EDITORIAL: New golf course’s showcase hole sinks bird sanctuary

SHARE EDITORIAL: New golf course’s showcase hole sinks bird sanctuary

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

If you’re a golfer, the 12th hole would be spectacular. If you’re a nature lover, you’d lose.

Nothing reveals better how the Park District and a group of golf enthusiasts are pushing too hard and fast to create a championship golf course on Chicago’s South Side than their intent, though barely acknowledged, to wipe out a prized nature sanctuary to make way for the course’s most scenic hole.


They say, when asked, that the bird and butterfly sanctuary will have to be “reshaped,” but in truth it would be wiped out. They say “every square foot” of the sanctuary encroached upon will be relocated, but the proposed new setting — squeezed between two other fairways — is only a fraction as desirable.

The dotted lines roughly approximate the existing South Shore Nature Sanctuary and the 12th hole, as currently drawn, of the proposed new golf course.

The dotted lines roughly approximate the existing South Shore Nature Sanctuary and the 12th hole, as currently drawn, of the proposed new golf course.

Instead of taking in breathtaking lakefront views, should you visit the new nature preserve, you could be ducking golf balls.

There may be good arguments for creating the new course, which City Hall hopes would draw professional tournaments. The South Side, so often overlooked, could stand much more economic development. But nothing about this plan, which would combine the existing Jackson Park and South Shore public golf courses, has been thoroughly researched or sufficiently detailed. It’s a pig in a poke.

South Siders are being told to take it on faith that amenities lost to the new course, such as soccer fields and tennis courts in Jackson Park, would pop up elsewhere, a minimum number of mature trees would be destroyed, and the price for a round of golf for a city resident would remain affordable. Assurances are nice, but blueprints and operating budgets are better.

To understand how the Park District and the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, the group pushing the new course, are soft-pedaling the downside of this project, consider what they have to say about the nature sanctuary.

“While the 12th hole could involve reshaping of the current natural area,” they write in a brochure, “significant portions will remain in place, as well as creating a new natural area directly north of the South Shore Cultural Center building.” And when the Sun-Times Editorial Board met with leaders of the group, they used the same words — “could” and “reshaping.”

This is terribly misleading. There is no “could.” Every PGA-caliber golf course must have at least one showcase hole, and that hole in this case would be the 12th. You can bet it would be built on the coveted spit of land jutting into Lake Michigan that now is the heart of the nature sanctuary. The scenic views are just too good to pass up.

It is equally misleading to say “significant portions” of the sanctuary would remain. As shown on the accompanying map, half or less of the sanctuary would survive, and far from the best parts. What remained would be hard up against South Shore Beach, more of a modest sandy buffer than a preserve.

The Golf Alliance and Park District tell us not to jump to conclusions. They say they are still in “the planning process” and things could change. But they also aim to have a final “framework” in place by October and hope to begin construction as soon as possible in the new year.

How much time does that leave to play straight with the public?

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com

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