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June 2019

Tiger Woods Design Project

By Steve Eubanks

It’s a debate as old as sports itself. Does a new facility (or the expensive renovation of an existing one) really spark the economic revitalization promised by those who profit from the project? 

In recent years, the answer is most often: No. From new, domed stadiums that displace dozens if not hundreds of urban residents, to Olympic complexes that look like props from The Walking Dead within a few short years, urban landscapes are replete with billion-dollar monuments to broken promises. Sochi’s Olympic Village is a ghost town and the Rio facilities from the 2016 Games lay in crumbling ruins.
 
The most recent example is the America’s Cup on the island of Bermuda. Brought to the island nation with great fanfare and the promise of renewed tourism, the yacht race underwhelmed in every respect, from room occupancy to projected rounds of golf. Two years later, Bermuda is still reeling from the costs of hosting a party for the richest yachtsmen in the world. 

With that history, it’s no wonder that Chicago residents are taking a close look at the new championship golf course proposed for Jackson Park and South Shore on the edge of Lake Michigan in some of Chicago’s more economically desperate neighborhoods.

The plan, which was originally pulled together by Chicago native and NBC golf analyst Mark Rolfing, was to take the 100-year-old Jackson Park municipal course and the nine-hole South Shore course and merge them into one dynamic 18-hole facility designed by Tiger Woods and Gil Hanse.

“I hope this course will be more than just golf and also make a positive impact in the community,” Woods said at the time the project was announced.

But at a community meeting between the Chicago Park District supervisors and local residents in late April, the rhetoric became more heated than anyone could have imagined.

Loud, angry neighbors, many of whom worry about the economics of a high-end public golf course in the area, demanded the involvement of newly elected mayor Lori Lightfoot. According to one activist, Lightfoot had voiced reservations about the Tiger Woods project. 

“Golf courses are monocultures, very cultivated areas,” said Anne Holcomb, an environmental activist and resident in the area. “They look green but they aren’t green.”

Holcomb went on to argue that, “The cost of using the course will rise significantly for the public if the course is made over. We need to build up our business corridors. And the Tiger Woods course won’t bring in more investment.”
 
Adding to the complexity, the Obama Presidential Library will also be a part of the new Jackson Park project. How this course – the first built in the Chicago area in the new millennia – shapes up will say a lot about the future of golf in all urban areas. And it will say a lot about whether residents have had enough of the “trust us, it’ll be great,” promises from political leaders when it comes to sports-related capital projects. 

Steve Eubanks is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and New York Times bestselling author.

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