This Harborside place is a bedeviling couple of golf courses. I played the Port course a few Sundays ago and got my butt kicked; the place just has a tendency to kick the living crap out of you if you’re not careful. The blue tees on Port are 6,589 yards and rated at 72.3/130, but it feels a lot tougher. Throw in some 50 degree temps and blustery Chicago winds and you have the ingredients for some handicap restoration.
That’s what happened to me, I couldn’t break 90. Every green is well-guarded and often on a different level from your approach, each fairway is crowded by fescue, and the bunkers are huge and well placed. I haven’t played them back-to-back in a while, but sitting here slightly removed from the carnage it feels much more difficult than Starboard, which sports a 126 slope rating (even more difficult than the rating differential indicates).
That being said, it is an absolutely stunning golf course. Nugent and his crew layered three feet of clay on top of a garbage dump owned by the Port Authority of Chicago and they did it right. It’s a massive carpet of perfectly manicured bent grass, lush bluegrass, and mangy fescue all integrated with a lake and the surrounding industrial countryside. The views of downtown on a clear day are incredible.
The finishing holes on both courses will blow you away, but I think the Port course edges out Starboard for drama, distinctiveness, and beauty.
When I talk finishing holes in relation to Harboside Port, I’m starting with number fifteen, called Anchor. When you step on the elevated tee box you can see the last four holes splayed out for you by making a semicircular turn to your right. But don’t get distracted because Anchor is a long par three with a severely crescent-shaped green guarded by a huge bunker that outlines a grassy island in the shape of anchor. It’s quite an amazing site, but tough.
Up next, number sixteen, called Land’s End. It’s a par four that extends out into what appears to be a collection pond of Lake Calumet. It’s short but not easy. You need to be strategic about where you put your drive because your approach has to be accurate to avoid the water left and bunker right. The green sits out on a point with the seventeenth tee and you feel like you’re on the edge of the world.
Number seventeen is called Beach because of a large bunker that rises out of the lake like a typical beach at the corner of this dogleg left par four. You can bite off as much as you can chew with this tee shot; factor in how your legs feel, your tolerance for risk, and whether or not you need some beach time. It’s beautiful and serene back here in the far reaches of the course, but there are a million ways things can go wrong.
This all culminates on number eighteen, Needle, pictured at the top of this post. It’s a razor thin par five with water left and a ridge right. It’s a short par five so the trouble is manageable, but you need to be measured. The double green is shared with the eighteenth on Starboard. The beautiful, prairie style clubhouse overlooks the scene. It’s awe inspiring.
It sounds all find and dandy, but there’s a good chance you’re beat up at this point. My wife flat out refused to play this course back when she played a lot because it wasn’t any fun for her. They don’t build courses like this any more (well, actually, they don’t really build courses any more), but if designers and course builders want to contribute to growing the game they’ll figure out a way to retain some playability along with the beauty and challenge of places like Harborside Port.
Part of the problem here is that the second and third tee boxes are too far apart. The second toughest tee box is a brutal 6,589 yards but the third tee box is only 5,977 yards (it even lacks a 400 yard par four). I’m not sure what Nugent and the crew were thinking here. In a few days I’ll post something on Village Links of Glen Ellyn, which has a near-perfect tee box setup.
Regardless, I love Harborside and I’ll probably be back for another helping by summer’s end. It’s not cheap, $95 (including cart and range balls), but it has every amenity. It’s a top flight experience no matter how you slice it.