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Money from private donors is being raised to combine the South Shore Golf Course (above) with the nearby course at Jackson Park to create a championship-caliber course. The Park District has offered no specifics on pricing at the new course, one of many hurdles facing the project. | Google Images

Editorial: Who wins with a fancy pro golf course on South Side?

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Park District are entranced by the prospect of a gorgeous, challenging golf course on the South Side near the yet-to-be-built Obama Presidential Center. It is a project with star appeal, beginning with Tiger Woods.

But we have to ask: Does a fancy, professional-caliber golf course like this best serve Chicagoans, especially those on the South Side? Or is this about helping President Barack Obama improve his golf game?

We can’t image why the city and Park District are in a rush to play through so quickly, looking to possibly break ground on the course in the spring.

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A company owned by golfer Woods would design the course that would combine the Jackson Park Golf Course near the Museum of Science and Industry and the South Shore Golf Course just a bit farther south on the lakefront. Park District officials estimate a tab of $30 million, mostly paid by private donors.

The new course could be host to professional golf tournaments, and what a great marketing tool for Chicago that could be. If the world’s top golfers gather here for a tournament such as the BMW Championship, formerly the Western Open, we can imagine those beautiful TV blimp shots of Chicago’s lake and skyline from above the sculpted fairways.

We don’t doubt Obamawould appreciate having the course nearby when he’s in town. During his two terms, he has played more than 300 rounds of golf. World leaders and celebrities who in the future stop in to see Obama might also appreciate playing a relaxing — or grueling — game of golf.

But here’s the rub: The Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses belong to the Chicago Park District. That means they belong to you, Chicago’s taxpayers. And you, as taxpayers, especially if you live nearby, should reap the greatest benefits.

Many Chicagoans would love an upscale course. Beats driving to the burbs.

But what about the duffers — that would be most of us — who enjoy playing on less challenging courses? Jackson Park, which has 18 holes, and South Shore, which has nine, fit that bill. There is talk of building a less challenging course to complement the new championship course, but we’re not convinced it would happen.

Between the Jackson and South Shore courses, which are less than two miles apart, more than 39,000 rounds of golf were played last year, according to the Park District. And they were quite a bargain.

Golfers at South Shore pay between $9 and $20, according to the course website. At Jackson Park, they pay between $20 and $33.A round at an upscale course usually costs more than $100. Park district officials say they hope to keep greens fees for the new course under $50 for Chicagoans, if you feel comfortable buying that.

A new golf course on taxpayer land should increase accessibility for Chicagoans, no doubt. Neighborhood folks had better make the cut.

Five years ago, the Park District made golf free for anyone 17 and under. Would that continue?

Will the new course boost the economy for surrounding communities? How so? Once built, golf courses aren’t known to be huge jobs providers.

Community groups, including Friends of the Parks, the citizens’ group that successfully killed the George Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, are asking all these questions.

“Maybe it’s a good thing,” Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks, said of plans for the new course. “We don’t know.”

Irizarry said her group currently has no position on the new course. She is waiting for more information from the city.

“The process is all wrong,” Irizarry said.

We see why Friends of the Parks and other groups are skeptical. Wednesday, the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a $1.1 million contract to design and engineer the merger of the golf courses, although, as Commissioner Juan Salgado conceded, the board still doesn’t have enough information, yet, to make some decisions about the project.

The mayor and Park District kept residents in the dark about the project until recently. Some information came to light onlybecauseof legal action by theBetter Government Associationto force themayor to release thousands of emails from a personal account.

Community groups deserve a chance to offer much more input.

As Irizarry said, maybe this golf course would be a good thing. But we don’t know, and we’re pretty sure the Park District doesn’t either. Not yet.

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