Guest Essay: Mark Rolfing

This essay originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Chicago District Golfer

A SHORE THING

Chicago has a grand vision that will enhance its well-deserved reputation as America's greatest golf city

My broadcasting career has provided the good fortune of traveling to golf's grandest destinations over the past 30 years. Now, more than ever, I am thankful for the opportunity to return to the hometown roots of what I consider the greatest golf town in America.

One can debate the criteria for a great golf town.

The courses? The Chicago area has hosted 13 U.S. Opens on eight courses. Proud members of CDGA clubs and courses could endlessly advocate why theirs is best among, or in addition to, those venues.

Memorable moments? Seven of Tiger Woods' professional wins, including two majors. A win for the U.S. team in the 2009 Solheim Cup. The agony and ecstasy of the 2012 Ryder Cup. Earlier Western Opens won by Palmer, Nicklaus, Watson and Crenshaw.

Standout players? Chick Evans, Horton Smith, C.B. Macdonald, Willie Anderson, Jeff Sluman, Gary Hallberg, Luke Donald, Kevin Streelman.

To me, the answer is simple: Golfers are the foundation for a great golf town. Through my involvement with the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance and our philanthropic effort to restore the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses, I have met many avid golfers on the South Side.

The level of pride in their home courses is eclipsed only by their hope for what the courses could become.

Jackson Park Golf Course opened in 1899 as the first public course west of the Alleghenies, and by the 1920s it became home to pioneering players among the first ever African-American golf leagues. Today, these golfers' stories spur the motivation to create a world-class public facility within Chicago's city limits:

  • Tracy Raoul, whose sons, Abdel and Ahmad, won three Chicago Park District Junior Championships beginning in 2015, dreams they could effectively hone their games closer to home rather than driving to the suburbs for high school matches and daily practice.
  • Ron Norris and Harry Gilliam of the Jackson Park Golf Association ponder, “With such a perfect location and historic legacy, there is so much potential that has been unrealized.”
  • Ciji Henderson, president of the Chicago Women's Golf Club, says, “The restoration will beautify the courses and create growth for the Woodlawn and South Shore communities.”

Lastly, while I have seen Tiger Woods smile while hoisting numerous trophies, my most memorable smile will be when he gazed upon Lake Michigan from South Shore's current seventh hole in August 2016. His smile faded to a bewildered stare, however, as he repeatedly asked, “Where are all the kids?”

The conceptual plans introduced by Woods' TGR Design team in June embody these transformational possibilities. The aim is to create a more enjoyable day-to-day experience where recreational golfers will benefit from wider fairways and broader targets around the greens. Yet they judiciously balance the capability to challenge the world's best players through length, strategic angles that will demand shot-making to score low, and firm, fast conditions during a tournament. The course's character will blend parkland aesthetic with stunning lakefront and skyline views.

Pre-construction results from this summer bolster our confidence. The First Tee of Greater Chicago increased participation by more than 10 percent citywide. The Western Golf Association subsidized a new caddie program for 8th-10th graders from neighborhoods surrounding the courses with the goal of creating a new pipeline for their prestigious Evans Scholarship program. Meanwhile, both golfers and non-golfing neighbors have complimented the Park District for improved conditions and increased activity among all age groups on the golf courses.

I hope golfers in the Chicago area will take the time to learn more about the project being considered. To do so, please visit www.chicagoparksgolfalliance.org.

Comments are solely the opinion of the author and not necessarily those of the CDGA. Letters and opinions are welcome at info@cdga.org.

Michael Kelly, General Superintendent and CEO of the Chicago Park District, and Rodney Goldstein, a Founding Contributor to the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, joined some of Chicago's newest caddies at Jackson Park Golf Course.