Championship Dreams: Chicago makes it move

In September, rumors swirled that Tiger Woods, Mike Keiser and the city of Chicago would be teaming up to bring championship golf to Chicago. Today, it looks as though the project is very close to coming to fruition. Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune broke the story this morning regarding the major players and the city’s involvement, and I’ve been working with some of the inside sources to bring you an even closer look at the project.

The quick rundown is: Tiger is in and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is in, but there is still work to be done with the city, including funding and a commitment from the neighborhood. Once those boxes are checked, Chicago’s championship golf goals could become a reality. The proposed project would cost approximately $30 million and aims to start in the spring of 2017 with completion in 2020. 

Last Friday, I took a trip just about 50 blocks south of my apartment to check out the proposed site and snap some pictures to get a sense of the site’s potential. Despite the 20 degree weather, brown conditions and brisk wind, I walked away very impressed and optimistic for a unique urban golf experience that few cities can match.

The old entrance to South Shore C.C.

The proposed development will combine two old park district courses, the 9-hole South Shore Golf Course and the 18-hole Jackson Park Golf Course. The two courses will yield enough land for a 7,000+ yard championship golf facility and a short course. The ultimate goal of the project is to bring a PGA Tour event and/or major championship to the city of Chicago and the shores of Lake Michigan. The property has been walked by some of architecture’s greatest minds, like Ben Crenshaw, and Tom Doak did a routing years ago, but it’s uncertain whether he ever visited in person. In the end, Tiger was the man that Chicago and the powers that be wanted for the job. 

The proposed project and golf course have incredible upside with the lakefront property, skyline views and potential economic benefits but there are also a few challenges including logistics and winning over the community. Let's take a deeper look at each, starting with the challenges.

Routing

The biggest architectural challenge for Tiger and his crew will be routing the golf course. With only one small point to connect the properties, some tough decisions are going to have to be made regarding where the 1st and 18th will be played.

(Click to enlarge photos)

The more appealing close to the round would be on the South Shore property, which possesses a grand old clubhouse, beautiful skyline and lakefront vistas. The big issue is that the range is located at the Jackson Park facility, making that a more likely location. 

If I was designing the course, I would create championship routing that allowed for major events to close out rounds on the dramatic lakefront setting.

Selling the community

One of the biggest hurdles remaining is selling the community on the project. Located in the economically depressed south side of Chicago, the idea of losing two low-cost public facilities to one higher cost facility is going to be a tough sell. Also, both courses are going to have to undergo hefty tree removal in order to create modern length holes and wide playing corridors. When construction starts, the community will surely only see tree cutting and major change in a long-time green space, but change that would offer more views of the lake, downtown, and the yet to be built Obama Library.

  • In order to sell the community, the project team is going to have to focus on a few core aspects and the course’s long-term benefits: 
  • Keeping rates affordable for city residents, particularly those who have called these courses home for years
  • A fantastic low-cost short course and the potential for a strong First Tee presence to help the neighborhood youth
  • Potential jobs that will come from the course and caddie program for the area youth 
  • A crowded golf course could stimulate the economy in the area and create new business opportunities

While the routing and community are large obstacles, the potential for the economy and a brilliant golf course is immense.

Facilities

South Shore - In the early 1900’s, South Shore was a lavish country club before it fell on hard times. The former clubhouse currently serves as the South Shore Cultural Center, a grand old clubhouse with beautiful views of the golf course, Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline. 

True Urban Golf - In today’s day and age, it’s rare for any city to have a world-class golf course, let alone build one within its boundaries. With South Shore and Jackson Park, Chicago has been handed a golden opportunity. A golf course with spectacular city views and Tiger Woods as the lead designer, which will have golfers from all over world flocking to Chicago to play the golf course.

Excess Land - By turning 27 holes into 18, the project should allow for a short course, which could be a major benefit to the local community. The First Tee will likely be heavily involved and could provide a refuge for the local youth.

Let’s take a look at some potential holes...

Walking the grounds, it’s easy to see the potential for a unique golf course with a majestic backdrop. While the majority of the property (Jackson Park) is a bit inland from the lake, the existing South Shore property is right on the shores. South Shore’s original Tom Bendelow design only has a few shots that border the lakefront, but there is potential for many more. 

Playing the popular game “holes that could be holes”, I walked the lakefront property and found a few potential epic golf holes that would feature Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline as a backdrop. 

The lakefront run could start with a long par 4 around 500 yards that would run along the south border of the South Shore property. The hole could have a dramatic approach to a green that would border the lake. I would love to see an infinity green complex here that would give the feel of the green floating over Lake Michigan. 

What the approach to the start of the lakeside holes would look like.

The approach to the beautiful backdrop.

The current green site

With a significant clearout of trees and brush, play could then move on to a beautiful par 3 that borders Lake Michigan and offers a spectacular view of the Chicago skyline.

 

With a tree clearout a lakeside par 3 would be here.

The vista for the par 3 after the tree clearout would be the Chicago Skyline.

A zoomed look at the potential green site's view

The thrills of the lakefront holes could culminate with a potential cape hole, where Woods could test a player’s appetite for risk with an epic tee shot over the shores of Lake Michigan. This hole possesses a world of potential, and the land allows it to be anything from a short par 4 to a long par 5 along the lake. Personally, I would love for the team to figure out a way to make this hole the 18th. A fitting end to Chicago’s championship golf course.

The potentially dramatic Cape tee shot a 260 yard carry with the Skyline in the distance.

Another angle of the hole.

Looking back at the tee.

This hole would run alongside the historic South Shore Clubhouse

While a Tiger Woods-designed golf course isn’t a slam dunk yet, it’s beginning to take its form. The dream alone is giving this Chicago golfer an early Christmas present. 

 

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