Tiger Woods golf course renovation plan adds to controversy on Obama Presidential Center

By DeForest Mapp
Medill Reports

A tall black wire-mesh fence on 67th street provides the boundary for the golf course on the south side of Jackson Park. TGR Design is looking for a way to connect this course to the South Shore Golf Course as part of the Obama Presidential Center proposed for Jackson Park.

TGR design, based in Jupiter, Florida, is led by Tiger Woods, who offered the design work to former President Barack Obama.

On either side of the fence, the cold wind off Lake Michigan has scant respect for golfers.  On Sunday, Chicago architect Jacob Gay and North Shore medical assistant Steve Pettis offered thoughts on the $30 million renovation to the South Side golf courses as they played their separate games.

Plans for the renovation were presented earlier this winter by Beau Welling, senior design consultant for Woods’ design group.

“Let’s pass the budget so we can get [the construction of the new golf course] going,” said Pettis.

Chicago Park District Superintendent Michael P. Kelly has said  publically, however, that the golf course renovation will be privately funded.

“I need community’s support. Likewise, I need donor support. It is our intention that this will be a privately fundraised golf course and that it will be something that will be supported by the community.”

But the lack of connectivity between the two courses left both golfers wondering how it will all work. And community support is divided.

Existing Jackson Park and South Shore Cultural Center Golf Courses

Gay likes the idea of playing a major professional golf course – both the Jackson Park and South Shore fall into the PGA category but have  problems such as drainage . “Something close by would be nice,” he said of the new challenges an improved course could offer players.  Yet he wondered if an enhanced PGA golf course might be too difficult for amateur players.

The PGA, costs of construction, the future price of admission, drainage and traffic were all topics that came to mind as each meandered through their 18 holes.

“Now is the time to modernize the courses and revitalize our community aesthetically and economically,” stated the Jackson Park Golf Association board in a press release.

The February association board meeting gave the latest opportunity for the coalition of more than 500 South Shore and Jackson Park golfers to review current design plans for the golf courses and the presidential center.

Support and opposition both for the Obama Presidential Center can be found at the University of Chicago and in the community.  English and Art History Professor W.J.T. Mitchell initiated a letter  on campus opposing the OPC Jackson Park site and it has garnered approximately 200 signatures. The Obama Foundation was doing “the right thing [until] they started to roll out the actual plans” for his presidential center, said Mitchell. “They piggybacked a major golf course scheme on top of that.”

But a letter supporting the Obama Presidential Center has more than 300 signatures from across the university and approximately 100 more from community supporters.

Community activists opposed to current plans for the center held a symposium Wednesday at the university.

The community group Jackson Park Watch is calling for a number of modifications to the center in terms of harmonizing construction with historic Jackson Park and the group expresses concern on  the Watch website about how many trees and natural areas would be lost with the expanded golf course

Welling said that while the Obama Presidential Center and the golf course renovations were connected,  “Our planning process is our own.”

According to PGA.com, Chicago is home to 14 PGA golf courses including Jackson Park and at the South Shore Cultural Center.

Visit the Jackson Park Advisory Council website for updates on the direction of the golf course project.

Photo at top: The  South Shore Cultural Center Golf Course would be combined with the Jackson Park Golf Course as part of overall plans for the Obama Presidential Center. (Chicago Park Golf Alliance.)