Golf Course Review: Harborside International Portside (IL)

Harborside International, Portside Course Rankings:
GolfWeek: #14 Illinois public
Designer: Dick Nugent (1996)
With two highly renowned courses, each on GolfWeek’s top 15 in the state of Illinois list, Harborside International provides a fantastic links golfing experience.
I had the pleasure of playing their Port course, which is rated as Illinois’ fifteenth rated course you can play, last month.
Designed by Dick Nugent, Harborside International is the premiere public course in Chicago, and for good reason. The windswept terrain is situated on the former site of a city landfill just 15 minutes from Chicago’s downtown loop, a location incredibly convenient for metropolitan players. The rolling topography is completely treeless, providing a European links-style experience where there is almost always a chance to advance the ball.
Large, speedy greens, strategically placed sand traps, and well thought out hole layouts make this a thinking man’s course where being below the hole is always advantageous. Beautiful views of the Chicago skyline are provided on several holes, but none more so than on the tenth hole tee box.
Delicious food is available (including one of the best hot dogs I’ve had) from the Phil Stefani Restaurant Group, and the property has one of the nicest clubhouses I’ve come across in a 24,000 square foot Frank Lloyd Wright prairie style building stocked with a fantastic selection of apparel and gear.
While the clubhouse is impressive, it pales in comparison to the quality of the course’s practice facilities. Harborside International has one of the largest practice facilities I have ever seen, including range, putting and chipping/approach greens. The driving range was unfortunately mats-only during our visit, but I am told is typically off an entirely bent grass hitting surface.
Driving range at Harborside International
The course is kept in magnificent condition. The bent grass fairways range from wide and forgiving on the second hole, to narrow and demanding on the eighteenth. They all feel wonderful to play off of, in stark contrast to the deep fescue, which is virtually unplayable. Water comes in to play on just three holes on the Port course, all during the span of sixteen through eighteen.
The front nine starts with a narrow par four that requires a good, straight tee shot. The hillside straight away hides a swale that drops from the left side of the fairway, and leads to a marsh-like area farther that direction. The ideal tee shot on one flirts with this swale, and stays left of the middle of the fairway to set up a good angle in to this upward sloping green.
Hole 1: Par 4 (423/390/346/309)
Hole 1: Par 4 (423/390/346/309)
Two is a bombs-away par five. With a sprawling fairway that runs right-to-left, get all the distance you can off the tee. The second shot will be long and uphill to a putting surface that is well defended by huge sand traps built in to the encroaching hillside. Going for it in two is tricky here, as the plateaued putting surface well above the fairway would be very difficult to hold.
Hole 2: Par 5 (544/511/479/432)
Hole 2: Par 5 (544/511/479/432)
If two was with the wind, three will be straight in to the teeth of it. A mid-length par four of 374 yards, the hole plays uphill and drives to a fairway nestled between two sets of lateral sand traps. The green is protected by five others, all short and on the right side of the putting surface.
Hole 3: Par 4 (402/374/337/298)
Four is a tough par three running adjacent to the clubhouse. The green is long and narrow, and is bordered on the entire right side by a massive sand trap. At over 200 yards from the two back sets of tees, this hole played directly in to the wind during our round and required hybrid for me to hit the front. Unfortunately, the front then left another 40 or so yards of putting that resulted in bogey.
Hole 4: Par 3 (232/207/179/125)
Hole 4: Par 3 (232/207/179/125)
Two large sand traps make up the right side of the fifth hole driving area, while the left side has a significant drop-off to rough that will make a good view of the long approach quite difficult. A drive of about 300 yards would be needed to clear the traps and find the fairway, making the smart play left.
Hole 5: Par 4 (466/428/388/332)
Six is a 145-yard par three with some serious bite. A sequence of four deep traps front this plateau green complex, which is made considerably more challenging by a sharp ridge that bisects the putting surface.
Hole 6: Par 3 (180/145/115/83)
One of the narrowest par fours on the course, the seventh hole plays between out-of-bounds to the left, and a steep hillside and fescue on the right. A huge sand trap resides front-left of the green. I had my best shot of the day on this hole, dipping over the top of the hole to eight feet on my approach from 140 yards.
Hole 7: Par 4 (408/376/341/298)
The driving area on eight sets up perfectly for my big fade tee shot. The right side is wide open, while the left side desert will leave a tough shot from sand over the green-side bunkers that are also to the left. Drive to the right side of the fairway for a much more unimpeded approach.
Hole 8: Par 4 (430/401/365/312)
