The ambitious plan to merge two courses on the city’s South Side, to create an elite, Tiger Woods-designed course that could attract pro tour events while also remaining affordable enough to help grow the game, seems to have been stymied by fundraising challenges and a change of mayoral administrations, with current Mayor Lori Lightfoot on the record as wondering if it’s “well thought out.” Additionally, the Obama Presidential Center, once seen as a companion project, may now be posing competition for financial and community support.
Fundraising challenges and a change of administrations are among the issues facing the plan to join Chicago’s Jackson Park and South Shore courses to create a premier 18-hole attraction, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
C+RB has had several reports on the stops and starts involved with the project since it was first announced in 2016, with excitement then quickly building after Tiger Woods’ TGR Design firm was brought on board for bringing the courses together (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/tiger-woods-commits-lead-designer-chicagos-jackson-parksouth-side-project/).
The project is tied to the development of the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side, the Sun-Times reported, but while there are now crews and equipment moving dirt in Jackson Park for that building, many are now wondering about the golf course idea, which Obama helped to persuade Woods to take on.
That part of the idea appears to be in hibernation, like a fairway that never gets water, the Sun-Times reported. Signs of life are hard to find, although advocates say the project is still viable.
Robert Markionni, Executive Director of the Chicago District Golf Association, told the Sun-Times that now that the Obama buildings are underway, “we hope the golf course project will be more front and center. Tiger Woods is still ready.”
Woods and TGR Design were tabbed to reimagine the 18-hole Jackson Park course and the nine-hole South Shore course, connecting them with an underpass to create a single, 18-hole course designed to draw PGA events and elite players, the Sun-Times reported. But as soon as the project was announced during the tenure of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, area residents and everyday golfed wondered if they were getting left out.
Emanuel pushed the idea along with Park District Superintendent Mike Kelly, and they created the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance as a fundraising arm, the Sun-Times reported. Markionni, who is part of the alliance, said that while that group has continued to approach its work in earnest, fundraising has largely been on hold during the pandemic and while uncertainty about the Obama Center has continued, as its estimated cost has risen to $830 million for construction and first-year operations.
Funds needed for the golf course component have been estimated as about $30 million in private money and another $30 million when taxpayer-funded work such as underpasses and road alignment are added, the Sun-Times reported. And Lori Lightfoot, who has succeeded Emanuel as mayor, is on the record as not being nearly as keen about the course project.
“It feels like it’s not a well-thought-out plan,” Lightfoot told the Sun-Times in 2019. “It’s not a plan that’s been respectful of the community. There’s some environmental issues with it. I’ve got some concerns and some red flags.”
Additionally, Kelly is now occupied with criticism of his handling of abuse allegations among Park District lifeguards., the Sun-Times noted.
Juanita Irizarry, Executive Director of Friends of the Parks, told the Sun-Times that the golf course plan has less public support than the Obama Center’s site in Jackson Park. “I think this idea really came top-down,” she said. “Some golfers are excited, but others are afraid they’ll be priced out.”
The project might also force the removal of the South Shore Nature Sanctuary, the Sun-Timesreported. Tracy Raoul, chairperson of the Jackson Park Golf Association and a supporter of the project, said high lake levels threaten the sanctuary. “It’s [also] a place of nefarious assignations,” she added. “There’s all kinds of drug paraphernalia. It’s time to stop.”
The courses need improvements anyway, Raoul added, with Jackson Park dating from 1899 and South Shore from 1907. “Horticulture and environmental preservation have advanced since then,” she said. “Many courses have nature sanctuaries and areas that are off-limits to people.”
Other supporters of the project say they would insist on guarantees of low greens fees for area residents and that it would “take” open space, but rather improve what’s now there, the Sun-Timesreported.
“There’s confidence and bullishness, but there’s a lot of work to be done,” said one backer of the course merger.