Birdies & Bird Watchers: The Dispute Over Jackson Park’s Golf Course

Western Golf Association caddies look on as Jackson Park locals tee off.

By Casey Bannon
Medill Reports

In 1899, Jackson Park became the first golf course built west of the Allegheny Mountains. Two decades later, some of the first black men’s golf leagues were formed on the property. Now, over a century after the first golf shots were struck on Jackson Park’s fairways, its golf course is the center of South Shore’s attention once again.

In partnership with Golf Channel and NBC’s Mark Rolfing, Tiger Woods’ proposed design to combine Jackson Park and South Shore’s 27 holes into one destination, championship style track seems close to fruition. The Chicago Parks Golf Alliance has stated that the project will be 100 percent privately funded, will create new sources of revenue for the South Side community, possibly host a professional tournament and will help expose local youth to life’s beautiful game. However, nothing gets built on this historic ground without some noise.

The renovation’s detractors have claimed that the potential $60 million project is a deal done behind closed Chicago doors. That there isn’t enough data to support the course being an economic engine. That the logistics of such a complicated re-design are far away from a Spring 2019 groundbreaking. That the loss of conservation areas and recreation facilities are too steep of a price to pay for hopes of hosting a PGA Tour event. And that 18 high-end holes might actually be less inclusive than 27 cheap ones.

In a battle over what’s best for their beloved community, the two sides have similar motives– but very different ideas on going about revitalizing Jackson Park.

Photo at top: Youth caddies look on as South Shore locals tee off at Jackson Park. (Chicago Parks Golf Alliance)