The front nine ends with a long par five of 542 yards that finishes uphill and left. Four fairway bunkers live in the 200-260-yard driving zone, leaving a small target area to hit driver. If you can clear 258 in the air, smash it over the left side trap for the best chance of success here. Nine more sand traps come in to play on the rest of the hole, including five in the recessed approach area below the green complex.
Hole 9: Par 5 (575/542/485/429)
Grab something to eat at the halfway house and get the back nine started adjacent to the large pond area behind the clubhouse. There is a lot of sand in the driving area, but it is all drivable, especially on the left side. The fairway slants left, so aiming over the left side trap provides a great angle. The view of the Chicago skyline in the distance is awesome on this hole.
Hole 10: Par 4 (401/375/351/305)
A par five of 537 yards from the blue tees awaits you on the eleventh hole. With the skyline highlighted behind the tee boxes, the drive is to a narrow fairway that drops initially before rising again considerably as the green comes in to range. A fade over the left-side fairway bunker will set up the second shot nicely, but holding this undulating green proves to be quite the task.
Hole 11: Par 5 (560/537/493/445)
If you thought the driving area of eleven was tight, wait until you see twelve. The hole lays out with 200 yards of playable fairway straight ahead, then bends severely right allowing for a risk/reward scenario that allows the hitter to lop off a significant portion of the fairway depending on how much of the lower-level sand traps he is willing to risk. The narrow fairway leads to an even narrower, long green.
Hole 12: Par 4 (455/419/378/331)
Thirteen is a breath of fresh air in the midst of some challenging holes. A par three of 125 yards, the green is large and accessible. Err long if anything, as the front side is lined with sand and a false front that will kick anything short on to the beach.
Hole 13: Par 3 (152/125/116/78)
A massive greenside bunker is the most prominent feature on the par four fourteenth hole, which is otherwise fairly straight forward. Less than driver should be played from the tee boxes, as 270 yards will likely find sand or fescue. 225-240 yards down the fairway will otherwise set up an ideal short approach.
Hole 14: Par 4 (361/331/293/260)
The signature hole at Harborside, the par three fifteenth hole on the Port course is awesome. A long one-shotter of 192 yards from the elevated blue tees, this kidney bean shaped green complex is well risen above a beautifully designed sand feature that has fairway grass amidst it shaped in the image of an anchor (the course is owned and operated by the Chicago Port Authority). Slightly long is better than short on this hole, and be sure to aim for the side of the green where the pin is located. Hitting the opposite side is likely to leave a putt of 50 to 100-plus feet.
Hole 15: Par 3 (216/192/169/134)
Hole 15: Par 3 (216/192/169/134)
Hole 15: Par 3 (216/192/169/134)
The water elements of the Port course come in to play on sixteen through eighteen. A downhill par four, water lines the left side of the fairway and allows for a 267-yard drive [that will roll out] down the left side. There are six sand traps that make up the right side of the driving area, forcing the golfer to aim further left to set up an approach to a small raised green.
Hole 16: Par 4 (389/359/324/286)
Hole 16: Par 4 (389/359/324/286)
Seventeen is a very cool par four. Driving over water, the fairway runs from right to left and requires just over 200 yards to carry the beach that lines the pond. This sand trap then runs the entire left side of the hole, and gets quite steep left of the green complex. The fairway is heavily slanted from right to left, bringing the sand in to play on a forced draw approach.
Hole 17: Par 4 (407/375/337/291)
Hole 17: Par 4 (407/375/337/291)
Easily the toughest hole on the entire course, eighteen is one of the hardest finishing holes found anywhere. Accuracy off the tee is at a premium on this 502-yard par five, as the hole tapers inward as the fairway runs straight away. The enormous pond and marshland comes in to play at around 250 yards on the left side, and the right-side hill that borders the hole is covered in deep, entangling fescue. The most harrowing shot on this hole is the second, which has to be played to a fairway no wider than about 25 yards between the hillside and pond. It would be comforting to have an easy green after such stressful long shots, but the green on eighteen is long and breaks hard from back to front, with a ridge that separates the back-left side from the front. Par here should be considered a great success – I, unfortunately, managed double bogey here after a lost ball to finish with a back nine 40.
Hole 18: Par 5 (522/502/481/416)
Hole 18: Par 5 (522/502/481/416)
Hole 18: Par 5 (522/502/481/416)
My friend, Eric, had been telling me about Harborside all season, and I was pretty excited to finally get a chance to play it. I was more excited when I was there and found it to truly live up to all the great expectations he had set, and look forward to getting back to Harborside International again next year to play their Starboard course, as well.

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Chicago, IL
Yardage: Gold-7123, Blue-6589, White-5977, Green-5164
Slope: Gold-136/74.8, Blue-130/72.3, White-124/69.4, Green-126/70.3
Par: 72
Weekend Rates (with cart): $95

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