The Tiger Woods golf course in Jackson Park/South Shore looks doubtful-so it’s time to move on and work on better ideas for the golf courses

It’s been 18 months since Hawaii resident Mark Rolfing proposed the replacement of the 27-holes at South Shore and Jackson Park for an 18-hole up-scale facility. He formed the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance (CPGA), a 501(c)(3) charity to spear head the project and, in the process, secured a $90,000 consulting fee to tell Park District that his project was feasible. He touted that project as a public-private venture with $25M of the anticipated $30M cost of the project be funded through charitable donors. That was 18 months ago and the anticipated cost is now $60M, with the additional expense for infrastructure improvements to be borne by taxpayers. In emails to the Park District Rolfing set deadlines for construction, the first one being the remake of the South Shore course set for September 2017. That’s right 2017.

The cause for the delay is simply lack of money and credibility. The CPGA has been unable to raise the monies that would enable them to gain approval from the Park District. Sixty million dollars is a big stretch and donors at this level are very careful. They listen to many pitches every day. The CPGA and Rolfing made great claims that this new golf course would be an economic engine for the South Side; that it would attract many tourists and (hopefully) host an annual PGA Tour event.

But Rolfing never provided any economic studies to support his claims, nor did he or the CPGA provide credible information on similar situations in other cities and he could not guarantee any PGA Tour commitments. Further, Rolfing has no record of ever doing a development project the likes of JP/SS. That’s a problem.

All the promotional literature from the CPGA has called the project a “renovation/restoration”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every one of the current 27 holes at JP/SS will be turned over to build the proposed new course. No existing holes will remain. So, it does not surprise me that the project has not gained traction. But there is an alternative.

The CPGA should undertake a program to actually restore Jackson Park as an attractive classically styled golf course. This would be totally consistent with the mission statement of the CPGA which states in part “…Our mission is to promote affordable and accessible public golf with expanded youth programs, while restoring the historic recreational assets the 100+ year old courses at South Shore and Jackson Park provide to the entire community. Jackson Park Golf Course is truly a gem. But it has been allowed to waste away due to neglect by the Park District. But if it were not only restored but enhanced with a renovation plan it would complement the proposed Obama Presidential Center making it an attraction for those who would come to the OPC. This plan could allow for a course that non-Chicagoans would like to play (at a fee higher than residents) and still keep it readily available for the people who pay taxes to keep it going.

This project will require expert consultation from golf course architects and related agronomists. This costs money. But here’s some good news. The American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) and the United States Golf Association (USGA) have a pro bono (read free) consulting program to evaluate public courses for improved playability and efficiency/sustainability. (asgcafoundation.org)

The application process for the ASGCA-USGA program occurs three times a year, the next deadline is August 15. This is a deadline that should not be missed. The prospect of a restored and renovated Jackson Park Golf Course is truly attractive and better serves the community than a $60M questionable project. It might even attract some local donors!

Bill Daniels
Founder Golf Chicago Magazine
Chicago