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It’d be a shame if a reconstruction project intended to mark the 100th anniversary of a beloved community space turns out to be, instead, the beginning of its demise.
But that could be the fate of the Evanston-Wilmette Community Golf Course, where a new board of directors plans an elaborate $6 million make-over that eliminates its historic 18-holes in favor of a hybrid layout with four separate activity zones.
The plan’s grandiosity bewilders longtime “Canal Shores” duffers, such as myself, because EWCGC only recently paid off a six-figure arrearage on water bills owed to both Evanston and Wilmette. Led now by a faction of Wilmette homeowners who live near the course’s north end, the all-volunteer board deserves credit for doing that … and for holding fundraisers that have stood the quirky little course back on its fiscal feet.
Trouble is, they are now in the process of embracing an elaborate master plan that would partition its 40 linear acres along the North Shore Sanitary Channel into four zones: a much fancier 12-hole course north of Central Street at the Wilmette end; a family-oriented golf training center between Central and Lincoln Streets near the pro shop/American Legion Hall; a giant, 18-cup, kid-friendly putting green just south of Lincoln and west of Leahy Park; and a “multi-directional play and practice” area between Lincoln Street and the Metra rail embankment.
My first reaction was “Who plays just 12 holes?” Not the guys in my Sunday foursome, who liken it to bowling seven frames and threaten a shift to Chick Evans. (One beauty of Canal Shores is that you can tell co-workers on Monday you shot a 78 … without mentioning par is 60.)
And there are other questions. Like who’s going to come up with the $6 million? Corporate and family foundations are being approached. But even if, say, the Cubs-owning Ricketts family comes through – Todd Ricketts is on the Canal Shores board and siblings Tom and Laura are each building Wilmette mansions nearby – how will the course fund upkeep of fairways and greens designed to replicate the great challenges of the golfing world? Higher greens fees? According to the plan, all 12 holes will have names, my favorite being No. 9 – “The Biarritz.”
Then there’s the matter of trees. Sure the Channel banks are loaded with buckthorn, parasitic vine, garlic mustard seed and countless dying ash and elm. Needs work. But what did the architect mean when he said at a belated public unveiling that “a significant number of trees” must go to achieve a “savannah” landscape? Several of my green-minded neighbors are upset. Wasn’t Evanston recently named Tree City USA?
What all this portends for, say, the dog-walkers (who outnumber golfers 10 to 1 if counted on a year-round, twice-daily basis) remains unclear. Will Fido and Lassie be welcome on the Biarritz?
And how about the dozens of school kids who trek daily across the footbridge over the Channel on their way to and from Haven, Kingsley and St. Athanasius Schools? The master plan shows a drainage marsh where now there is the footpath to that bridge.
Indeed, the drawings by Arizona-based Zinkand Golf Design – viewable at canalshores.org – appear to take little notice of the many and varied ways these precious open acres are enjoyed … much less who, besides golfers, enjoys them.
Perhaps the master planners will show us more when they seek permissions for their mega-changes, not just from the two sub-leasing municipalities but also from the landowning Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.
Personally I am hoping this will necessitate a Plan B: Keep on improving the existing 18 holes, so that everyone who enjoys this unique public space can keep on enjoying it for another hundred years.
John McCarron is an urban affairs writer, a bad golfer and 25-year season pass holder at Canal Shores.