They argue that the long-delayed inauguration of the Obama Center ends political uncertainty and shows the region is ripe for investment. But the same preservationist groups that have blocked the Obama Center for years might turn their attention to the proposed course.
Supporters say their plan to merge the Jackson Park and South Shore courses would attract media attention to the city, which would increase the economic boost Obama was considering for the south side around his presidential center. Opponents say such a transformation would eliminate an affordable neighborhood golf course and threaten ancient trees and adjacent preservation areas in the park.
Representatives for the city and the Chicago Park District declined to comment, and Woods’ company did not return requests for comment. After waging political and legal battles to begin construction of the Obama Center – a legal challenge persists, although judges have clamped down on recent efforts to stop groundbreaking work – few are eager to venture there just yet, according to sources close to the project and the city. Room.
Renovation plans were first announced in 2016. Then-mayor Rahm Emanuel and Park District CEO Mike Kelly tasked the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance nonprofit to raise more $ 30 million to fund them. The group is led by NBC golf analyst Mark Rolfing, and board members include PGA Illinois director Carrie Williams; John Kaczkowski of the Western Golf Association, sponsor of the BMW Championship and the Evans Scholars Foundation; and Mike Keizer, founder of the famous Bandon Dunes course in Oregon.
In 2017, Woods unveiled his plan to transform the nine-hole South Rim and 18-hole Jackson Park course into a combined par 70 championship course spanning nearly 7,400 yards. It offered stunning views of the city skyline and the lake, with a short run for families. With wide fairways and a challenging lakeside breeze, it had the potential to be “America’s greatest urban golf course,” according to Golf Magazine.
But by the end of 2019, the golf alliance had raised just $ 1.2 million, according to tax filings.
While Woods himself said the former president had approached him about the project, Obama (a golfer and honorary member of the Beverly Country Club), through his foundation, declined to comment. But a spokesperson said foundation executives hope the Obama Center will spark investment “all over the South Side” and bring “amenities of all kinds to the area,” including golf.
Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th, says: “The community is ready to see the work begin. I have always spoken with golfers. They can’t wait to get started. We’re just waiting to have all our ducks in a row. Hairston expects the Park District and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to resume public engagement on the proposal. Renewed community meetings could “bring everyone back to the fold,” she says.
Funders point out that some of the largest and costliest upgrades needed for the course – two underpasses on Jeffrey Avenue and South Shore Drive at 67th Street – are also already included in planned upgrades around the Obama Center.
Golf trends are also promising. After years of declining games and course closures, golf has rebounded as people sought outdoor activities during the pandemic. Games played so far this year are 19% above the 2017-19 average, according to market research group Golf Datatech. Chicago Park District course fee revenue increased 20% between 2018 and the end of 2020.
But the same group that held up the Obama Center for so many years – Protect Our Parks – might focus on ties then. Noting that the course redesign was not included in the local and federal approval process for the Obama Center, the group said, “Any physical redesign of the golf course would require federal review.”
Another local group, Jackson Park Watch, also remains opposed.
The project “would require cutting down a lot of trees,” says Brenda Nelms, Jackson Park Watch co-chair. “I think there would be costumes, depending on how it was structured. Even if it has Tiger Woods’ name on it, I don’t think there would be as much public approval as there was for the Obama Center. “
Despite the Park District’s promises, Nelms doubts the costs – currently $ 21 to play on weekends in the South Shore and $ 35 in Jackson Park – will remain affordable for locals.
Torrey Pines in San Diego is one of the top municipal courses that hosts PGA tournaments. Residents of San Diego County pay between $ 32 and $ 78 to play, depending on the course, player’s age, time of day, and day of the week. The fees for non-residents range from $ 76 to $ 252.
Industry consultant Bill Daniels, founder of Golf Chicago Magazine, says Jackson Park’s location is unsuitable for the championship. “The ground is flat like a pool table,” he says. Daniels would rather see the Park District beautify the existing course: strengthen the shoreline, improve irrigation to reduce flooding and drying out of fairways, and repair muddy bunkers.
While it’s not impossible, making a tour-caliber course playable for weekend hackers is doubly difficult, says Ed Stevenson, the former executive director of DuPage’s Forest Preserve District. He undertook a $ 16 million renovation of the old Oak Meadows golf course in Addison to address issues such as those facing Jackson Park and the South Shore. “It’s a design challenge to be multiple things for multiple groups of people,” he says. Being good enough at attracting PGA tournaments while keeping the duffer-friendly course “seems like a potentially conflicting goal.”