The future of Jackson Park: Tiger Woods ready to revitalize golf in south Chicago

The Obama Presidential Center. A Tiger Woods golf course. Major road reconstruction. New walking paths and natural areas.

Yes, the plans to revitalize Jackson Park along Lake Michigan on Chicago's South Side are grandiose. And, in legalese, that means years, not months, of discussion, planning and construction.

Jackson Park's future plans as of March 23


In that vein, this link will be live throughout the entire process. Keep it bookmarked, and as news breaks, check back regularly for updated information.

Jackson Park's future has been, for the most part, on hold since this article was published in 2018. The consensus is the project can't move forward until the Obama Presidential Center does. The center has been involved in a legal tussle, according to the Chicago Tribune, against critics who don't want to see the historic park altered. Just last week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the lawsuit seeking to block construction lost its appeal in Federal Court. The latest article from the Sun-Times in August 2021 notes that the course is still "stuck in the rough".

Woods talked about the state of the project after his four rounds at the 2020 BMW Championship.

"Well, there's a lot of moving parts, and we're trying to make it all happen," he said. "Certainly there's a lot of positives to the plan, and they're still trying to figure out the politics moving forward. Yeah, there's a lot of people who are involved and want to make it happen, but it's still a difficult time."

When asked about the potential impact on minorities, summer jobs and caddying, he added: "The whole idea was to bring the community together and have something that the community would be very proud of. Obviously we're trying to make that happen as fast as we can."

In this past interview, Woods spoke about the project during The Masters in April 2018.

To outsiders, the plans for Woods to transform the Jackson Park Golf Club and nearby nine-hole South Shore Golf Course into an 18-hole championship course worthy of major events seem to be mired in political bureaucracy. To insiders like Brian Hogan - a local attorney who co-founded the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance with NBC Sports announcer Mark Rolfing to raise funds for the project - momentum is moving in the right direction. Rolfing spoke with Woods about the project in May 2018 after seeing him at the Tiger Jam in Las Vegas.

"We believe this is the right thing to do, in terms of recreation, aesthetics and economics, so let's take our time and make sure we do it right," Hogan said. "Combined with the Obama Presidential Center, this is a monumental opportunity."

Proposed Tiger Woods routing at Jackson Park


A major obstacle was hurdled in February 2018 when Beau Welling, Woods' chief designer, presented a revised routing that addressed several key community concerns:

  1. The clubhouse was moved, allowing golfers to return after nine and 18 holes, a necessity for golfers who only want to play nine holes.
  1. More natural areas - from 5 1/2 acres to 11 1/2 acres - will be created to appease environmentalists.
  1. New footpaths and trails will lead to greater access for the local community. Developers hope the clubhouse becomes an important part of the neighborhood.
  1. It was reiterated that green fees for children ages 17 and younger would be free and locals would pay less than $50 to play 18 holes.

"I've never seen him more excited for a golf course," Welling said. "I think Tiger set out (in design) to be involved in meaningful golf projects. I can't remember a project, or know one, that has as much potential as this one does."

On April 11, 2018, the Chicago Park District’s Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the full South Lakefront Framework Plan - launched in June 2016 to comprehensively review proposals for the Obama Presidential Center, golf course and all surrounding park features. Although it passed as expected, there's still much work to be done behind the scenes before any shovels hit the ground.

Local golfers have been playing through without interference, while more meetings unfold. Jackson Park, a par 70 of 5,444 yards, dates to 1899. South Shore, a par 33 of 2,733 yards, dates to 1906. Both have ties to Tom Bendelow and solid reviews on Golf Advisor.

A 2016 review by user 'msronce in 2016 summed up the Jackson Park experience perfectly, writing: "It's the only 18-hole course in the city. Staff is friendly. There was no cart attendant on Sunday and without a turn near the club house you can get hungry/thirsty. It's average at best but allows you to get a round in without traveling to the burbs. I would recommend to a friend with the above qualifications."

User dannyhs called South Shore the "Wrigley Field of golf in Chicago", writing in his 2016 review: "What a great fun little course. Priced right too! There's really nothing to complain about here. What negatives there are, the atmosphere and convenience make up for it. Parking lot, cashier, 1st and 9th (holes) all located together. Good practice area near the shore with bunkers, and greens to warm up or practice. Lots of views of Lake Michigan, Chicago and Indiana. Lots of history in this place, architecture and course have a lot fun facts hidden in them."

Jackson Park has expanded its youth caddie program that launched in 2017. The $40 caddie fees are subsidized by the Western Golf Association, Hogan said, meaning golfers who request a caddie only pay the tip.

How soon construction moves forward depends on a number of factors, notably the approvals and funding for the Obama Presidential Center and the construction of a $25-million underpass to fix traffic safety issues leading to Jackson Park. The projects by Woods and Obama are intertwined in many ways.

"President Obama and Mrs. Obama don't just want to build a building," Hogan said. "They want a vibrant space for career development and cultural entertainment. We think about the course the same way. That's why the WGA is involved with the caddie program. There are many themes that line up. There won't be any less permitting (for the course) with or without the Obama Foundation (and Presidential Center). Has it drawn more attention to the project? Yes, in a good way. You have the star power of President Obama and Tiger Woods, but this has always been a grassroots and community project."

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
5 Comments
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Commented on

This is a two year old article, what is the current status?

Staff
Commented on

The top graphs of the article were updated leading up to and during the 2020 BMW Championship. Legal issues with the Obama Center have been at least one of the reasons that progress has stalled. New quotes from Woods on its future don't shed any light on a timeline but prove he's still dedicated to the project.

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Commented on

Intertwined in many ways? Goodness, Jason, Obama and Woods are personally and individually about as from being intertwined as it gets.
Sans the Obama ego-project hijacking of Tigers re-do this would be a nearly if not completely finished project for all golfers to enjoy. Keep politics out of sports.....and out of sports journalism.

BA
Miami

Staff
Commented on

Nowhere in the articles does it say that Woods and Obama are intertwined personally or politically. The projects, however, are very much linked. Both require major local roadwork before they can move forward and become viable.

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Commented on

With his comeback, Tiger Wood's cachet is on the rise. The park district would be crazy not to go forward with this project.

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The future of Jackson Park: Tiger Woods ready to revitalize golf in south Chicago