Take the Tiger Woods South Side golf course off the table

It’s time to give up on the moribund plan for a professional-caliber South Side golf course, stuff it into the golf bag along with the broken tees and go home.

Instead of keeping the plan alive, the Chicago Park District should bring the nine-hole South Shore and 18-hole Jackson Park golf courses up to par by fixing drainage and other issues. That would cost much less and make more golfers happy.

Proponents of the new course, which would be near the Obama Presidential Center, want to replace those two courses with a single top-quality 18-hole course. They envision the course, designed by Tiger Woods, attracting high-quality players from all over and hosting tournaments.

But there are just too many reasons not to do it.

  • After five years of fundraising, there is a mere pittance in the piggy bank for the project, whose estimated cost is said to have risen from $30 million to $70 million to $80 million. Maybe more money will come in after donors finish chipping in for the presidential center, but that could be years away. The presidential center itself is behind on its fund-raising goals. Meanwhile, as golfers wait, the Jackson Park and South Shore courses need more investment. And taxpayers would have to have every reason to worry that if fundraising falls short, they will wind up paying for much of the Tiger Woods course.
  • Opponents of the new course say building it would require chopping down hundreds of trees, at a time when the city is struggling to rebuild its urban canopy. Not all of the trees that would come down are high-quality, but many are. Some 800 trees have already been removed to make space for the presidential center. Chicago has promised to plant new replacement trees, but the city has a bad habit of chopping down more trees than it plants. It’s time to stop.
  • Parts of South Cornell Drive and East Marquette Drive would have to be closed permanently, in addition to the roadway already being erased from the map to make room for the presidential center. Some community residents worry that it will lead to traffic headaches.
  • The new golf course layout would decimate the invaluable South Shore Nature Sanctuary, which just celebrated its 20thth birthday. The sanctuary’s more than six acres of dune, beach, wetland, pond, woodland, prairie, savanna and shrub land are a much-needed habitat for wildlife, including butterflies and migratory birds. The golf course planners say they’ll replace the lost wildlife acreage, but so far, they appear to be counting spaces between fairways, for example, as part of the replacement greenery. Other unsuitable pockets of natural areas have been vaguely discussed as well. Small areas of greenery would do little to benefit wildlife, which would have to put up with people rooting around for lost golf balls. And they would do nothing for people who like to wander along the sanctuary’s looped trail system for a little quiet and peace in an urban setting.
  • The original Jackson Park course, designed in 1899 by the Olmsted Brothers firm, was the first public course to be built west of the Allegheny mountains. Losing that course would be losing a piece of city history.
  • The new golf course’s larger footprint, longer distance between holes and longer fairways would likely require many people to rent a golf cart, which drives up the cost. For some, that would mean playing less often, or not at all. Some golfers worry they will end up being priced out just by higher greens fees.
  • Other cities have rejuvenated worn-out municipal courses, turning them into popular success stories. Charleston, South Carolina, for example, put $3.5 million of public and private money into a public course, fixing flooding, unmanaged tree growth and other problems. That attracted many more golfers, who can walk the course for $20.

Changes in the Tiger Woods plan have been rumored, but they have not been made public. Yet it’s unlikely any changes would sufficiently mitigate these concerns.

People have rediscovered golf during the pandemic as a way to enjoy themselves outside, and the surge in interest has continued. But golfers need a place to play.

Even with Jackson Park’s sand bunkers sometimes filled with mud, and other problems at both courses, golfers still come to play. With some upgrades, the courses could be affordable jewels.

But it’s unlikely any investment will go into those courses while there’s a possibility they will be ripped up to build a replacement. It’s time to scratch the Tiger Woods course from the scorecard.

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