Jackson Park Golf Course sees optimism, doubt and a big price tag

If you build it, will they come?


The Jackson Park Golf Course renovation is expected to cost over $60 million. (Andrew Hattersley | The DePaulia)

After over 100 years along the South Shore, plans are progressing for Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses to get a $60 million facelift in the form of a PGA-caliber golf course designed by Tiger Woods.

The plan recently received support from the South Shore Chamber of Commerce who announced their support in a letter to the editor published in the Hyde Park Herald.

The plan calls for combining the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses with a focus on improving youth golf on the South Side. Brian Hogan, Director of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, said allowing kids who are aged 17 and under to play for free was a key point in the project.

“That was a big parameter that the golf alliance was very excited in,” Hogan said. “Before we raise private money we want to make sure the Park District is going to keep up their commitment, and you could see that as resounding in the remarks from (Park District Superintendent) Michael Kelly.”

This youth aspect, and the opportunities available to kids and local players, has been a key point of excitement for Cassandra Curry, a player with the Ebony Ladies Golf League and a longtime player at Jackson Park.

“It’s going to benefit our young people (…) this is for our future, this is for the grandkids, the children and grandkids going forward.”

Hogan also credited Beau Welling, a senior design consultant for TGR Design, for creating a course that would be playable for the average golfer, while also hopefully attracting PGA tournaments.

“We commend the Tiger Woods team for really looking at,how do you create something that is more fun and playable for the everyday golfer?” Hogan said. “But you also create this capability of hosting the best in the world in marquee events and being able to challenge them through some extra length and angles and firm conditions, to kind of demand shotmaking come tournament time. That’s a big piece of it.”

The renovated course, according to Hogan, would also provide a boost to the Evans Scholarship program, an initiative run by the Western Golf Association that says it provides four-year scholarships to over 960 kids per year.

“They were very excited about ways to grow their caddy programs on the South Side,” Hogan said. “There is certainly a need for summer jobs and a whole wealth of potential candidates based on the qualities listed.”

DePaul men’s golf head coach Marty Schiene, who has spoken to Hogan, said caddying was how he first got into the game of golf, and it could be a good starting point to grow the game.

“A lot of kids get into the game caddying like I did,” Schiene said. “I started caddying first before I started playing and it kind of gives you the bug and stuff, so I think it could be a good segue way into developing some golfers down there.”

Schiene added that once the course is built in a couple of years, he would certainly be happy to use it as another location to work with his players.

“We would definitely like to,” he said. “We do have a five-year contract here at Ruffled (Feathers Golf Club in Lemont, Illinois), but that course is not going to be built for another couple of years … we’re hoping to develop a relationship and get some access to that course without a doubt.”

Former DePaul men’s coach Betty Kaufmann is also on the board for the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance and has been involved in this project as well.

While the project has certainly attracted a lot of excitement, there have nonetheless been concerns and questions raised along the way, with many of them coming from Jackson Park Watch, a neighborhood watchdog group that has serious concerns regarding the course’s expansion into the nearby nature Sanctuary

“They maintained that they were not destroying the nature sanctuary; they were only reducing its size,” said Brenda Nelms, Co-President of Jackson Park Watch. “They never really engaged fully, and they chose to interpret the concerns about the nature sanctuary as, would the birds come, where would the chipmunks hide (…) while that is something that is important, but what is really important about the nature sanctuary is it’s for people.”

Nelms added she used the sanctuary on her morning bike rides and finds the area a tranquil place to enjoy. Among the group’s other concerns is the lack of information put forth about various plans, as well as the infrastructure changes that would also have to take place in order to connect the two golf courses.

Hogan said the feedback they have received on the plan has been welcomed at the public forums, and they plan to do more of the same moving forward.

“There’s been lots of constructive criticism and feedback and ongoing dialogue through over a dozen large scale public forums that the park district convened, and meeting with individuals and block clubs,” Hogan said. We’re going to continue doing as such.”

Another question that has been raised is how prepared the South Shore would be to host a tournament. Hogan said that while they are certainly in the very preliminary stages from a logistics standpoint, he believes Chicago can learn from events at Medinah and Conway Farms about how to put on the event.

“The city has a great record for big events, and when you compare it to other tournaments at private clubs in suburban locations, I think there’s actually more opportunity to put this on,” Hogan said. “There are certainly unique arts to it, but the opportunities are tremendous from the cityscape and the history that’s there, and the way community members are embracing (it). This is golfers and non-golfers.”

Hogan pointed to Soldier Field, public transportation and nearby private locations as a couple ways to deal with parking and traffic concerns.

In addition to the youth, the course has also been touted as a big financial opportunity for the South Side. Hogan said that although the rates would be no more than $50 for residents and free for those 17 and under, the course would be profitable in a similar way as the Torrey Pines golf course in San Diego, which is similarly owned by the Park District.

“ You have non-resident rates that are upwards of $150 to $200 depending on the time of day and week, and there’s systems where residents are able to make tee times 7-10 days in advance,” Hogan said. “Tourists have a more limited window, so you’re giving both preferential access and pricing to the residents, but this course is going to be of quality that it is going to attract significant (amounts of) tourists and higher rates that will also be a part of the economic model.”

As of right now the plans are continuing to move through various reviews, but the hope is still to have the course up and running within the next couple of years.