By Casey Toner
Though Oak Lawn’s public golf course has lost more than $2 million over the past decade, current and former elected officials and their families are among dozens of VIPs allowed to play the taxpayer-owned Stony Creek Golf Course for free.
More than 60 people have taken advantage of roughly 350 complimentary rounds of golf at Stony Creek in the past two years, records show.
Seven political figures played nearly 170 of those rounds, the records show. The normal fee to play 18 holes there is up to $22.
Five of them were recipients of special “gold cards” guaranteeing gratis golf for a lifetime, as well as free access to other park programs and facilities.
A village ordinance passed in 1993 also gives a pass on recreational fees to all past and present Oak Lawn park commissioners, “appointed personnel” and their families.
It’s a perk that’s continued even as revenues have plunged at the golf course, and the Oak Lawn Park District, which runs the course, has steadily increased property taxes for people who live in the largely middle-income south suburb.
Maddie Kelly, executive director of the park district, says the freebies don’t have a big effect on the bottom line and she doesn’t want to do away with them.
“It’s never been abused to the point where I had to say, ‘We need to take care of this gold card business because we are losing a ton of money on this,’ ” Kelly says.
It’s unclear how much potential revenue has been lost to the freebies. If, say, each golfer played just nine holes and didn’t get free club and cart rentals, the figure would come to only about $5,000.
Former Worth Township Highway Commissioner Steve Loulousis, who formerly served on the park board, has played 76 free rounds of golf at the Oak Lawn course since 2014, records show. That’s the most of any gold card holder.
Alex Kazmierczak played 47 free games of golf since 2014, the second-highest total. He’s a former park commissioner now on the Oak Lawn Appeals Board and the board of a non-profit affiliated with the park district, the Oak Lawn Parks Foundation.
“I didn’t institute it,” Kazmierczak says of the gold card program. “I was awarded to it.”
Former state Sen. Ed Maloney (D-Chicago) was given a gold card when he retired from the Illinois Legislature in 2012. He’s played three free rounds at Stony Creek since 2014. He says he also used his gold card to cover a $20 chalk drawing class in 2013.
When in the Illinois Senate, Maloney helped the park district secure more than $1 million in grants to build an addition to a parks recreation center. His political campaign also has paid $41,317 to host fund-raisers at Stony Creek over the years.
The park district also has given certificates for free golf to state Reps. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, and Frances Ann Hurley, D-Chicago, as well as to state Sens. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago, and Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, records show.
Cunningham and Collins say they returned the passes. Burke says she couldn’t remember receiving one. Hurley and Flowers couldn’t be reached.
Former Oak Lawn Mayor David Heilmann, who lost his re-election bid in 2013, played four rounds of complimentary golf in the past two years. A park district commissioner from 1989 to 2001, Heilmann says he has a gold card but “usually pays” when he golfs at Stony Creek or hits balls on the driving range there.
Oak Lawn Park Commissioner Sue Murphy, who played three rounds of free golf since 2014, says the gold cards are a reward for elected officials’ service.
“This is a little gift, is the way I look at it,” Murphy says. “It’s a little ‘thank you.’ ”
Casey Toner is an investigator for the Better Government Association.