Rancor rules meeting on Jackson Park golf course

“We have the ability to create a LEED certified golf course right here in Chicago, a model for all the world. We have Tiger Woods who is using all of his celebrity to focus it here,” says Al Debonnet, South Shore resident and board member of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance. (Photos by Marc Monaghan)

Contributing writer

For a brief moment, it appeared that a glimmer of hope for compromise had developed between those leading the fight for and against the Chicago Park District’s proposed 18-hole, professional-level golf course in Jackson Park after a debate on the issue Sunday at the First Unitarian Church of Chicago.

Leading the debate in favor was Al DeBonnett, chair of the Jackson Park Golf & Community Leadership Advisory Council; against was A. Anne Holcomb, ETHOS (Environmental, Transportation, Health and Open Space) block club chair.

“(Anne) said we can collaborate,” DeBonnett recounted afterwards.  “We’ve invited you to meetings,” he said he told her. “You guys just protest outside and not come inside.  Come inside and join the conversation.”

But Holcomb was having none of that. “No,” she said laughing. “No, I did not.”

“One of our first steps is to try and meet with Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot.” She said muscle needs to be exerted with the park district “to get the park district board to come to the table and meet either with ETHOS or the South Shore (Advisory Council). The PAC has been trying to meet with them for a long time.

“And the PAC has come up with some sort of plan. I have not seen it. They have some sort of compromise plan.” She said the comprise calls for an expanded golf course “to co-exist with some of the elements that residents don’t want to see disappear.”

She added that Lightfoot has voiced concerns about the Tiger Woods-designed course in recent weeks.

During the debate, noting that the current course is over 100 years old, DeBonnett said it is not well suited for the game anymore. By modern standards, he said, the existing 18-hole Jackson Park course is very short.

He insisted a new course will be sustainable and lead to economic opportunities.

“The guys who are designing (the course) are disciples of Frederick Law Olmsted,” he added.

Holcomb countered that the course redo will affect affordability and change its challenge level. Members of her group play the course, she said.

“I think there might be a way that we come to the table, but we need to go back down the staircase pretty far to talk about what do we as residents want in the park. In-person focus groups. Not everybody does email or Facebook or any of that. In-person focus groups and talk about what we use in the park, what we value in the park, what we would like to see in the park, what would draw us there. And that’s the place to start,” says A. Anne Holcombe, South Shore resident and chair of ETHOS (Environment, Transportation, Health and Open Space Block Club).

“Golf courses are monocultures, very cultivated areas,” she added. “They look green but they aren’t green.”

The park district can be made more green without accepting the Woods golf course design, referring to park district plans to arrange for Woods to design it.

She said the cost of using the course will rise significantly for the public if the course was made over.

We need to “build up our business corridors.” The Tiger Woods course won’t bring in more investment, she said.

The decision to move ahead with the plan was made without consulting the local community.  What is the plan for the reimbursement of public money spent on it, she asked.

She noted that the South Shore Cultural Center, which was intended for use by the arts after it was acquired by the park district, is now mostly occupied by offices for the district.

DeBonnett said afterward that “I think we changed some minds . . . Afterwards everyone had a really positive reaction to the statements that were relayed to them, the truthful ones. . . . ”

“Join the much needed 19th century golf course restoration effort . . . Long overdue.  The oldest course west of the Allegheny. Before there was football, there was this course that’s never been changed.  Do I have to say anything more?”

Referring to the controversial future of the nature sanctuary next to the course, DeBonnett said there’s going to be no sanctuary at all unless something is done with the waves “coming in. The water is at its highest level in 30 years.”

One whose mind wasn’t changed was that of Bill Daniels, who spoke during the event’s question and answer session.

‘I thought the position of the proponents of the Tiger Woods course was pretty much a replay of what’s been going on for the last three years,” he said afterwards. “It’s been the same disinformation … DeBonnett continues to call it a restoration.

“The Tiger Woods design is the exact opposite of a restoration. In all, 27 holes of the golf course will be totally uprooted and destroyed to put in the 18 holes. That’s not my definition of a restoration.”

He said what’s necessary is a project far more limited in scope — enhancements where they’re necessary, like better infrastructure, better irrigation and better drainage,

Furthermore, he pointed out, most of the existing holes run east-west whereas the redesigned holes run north-south. “So there’s no semblance of a restoration. They continue to use that word. I don’t understand how they can do that.”

On the other side, Patricia Harper said the debate failed to sway her stand from favoring the redesign either.

“I found the meeting to be a continued repeat of some of the untruths … More of the same.  It’s a manipulation of fact.”

The redesign would bring the course “up to current specs,” she said. She supports the plan because she said she is a golfer who enjoys the game.

“The course needs to be upgraded. It’s a 100-year-old course. It does not promote the experience of the game of golf.”