory and thought we’d share a few golf shots of Harbor Shores that rainy day to give you an idea of the elevations, the steepness of many of the bunkers and the views of Lake Michigan.
During the day we had a chance to dine in the new Golf Club at Harbor Shores Clubhouse and to visit the new pro shop inside. The nautical theme of rich blues, whites and dark accent wood was prevalent throughout the restaurant area, called The Grille, located within the new clubhouse that opened this year on April 14. The Grille has seating for 60 inside the restaurant with another 48 outside on the spacious patio area. An additional 24 seats are available on the 2nd floor for private dining. The service was excellent and the food was even better. Fresh local in-season produce and foods are used for most of the menu. We had a wonderful salad and the Turkey Burger was one of the best I have ever had … if not the best. I have to warn you though it has a “kick” and is well-seasoned!
We had a chance to catch up with the General Manager of The Golf Club at Harbor Shores, Aaron Williams, during the Play Golf America Day event on May 12, and we talked with him about the opening of the clubhouse and restaurant. One hundred and five employees are employed at Harbor Shores and over 300 potential employees interviewed for 30 openings in the restaurant. We were very impressed with the accommodating service levels and warm smiles throughout our dining experience. We asked Aaron Williams, the General Manager, about his vision for the restaurant and what type of person he looked for during the hiring process. He told us that he looked for “good eye contact, firm hand shake, and a warm smile” One of his interview questions that gives him good insight into how a person thinks on his or her feet is to ask that person to “Tell me something about yourself that is not on your resume’.” Well, we thought he did an outstanding job of hiring some great service-oriented staff members. Again, we would highly recommend dining for lunch at The Grille in The Golf Club at Harbor Shores.
We had a wonderful full day at the tournament, getting plenty of exercise and great shots of the pros. However, before I continue on to the rest of our weekend, I have to tell you about our lunch during the tournament at The North Shores Inn, If you didn’t know there was a tournament going on, you may not have even ventured into this “dive-like” local neighborhood restaurant and bar, strategically placed in the middle of the corner of Higman Park Road and North Shore Drive. We ventured inside the restaurant and bypassed the Italian sausage sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers and beer that were being served outside. We nabbed a table right by the front door of this packed super-crowded bar and restaurant. While apparently this is a well-known spot for authentic Mexican food served only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday from 5 to 8:45pm, the remainder of the time, this local pub serves one of the best hamburgers or cheeseburgers that you will ever have!! I had originally opted for the grilled chicken sandwich until our server talked me into getting one of their hamburgers. All I can say is you must get it with the works on it!! It’s fabulous and I would recommend it to everyone!! We also sat directly in front of the commemorative framed photo that was directly above us on the wall that showed the grand opening of Harbor Shores “Champions for Change” and the foursome of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Johnny Miller from that opening day.
Heading on to our next stop, we spent the next 2 days at the Hilton Garden Inn in South Bend, Indiana — located in the heart of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s Colleges. With it being a holiday weekend, the hotel was super busy with 3 weddings and holiday traffic. The Hilton Garden Inn and the Inn at St. Mary’s are adjacent to one another and both are located just off the Indiana Toll Road, minutes from Blackthorn Golf Course and a 5-minute drive to the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame. We have had the pleasure of staying in the fall of 2011 and I would encourage you to read about my experience that details some great things to do and see and where to play golf. You can read this in our eMagazine that is listed on the home page of our website at www.golfnowchicago.com.
We opted to play golf at Whittaker Woods this time as it had been awhile. Even though we were in South Bend, we had about a 20 minute drive to get to Whittaker Woods in New Buffalo, MI. We had a great round at Whittaker Woods and afterwards had a chance to have a cold one in the bar while we caught the finishing holes of the Senior PGA Tournament … in time to see Roger Chapman of Ascot, England hold onto his lead and cinch the title by 3 strokes, beating out John Cook of Orlando, Florida. We also had a chance to catch up with the General Manager of Whittaker Woods, Steve Dell, who so graciously sat and spoke with us during our time after golf. We were thrilled with conditions of the course, more of the course had been widened so your ball flight had a better chance of finding the fairway. The greens were fast and rolled true. Even with the heat, the gentle breezes kept us refreshed along with the various options from the beverage cart. Whittaker Woods is a must play this year …. and definitely check out their website for specials. They are now managed by GolfVisions and they have done wonderful things to this golf course .. including lowering the greens fee price and offering great specials and deals throughout the season.
After golf, we headed back to our room to clean up for dinner near our hotel. We decided to check out the new area on Eddy Street which is filled with shops, pubs and eateries about 6 blocks from the football field of Notre Dame. We enjoyed a fun relaxed dinner at Brothers Bar & Grill. A spacious sports bar with a great menu, the food was excellent however the service was a little slow, but the wine went down easily. If you are looking for finer dining, check out Mark’s Restaurant next door to Brothers.
We also had a chance to dine twice at Hilton Garden’s restaurant which is located in the hotel. I would highly recommend it for dinner and for breakfast. This was the 2nd time we had dinner there on 2 separate trips. The food and the service is top-notch. I would recommend it … it’s not your typical hotel restaurant.
Also, locating a nearby church for Sunday Mass was no problem as we had plenty to choose from. Also, Sunday morning we ventured on an hour and a half walk through the campus of St. Mary’s College and part of the walking trails at Notre Dame University. It’s a great way to get back with nature and to find peace and quiet within our busy worlds. However, we were there when school was not in session, so not sure how busy that path is when school is in session.
We thoroughly enjoyed our walk and the entire three-day weekend. After breakfast we headed back home … rested, relaxed along with a memorable fun Memorial Weekend to remember!
This was a great way to take in a professional golf tournament and spend a few days playing golf and having some much needed fun!
We look forward to the upcoming U.S. Women’s Open in Kohler, Wisconsin that will be taking place during the 4th of July week. We hope to make a similar trip out of attending this exciting event at Blackwolf Run.
Stay tuned for our next travel blog ….