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Tiger Woods calls stalled golf course merger ‘something that we need to make happen’

After a pro-am tournament that’s a prelude to the BMW Championship at Medinah Country Club, Woods said he’s ‘excited’ about building on ‘an incredible piece of property’ and delivering something ‘unique and different and exciting for all the kids there that play.’ He wants them to play for free.

Tiger Woods during a practice round at Medinah this week.
Tiger Woods during a practice round at Medinah this week.
Getty

Masters champ Tiger Woods on Wednesday beat the drum for his stalled plan to merge the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses into one championship-caliber course, calling it “something that we need to make happen.”

After competing at a pro-am tournament that’s a prelude to the BMW Championship at Medinah Country Club, Woods tried to pump new life into the stalled project.

“We’re excited about it. The project still continues. It’s still going forward. It’s exciting to bring something for the public right there in President Obama’s front yard, back yard. I don’t know how you want to look at it,” Woods told reporters.

“It’s an incredible piece of property. We’re trying to do something that’s unique and different and exciting for all the kids there that play. One of the things that we’ve talked about is that all kids will play for free. So, that’s something that we need to make happen.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said she is “not wild about” the merger, citing “red flags” and “environmental issues.”

She has argued that the merger, which gained momentum when former President Barack Obama chose Jackson Park for his presidential center is “not a well-thought out plan,” nor has it been “respectful of the community.”

The merger has stirred controversy because the design by Woods’ firm would require closing Marquette Drive, building a pair of new underpasses, displacing tennis courts and relocating the South Shore Nature Sanctuary to make way for a new 12th hole.

The underpasses alone — at 67th Street and South Shore Drive and at Jeffery Boulevard and 66th Street — cost $30 million — as much as the price tag for just the new course.

Two years ago, the Chicago Park District signed a 10-year agreement with the non-profit Chicago Parks Golf Alliance to spearhead the plan to merge the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses into a single, championship-caliber course.

The agreement, signed Dec. 15, 2016, calls for the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance to be the “sole fundraising entity” for the project and “work in partnership with the Park District for the fundraising, implementation and construction of agreed upon master plans.”

The contract, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times under a Freedom of Information request, set timelines and fundraising goals — nearly all of which have not been met.

Brian Hogan and Mike Ruemmler are co-founding directors of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance.

Ruemmler could not be reached for comment.

Hogan responded to a text message about the status of private fundraising for the project by saying, “Momentum progressing. Approaching $10 million [in] pledges. Confident in [meeting] $30M goal.”

Pressed on the updated cost of merging the two golf courses, Hogan said, “Cost estimates pending further design development and review.”

For restoring the South Shore golf course, the timeline was May through September 2018. The fundraising goal to be met by the non-profit alliance was $10 million.

For the Jackson Park course, the timeline was March 2018 through September 2020. The non-profit’s fundraising goal was $15 million.

At the time, Hogan expressed confidence that the fundraising goals outlined in the contract would be reached in time to complete construction in 2020.

Ruemmler managed Emanuel’s 2011 and 2015 mayoral campaigns.

At the time, his involvement fueled speculation that the project, on the drawing board since 2000, was a done deal.

That theory was further fueled by Emanuel’s private emails. They showed City Hall had been laying the groundwork for the project since early August 2016 — nearly five months before the alliance was formed and Emanuel and the Park District went public about the project.

Earlier this week, Lightfoot was asked whether she planned to meet with Woods to discuss the golf course merger while he’s in town for the BMW Championship.

“I don’t think the ball is in my court,” the mayor said.

She added, “I’m gonna try, but I just came from a funeral and I’ve got a funeral of a personal friend that I’m attending [Wednesday]. If we can make it work, we will. But this isn’t gonna be the only time that we can have a conversation about that.”