BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — A day before the start of the Senior PGA Championship, Fred Funk offered a modest suggestion for tournament organizers.
“I thought maybe we could reverse the order and play the greens as tees and the tees as greens and it would be easier to putt,” Funk said. “Just play in reverse.”
Funk wasn’t the only golfer approaching the 6,822-yard, par-71 course at Harbor Shores with apprehension. Bernhard Langer talked of the “most severe — or worst — green complexes” he’s ever seen. Fred Couples wondered what scores might look like if the wind picks up alongside Lake Michigan.
There may have been some pre-tournament posturing going on. But there could also be carnage this week.
“My goal is to think you’re never really out of it because everyone’s going to make bogeys,” Couples said. “I don’t know if under par is going to win, 10-under is going to win or if 2-over is going to win, but I know it’s a very hard course.”
The tournament will take place without its defending champion. Tom Watson had to withdraw because of a wrist problem. He won last year’s championship at Valhalla, beating David Eger in a playoff.
Funk is coming off a victory earlier this month at The Woodlands. He’s in a group for the first two rounds Thursday and Friday with Michael Allen and Langer, the Champions Tour’s top two money winners this year.
Funk is 13th on that list and seems more concerned about the course than the competition.
“You do have to be precise, but the greens, to what point?” he said. “When you see some of the greens, I don’t think anyone can be precise enough to hit it in the certain spots on these greens.”
The 10th hole, a 539-yard par 5, includes a multi-tiered green. Funk, Allen and Langer will start their round there Thursday afternoon.
“I think the golf course is phenomenal,” Langer said. “If he had done one third of the undulations on the green — that’s my personal opinion — I think it would be in the top 20 golf courses I’ve ever played.”
Allen, who won at TPC Tampa Bay last month and teamed with David Frost for a victory at Savannah Harbor, will try to repeat his Senior PGA Championship win of 2009, when he was two strokes better than Larry Mize. That was the last year this tournament didn’t go to a playoff. Tom Lehman took the 2010 title.
“There’s a lot of short irons where you’ve got some really small areas to hit to, but if you can hit them — and you’ve got backstops — if you can use the course to your advantage, I think you can score decent out here,” Allen said. “I know I’m going to say that and be jinxing myself and swearing a few times at myself for a ball coming up in a place I can’t play it hardly, or not feeling that I got the best out of it. But that’s golf, too.”
Harbor Shores opened two years ago for its first full season in one of Michigan’s most economically distressed communities. The Jack Nicklaus-designed course was built on land that was home not long ago to abandoned factories and industrial waste.
The course was awarded the Senior PGA Championship in 2012 and 2014, amid hopes that it could help restore some stability and prosperity to Benton Harbor, which is under the jurisdiction of a state-appointed emergency manager.
There are certainly skeptics. A group called “Occupy the PGA” says it was planning to demonstrate during the tournament and has demanded that a quarter of the Senior PGA profits be transferred to Benton Harbor citizens “as partial rightful compensation for stolen land and water.”