EDITORIAL: South Side golf course plan full of holes

SHARE EDITORIAL: South Side golf course plan full of holes

The Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary next to South Shore Beach in Chicago. A plan to create a championship golf course there would require that the sanctuary be moved. | Tom McNamee/Sun-Times

Tiger Woods might love it. Barack Obama, too.

But we have no idea whether a proposed professional-caliber golf course on Chicago’s South Side would be good for the city — and the people pushing for it don’t know either.

A scheme to tear up and combine two Park District courses, Jackson Park and South Shore, and create a single big and fancy course, like the ones you see on TV, came out of the blue in the last year or two. Now it’s being rushed to the finish line in classic Chicago style, with final decisions and ground-breaking scheduled before anybody knows the score.

Call us naive, but we’d like to believe that ordinary people, not the elite, come first in this town. If so, this project will be slowed down. Because, honestly, nobody knows nothing.


Nobody has done a proper study. Nobody has surveyed the people of the community. Nobody has made a convincing case that the people of the adjacent neighborhoods want this thing, or that it would be an economic boon.

Nobody has guaranteed that the typical Park District golf duffer still could afford to play there. Nobody has eased suspicions that this is nothing more than a give-away to the future Obama Presidential Center, which also will be located in Jackson Park, or to wealthy suburbanites and the golfing elite.

Signs marking the Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary tucked into a corner of the Chicago Park District’s South Shore Golf Course.

Signs marking the Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary tucked into a corner of the Chicago Park District’s South Shore Golf Course.

Nobody has nailed down how much this would cost the taxpayers of Chicago, who would have to pay for closing roads, building underpasses and making shoreline improvements. Nobody has shown convincingly that this would not destroy a butterfly and bird sanctuary that is as lovely and restful as anything to be found along the Indiana or Michigan dunes.

When the Sun-Times Editorial Board met recently with the director of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance and other supporters of the championship course, we noticed two things: They were golfers, not fully authorized representatives of the affected communities. And they were vague about everything.

  • They argued that the existing Jackson Park and South Shore courses are underused, noting that golfers play twice as many rounds at the Park District’s Sydney R. Marovitz course. But everybody knows, we replied, that Marovitz — also known as Waveland — is the most scenic and popular course in the city. So, then, how do the Jackson Park and South Shore courses stack up against the remaining Park District courses? They could not say. They hadn’t bothered to look. They had cherry-picked the most popular course to make their case and ignored the rest. As it turns out, Jackson Park and South Shore are the third and fifth most popular of the Park District’s six courses.
  • They told us the Park District would like to keep greens fees low, as they are now, for city residents, but they could guarantee nothing. Operating a tournament-quality golf course is expensive, with many more employees, and if the Golf Alliance over the years failed to raise sufficient funds from other sources, the Park District would be on the hook. There’s a reason greens fees at courses elsewhere routinely exceed $100.
  • We asked if the bird and butterfly sanctuary, which lies along the lakefront between South Shore Beach and the South Shore Golf Course’s 7th hole, would have to be “moved.” They replied that it would have to be “reshaped,” whatever that means, and “natural areas” could be added elsewhere. So fine. Show us exactly what would be built and what would be destroyed — map it out down to the square foot — before asking nature lovers to sign on.

The Park District has set a deadline of October to create a final framework for the plan, and the Golf Alliance hopes to see construction begin as soon as weather permits in the new year. But on this one, we’re with the Friends of the Parks, which has called on the Alliance and the Park District to slow down, do a better job on their homework and make a better case.

We’re also with Stephen Lewis, a golfer we met out on the 8th fairway at the South Shore course on Thursday. It was a glorious evening, the setting sun washing the course in gold, and Lewis said he worries about losing what he’s got.

“I went to this one meeting they had, and it became pretty clear I wasn’t going to learn anything,” said Lewis, who lives in Calumet Heights. “Everybody had a lot of questions about playing golf, going to the beach, walking along the shoreline and attending different events, about barbecuing, those kind of things. We could lose all that.”

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