Golf Course

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Proposal for the Merger/ Expansion of the Golf Courses

Closely related to the Obama Presidential Center and road reconfigurations plan was the proposal to merge/ expand the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses (see backstory below).

After languishing for months, the proposal for the merged/expanded PGA style golf course suddenly appeared on the Park District Board meeting agenda on December 12. It took the form of a proposal, passed without discussion or dissent, to “modify” a much smaller prior contract with JJR Smith to a new total of $2.7 million for further design work on the proposed remake of the existing golf courses.

Follow up discussion with a key Park District Board staff emphasized that this new contract is for design only and that there is no funding to actually redo the golf courses or related projects. This appears to JPW to be a part of the not-so-lame-duck Mayor Emanuel’s attempt to impose as many of his plans on the City even as he prepares to leave office. Park District CEO Mike Kelly and all of the Park District Commissioners are appointed by the Mayor and are not accountable to the public in any way.

At this point,  no formal proposal for the golf course merger/expansion has been submitted to the Chicago Plan Commission and the golf course proposal is not part of the plans currently undergoing the federal reviews.  JPW continues to actively monitor the situation.

JPW also continues to support improvements of the existing golf courses to benefit current users, just as JPW supports improvements in the Park overall.

Golf course proposals fail to address key concerns:

Both the original golf course merger/expansion proposal unveiled June 21, 2017 and the revised proposed dated January 31, 2018 have these significant flaws:

  • They expand far beyond the footprints of the two existing golf courses;
  • They destroy the core of the South Shore Nature Sanctuary.
  • They eliminate existing recreational facilities, picnic areas, and the dog park.
  • The January 31 revision shrinks the beach at the South Shore Cultural Center.
  • They fail to provide credible guarantees of affordability and accessibility for local golfers.
  • They ask taxpayers to pay at least $30 million for infrastructure to support the project.
  • They lack essential financial information about construction, operation, and maintenance.

JPW continues to call for:

  • Public release of a detailed plan for the proposal PGA golf course including minimally:
    • the number of trees to be cut down;
    • the location and type of fencing to be erected;
    • water management and earth movement plans;
    • the location and designs of the proposed new, equivalent recreational facilities and natural areas to replace those eliminated by the golf course expansion.
  • Public release of the projected greens fees schedules and cart fees for each day of the week and each class of golfer for at least five years.
  • Public release of basic financial, operational, and maintenance information, including details of the funds that have been raised to date.

The Back Story

On December 18, 2016, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Park District CEO Michael Kelly announced with great fanfare the formation of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, a private entity organized to develop plans and raise private funds for the “upgrade” of the Jackson Park and South Shore Golf Courses. While details were and continue to be scant, the announcement outlined a $30 million, four-year project to combine the two separate courses into a single 18-hole, PGA-grade course to be designed by Tiger Woods, all within the footprints of the existing two golf courses.

Subsequently it was revealed that, although the Park District Board had never voted on the plan, Mayor Emanuel and CEO Kelly had discussed this project in August 2016 via the Mayor’s personal e-mail account, that the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance had been incorporated as far back as October 2015, and that CPGA President Mark Rolfing had already been paid $120,000 by the Park District for initial work on the project starting in September 2015.  On January 11, 2017 the Park District Board of Commissioners was asked to approve a $1.1 million design services contract with SmithGroupJJR, Inc., an engineering consulting firm hired to develop plans for the merged course and to initiate work on the South Shore golf course in spring, 2017.

Revised Golf Course Plan as of January 31, 2018.

While the SmithGroup JJR study results have never been revealed, the CPGA announced on June 21, 2017, that, contrary to earlier assurances, the PGA golf course would expand significantly beyond the footprints of the historic Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses. A The revised plan was unveiled January 31, 2018.  Under both plans, the new golf course would eliminate the Nature Sanctuary adjacent to the South Shore Cultural Center, numerous tennis courts, baseball diamonds, soccer playing fields, the dog park, and basketball courts. Other schematics showed that the golf course proposal would require closing Marquette Road between Stony Island Avenue and Richards Drive and that two, presumably expensive, underpasses would have to be designed, engineered, and built. In addition shoreline revetement work was proposed.  No information about costs or sources of funding were mentioned.

As word got out, questions and criticisms grew. Information on detailed plans, budget, operational and maintenance costs, the funds raised to date, and myriad other important issues has never been provided.  Construction has not begun. Plans for the golf course have not been submitted to the Chicago Plan Commission; in fact, at present, the golf course merger/expansion project appears to be on hold. 

Next steps?  

While this proposal appears to be on the back burner, given how business related to Chicago public parks is conducted, it could suddenly be revived.  Sign up for JPW Updates to ensure you will be immediately notified if this proposal starts to move forward again.