Golf Course

What you can do:

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Revised PGA-style golf course proposal fails to address key concerns:

  • It still expands far beyond the footprints of the two existing golf courses;
  • It still destroys the core of the Nature Sanctuary.
  • It still eliminates existing recreational facilities and picnic areas and shrinks the beach at the South Shore Cultural Center.
  • It fails to provide credible guarantees of affordability and accessibility for local golfers.
  • Golf sources tell JPW that, despite making some changes golfers welcome, the failure to site the driving range in close proximity to the first tee means the new course would not be able to attract top flight golfers.
  • It asks taxpayers to pay at least $30 million for the project.
  • It lacks essential financial information about construction, operation, and maintenance.

JPW calls 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;
    • and the location and designs of the proposed new, equivalent recreational facilities and natural areas to replace those eliminated by the golf course expansion beyond the footprints of the existing courses;
  • Public disclosure of the results of the $1.1 million SmithGroupJJR engineering and design study of the South Shore/Jackson Park golf courses commissioned by the Park District in January 2017;
  • 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;
  • Staging by the Park District of a series of public meetings with actual two-way dialogue with the community to discuss the details of the proposal, the methods of financing the project and the related infrastructure.
  • Either exclusion of the proposed Marquette Drive closure or inclusion of the golf course plan in the federal reviews underway.

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. Friends of the Parks called the engineering proposal “the cart before the horse” and urged the Board to defer the vote. When the Board proceeded anyhow, the Tribune aired the controversy  and editorialized about the dearth of details, the unseemly rush to act without public input, and the importance of guaranteeing that existing golfers would continue to have affordable fees at convenient times.

Revised Golf Course Plan as of January 31, 2018.

Golf Course Plans Revealed

The CPGA first announced on June 21, 2017, that, contrary to earlier assurances, the PGA golf course would expand significantly beyond the footprints of the history Jackson Park and south Shore golf courses. A 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, 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. No information about costs or sources of funding were mentioned.

Questions and Criticisms

As word got out, questions and criticisms grew. The revised plan has failed to answer them.   A Sun-Times editorial aptly titled “South Side Golf Course plan full of holes” (07 30 17) highlighted the virtually total absence of actual data about the proposal and how it could work. An additional editorial, “New golf course’s showcase hole sinks bird sanctuary” (08 10 17) in the Sun-Times pointed out that the CPGA alliance claim to be “re-shaping” the Natural Sanctuary was simply false. The Hyde Park Herald editorialized “We’re not buying this ‘Buy One Get One’“. A further Sun-Times editorial headlined “Chicago’s Tiger Woods golf course could be too big for your wallet,” (08 18 17) demonstrated that assertions by Mike Kelly and the CPGA that the new course would be affordable for local golfers were hollow at best. The Chicago Tribune followed with “The Jackson Park golf project? Slow your swing, Mayor

Jackson Park Watch wrote a letter to Park District CEO Mike Kelly and CPGA co-founders Brian Hogan and Michael Ruemmler summarizing the detailed questions that have yet to be answered – and that have not been answered to date.

Next steps?

The Mayor, the Park District, and the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance continue to aggressively promote the PGA golf course concept. Large numbers in the community continue to oppose it. This story is not over; despite efforts to portray the PGA golf course as “inevitable,” it is far from a certainty. JPW urges all of those with questions or concerns to share them with the key officials involved:

JPW also recommends copying your letters to these media outlets and reporters to make sure the word gets out:


The Park District disingenuously claims that its golf course “upgrade” is based on the 1999-2000 Jackson Park and South Shore Framework Plan. While the Plan did discuss the golf courses, it focused on improvements for local golfers and did not propose combining the courses or upgrading it to PGA standards. The top priority for South Shore Cultural Center Park was the creation of the Nature Sanctuary south of the beach, now threatened by the proposed PGA golf course.

The Chicago Parks Golf Alliance – CPD Agreement 12.15.16 , dated December 15, 2016, has never been voted on by the Park District Board. The document provides few details and only promises that actual construction or operating plans will be added later. Yet it gives the CPGA considerable authority to act immediately on behalf of the Park District’s golf courses (starting with Jackson Park and South Shore), even though there is no mechanism for public accountability