Rising costs, Tiger Woods’ arrest cast doubt on golf course merger

The Chicago Park District wants to merge the Jackson Park (shown) and South Shore golf courses. | Sun-Times file photo

Will Tiger Woods’ DUI arrest and the skyrocketing cost of related infrastructure projects kill a $30 million plan to merge the Jackson and Park and South Shore golf courses into one championship-caliber course designed by golf’s greatest superstar?

Those questions were swirling Tuesday amid reports that shoreline repairs and two new underpasses needed to make the golf course merger work could match the $30 million price tag of the golf course itself.

Tiger Woods Designs is the architect of the project that gained momentum when former President Barack Obama chose Jackson Park for his presidential library. The firm has determined that the project will not work without closing Marquette Drive from Cornell to Lake Shore Drive.

Woods’ association was supposed to add cachet and make it easier to attract the $24 million in private donations needed to cover 80 percent of the cost.

ANALYSIS

But that was before Woods’ DUI arrest delivered another hit to the already tarnished Woods brand.

Police in Florida said Tiger Woods has been arrested for DUI. | Palm Beach County Sheriuff’s office

Woods has tried to contain the damage, saying “alcohol was not involved” in an arrest he blamed on “unexpected reaction to prescribed medications” he was taking while recovering from April back surgery. Police also said there was no alcohol in Woods’ system.

Brian Hogan, co-founder and director of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, was asked what impact Woods’ arrest would have on fundraising for the project already stalled by the delay in completing design and engineering studies.

“We . . . support Tiger Woods in a trying situation. From a fundraising perspective, we do not anticipate any imminent impact,” Hogan said Tuesday.

“The alliance remains excited about his involvement. . . . Our confidence in raising $30 million to support golf course improvements and programming on the South Side remains unwavering.”

Even more damaging than the Woods’ arrest is the skyrocketing cost of related infrastructure projects.

Margaret Schmid, co-coordinator of Jackson Park Watch, said it’s her understanding that the cost of shoreline improvements and two new underpasses — at 67th Street and South Shore Drive and at Jeffery Boulevard and 66th Street — will match the $30 million overall cost just for the golf course merger.

“That water table is very high. It’s practically in the lake,” Schmid said of the 67th Street underpass.

Schmid urged the Chicago Park District to “come clean” about the costs Chicago taxpayers will be asked to cover at a time when there are higher priorities for a shrinking pot of tax dollars.

“Just look at the trouble the city is having [in] keeping the schools open until the end of the school year,” Schmid said.

ANALYSIS

“It would be great for there to be a nicer golf course, [provided] local people can afford to play on it. [But] the public needs to know what is actually being proposed and exactly what piece of the price tag would the public be asked to pick up by way of infrastructure improvements, underpasses and so on. None of this is known. That’s a really big problem,” Schmid said.

Louis McCurry, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council, portrayed the golf course merger as a vehicle to accomplish shoreline improvements and underpasses desperately needed, whether or not the century-old courses are merged.

“It’s all things that make the parks safer, [repair] the erosion of the shoreline, which is gradually destroying all the beachfronts and make it possible for people to be able to cross back and forth to the parks safely,” McCurry said.

“If we had the kinds of millionaires on the South Side that they have on the North Side, we could do amazing things. But we don’t have it. So, when somebody’s willing to give money to fix problems that are serious problems, that’s a wonderful thing.”

McCurry said she has no idea where the money for the infrastructure projects will come from. But, like the 606 Trail project, she has confidence Mayor Rahm Emanuel will find it.

“Children and mothers and dads are trying to cross the streets and get to the parks that are disappearing because of lakefront erosion,” McCurry said.

“If you’re a kid trying to make it to a park on 67th Street, there’s no way you can go without taking your life into your hands.”

Hogan added: “We look at a lot of these as necessary repairs and improvements related to much more than just the golf course.”

Woods’ partner on the Chicago golf merger is Mark Rolfing, an analyst for NBC Golf Channel and an award-winning golf course designer himself.

In an interview on the Golf Channel, Rolfing called the DUI arrest a “wake-up call” that could prompt Woods to dedicate himself even more to a golf course project that could become part of his legacy because of the benefits it provides to inner-city kids.

“When something like this occurs, it’s really important for a person to look in the mirror and just say, `There’s a couple of things going forward that are gonna be really important in my life,’ “ Rolfing said.

“The first is, what is gonna make me happy? And the second is, what is going to fulfill me? Tiger should take advantage of this situation now and really try and address those two issues….If it’s trophies for fulfillment, maybe that’s part of the plan and you work really hard to be fulfilled that way. But with a wake-up call like this, he will look at both of those situations a little differently than he would have yesterday.”

Previously from Chicago