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Year after unveiling, what's latest on Tiger Woods' Chicago golf project?

Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Golf

On a cold Thursday in December, Mike Keiser took a 240-mile trip from Chicago to central Wisconsin in search of the next great routing at his Sand Valley Golf Resort.

This commitment helps explain why the Lincoln Park resident is golf's premier modern builder -- and on the leaderboard among the game's all-time visionaries.

Here's the thing, though: The trip to Jackson Park is a lot shorter -- 12 miles.

Keiser is ready to lend his wisdom and donate his money for a project that would create a PGA Tour-worthy course locals and well-heeled tourists could enjoy with a caddie program that could provide summer jobs, mentorship and access to college scholarships.

One year ago Saturday, the Tribune broke the news that Tiger Woods, at the request of former President Barack Obama, would be the lead designer of a South Side project that has the blessing of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Woods. Obama. Emanuel. A pretty impressive triumvirate culled by Mark Rolfing, the NBC/Golf Channel analyst and DeKalb native who is spearheading the plan via his group, the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance.

But one year later, there has been little tangible progress.

"We're all sort of on hold, waiting for some electricity," Keiser told the Tribune. "It's in bureaucrat land or politician land. ... Bureaucracy and red tape in Wisconsin is nonexistent. They say: Build all the golf you want; it's great for tourism."

The point is dead on, like a 9-iron approach that spins back to a foot.

But as Keiser knows, building a golf course on the South Side is way more complicated than doing it in rural Wisconsin. Here's why:

-- This isn't merely adding a course. Golfers loyal to the Jackson Park and South Shore courses fear something will be taken from them. Or made more expensive.

-- The construction of an underpass at 67th Street to link the properties could cost around $25 million. Other expensive roadwork needs to be done so golfers no longer have to dodge cars between holes. And the shoreline might have to be fortified.

-- Some residents are wary of traffic issues during construction and the relocation of a nature sanctuary.

-- The biggest reason? Those in the know say the priority for the Mayor's Office is the Obama Presidential Center, being constructed potentially within steps of the first tee at the yet-to-be-named golf course.

The proposal for the Obama center's 20-acre campus is under federal review because Jackson Park is on the National Register of Historic Places. While the Mayor's Office views the review as standard procedure, others wonder if authorities will deem that elements are incompatible with the park.

Officials from the Chicago Park District, which would own and operate the golf course, paint a different picture, saying the $30 million project is not on the same timeline as the Obama center, which has a completion goal of 2021.

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They continue to seek community input on "potential course routing, programming and infrastructure options," according to a statement released Friday, adding: "It is premature to present a project timeline or cost estimates."

Friends of Obama's say the former president has tremendous enthusiasm for the golf project, peppering associates with questions about the course design. Woods' TGR Design team envisions a 7,354-yard, par-70 course that has views of the Chicago skyline and will be playable for both major champions and major hacks.

"This is a very special project that can have many positive results beyond the game," Woods said in a statement provided to the Tribune. "I am honored to be a part of this initiative. My TGR Design team continues working with the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance to gather feedback from local golfers and other residents who enjoy these parks."

Some community residents believe their concerns are being heard.

"It's an open discussion process, and they are listening to everything we say," said Louise McCurry of the Jackson Park Advisory Council. "The golf restoration project will be wonderful for our kids on the South Side. Golf is a sports lifeline for community boys and girls who are not interested or built for football or basketball. And caddying is a way for kids to be mentored by role models who can help get them into college."

Brenda Nelms of Jackson Park Watch remains skeptical, saying project organizers have offered scant details on construction costs, economic impact, relocation of the nature sanctuary and green fees.

Plan advocates envision a three-pronged green-fee structure of hyperlocals (perhaps grandfathered in at Jackson Park's current 18-hole walking rate of $20-$33), Chicago residents and non-residents, who likely would pay in the $300 range.

But until the park district hires a company such as KemperSports or Troon Golf Management to run the course, organizers are reluctant to commit to prices.

"For us it's been a year of waiting," Nelms said. "We're still waiting."

Look at it this way: The Ricketts family purchased the Cubs in 2009 and immediately spoke of renovating Wrigley Field and its surroundings. The four-phase project will not be completed until 2019.

In 2011, Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald began speaking publicly about building a multipurpose lakefront facility on campus. The $270 million building will open in the spring of 2018.

These things take time.

(c)2017 Chicago Tribune

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