Golfers divided on City’s proposed Jackson Park, South Shore golf courses merger
June 4, 2017

“I am worried that it will detract from players in the area who are used to paying and playing now,” said Eugene Taylor, South Shore resident. “I went to the meeting a few weeks ago. I think they will have to jack up the prices. Many people can only play an easier nine-hole course. If they combine both courses it will be too much.” (Photo by Troy Heinzeroth)

By Igor Studenkov

The proposal to consolidate and upgrade two of the South Side’s biggest public golf courses is getting a mixed response from the golfers who use them.

Late last year, the Chicago Park District announced it was looking into combining the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses into a single golf course and adding upgrades to make the new course suitable for national tournaments. The process remains in the early stages, with the Park District currently conducting an engineering study.

Interviews with golfers on both courses revealed mixed opinions. Some said they would appreciate the upgrades and the community development they could bring, while others worried the improvements would cause prices to go up, shutting out less well off players.

Still others felt consolidation would happen anyway, with the best they could hope for being to ensure the community benefits in the process. The Jackson Park Golf Course opened in 1899, while the South Shore Golf Course opened in 1907. Jackson was publicly owned from the beginning, while South Shore started as a private country club.

Jackson is located in Woodlawn between Hayes Drive, Lake Shore Drive, Stony Island Avenue, and 67th Street; South Shore is located in the South Shore neighborhood between Lake Shore Drive, the shore of Lake Michigan, and 71st Street. The former is not fenced off, but the latter is, though the public may enter near the intersection of Lake Shore Drive and 71st Street.

If the fence did not exist, however, golfers potentially could cross from one course to another along the Lake Shore Drive crossing near 67th Street.

A few months ago, the City and the Park District announced they have created a joint Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, a nonprofit that would be in charge of the consolidation project and of raising money for it from private donors. They envision not only combining the two golf courses but upgrading them to the point where they could host PGA tournaments. Tiger Woods’ TGR Design company would handle the design.

“It’s an honor for me and TGR Design to be designing this golf course in one of America’s greatest golf cities,” Woods said in a statement.

“This project can create incredible possibilities for the community on the South Side. We want to design a course that everyone will enjoy.”

Pricing out the public?

Some are concerned golfing on the new course will cost too much for members of the general public to afford and that the course might merely become an adjunct of former President Barack Obama’s presidential library, to be built nearby, west of the golf courses.

According to the Park District, the project would completely redesign both courses and may improve and upgrade their buildings. The Park District has not determined what resident fees would be, saying only in a statement that they would be “accessible to Chicago residents” and that non-residents “will face premium fees.”

Officials expect the project to finish by 2020—the same time the Obama Presidential Library goes up in Jackson Park, west of the golf course. Kate Berner, spokesperson for the Obama Foundation, told Gazette Chicago that her organization is not involved in the golf course planning process, nor are there any plans to incorporate the course into the library grounds.

She said that, ultimately, the foundation hopes the consolidation works out well for the community. “The foundation is excited to
see increased investment and resources brought to the South Side of Chicago, provided it is done in an inclusive manner with the surrounding community, as we are working to do,” Berner said.

Mixed feelings

Jackson golfers including Jorge Hoyes weighed in. Hoyes supports the project, saying, “I think it’s going to be good, because I think it’s going to be a great golf course. I think it will really help the development in the area.”

Another golfer, who declined to give his name, felt it would be a great opportunity and that, while the Jackson Park golf course is good, it could be better. Linda Corby, on the other hand, worried about what the improvements would mean for affordability. “When they merge it into a PGA course, even if they have a [lower] resident rate, it’s going to be higher” than before, she said.

Her two companions said they agreed with Corby. Meanwhile, at the South Shore course, long-time South Shore resident Gus Sims said he had mixed feelings about the project.

“I’m sure it’s a change to make the golf course much better,” he said. “I hope the price doesn’t go too high, as us seniors can still enjoy the golf course. That’s the concern of mine. But development would be good.”

John McCarthy of Hyde Park said, “I want to see something new and different and for improvementsto happen. If they don’t do it, they are going to push us African-Americans out of the neighborhood anyway. This is prime lake real estate.”

Jonathan Stewart, who grew up in South Shore and has been playing golf at the South Shore course for the past 15 years, said he hopes to get as much benefit for neighborhood residents out of the project as possible.

“I sort of feel it’s going to be a tourist attraction, and it’s going to be zoned from the neighborhood,” he said. “I want it to be connected to the neighborhood, and I want kids from the neighborhood to have opportunities to be involved.”

The City also is proposing a new beach house at the South Shore Cultural Center and new underpasses at 67th Street and South Shore Drive and at 66th Street and Jeffery Boulevard as part of the project, which it expects to cost $30 million.

In January, the Park District approved a $1.1 million contract with SmithGroupJJR for an engineering study on consolidating the courses.