The Canal Shores Golf Course in north Evanston and southeast Wilmette is eyeing a long-awaited revamp, with an estimated price tag of nearly $5.9 million.

But the extensive project also means the property at 1030 Central St. will have to close for almost a year, from Aug. 1 until July 2024, preventing thousands of rounds of golf as well as canceling Northwestern football tailgating and fall bird walks.

Credit: Bob Seidenberg

The 82-acre, 18-hole course, which opened in 1919, has needed repairs for some time. “We realized that the golf course had some significant problems in terms of being sustainable for the future,” said Matt Rooney, president of the Evanston Wilmette Golf Association board.

“The golf course is 103 years old right now and we want to keep this place around for the community to use for another 100 years.”

Still playing golf in late November. Drew Petterson (from right), John McCarron and Ed Brunt head down the fairway at Canal Shores. Credit: Richard Cahan

Last year, the Evanston Wilmette Golf Association, the nonprofit responsible for Canal Shores, hired KemperSports to manage the golf course.

The course implemented an ecological master plan for the site in 2017, which prioritized combating invasive vegetation.

“If we don’t do anything out there, there are so many infrastructure issues especially with irrigation and drainage. If we don’t address that, there’s a chance that the golf course, quite frankly, won’t survive,” said Todd Quitno, senior project architect at Lohman Quitno Golf Course Architects. He is part of the group providing advice.

Rooney said the $5.9 million funding is coming from fundraising, partnerships and donations.

But the temporary closing even for improvements, will not please everyone. Golfer Peter Mudd said, “I’m not happy about that at all. The central pleasure of my summers is being over there.” Mudd, a psychotherapist and regular at Canal Shores, said he hopes the course will pro-rate the membership fee for the duration of the renovation.

The work to be done

The proposed redevelopment will see the addition of new greens and practice grounds and changes to the course’s layout, as well as improved irrigation and drainage, Rooney said. 

The first two holes, between Lincoln and Central streets, are set to become a practice area. Also planned are two new holes, with one at the far north end of the course set to become the new sixth hole, with a view of the Bahá’í House of Worship.

Peter Mudd tees off on the Canal Shores Golf Course. Credit: Richard Cahan

Meanwhile, holes three and 16 will be shorter, with the former being directed away from houses in the area, Rooney said.

The proposed plan also reverses the direction of play near the north end. The 10th hole, seen as a vital ecological area because of its wetlands and oak forests, is slated for improvements. “We’re going to enhance the wetlands through here as part of our ecology plan,” Rooney said.

The plan also adds another dogleg around the 17th hole, with a shorter hole set to be added in.

A key selling point of the project is a 75-yard-long putting lawn on the far north end of the course. However, much of the course is set to remain unchanged, Rooney said. The tentative timeline calls for work to begin in June with a gradual, phased closure through Aug. 1, to enable Out of Space concerts. The planned reopening would be in July 2024. 

Canal Shores falls under the jurisdiction of three public bodies: the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which owns the land; and the City of Evanston and village of Wilmette, which lease the property from the district and, in turn sublease it to the Evanston Wilmette Golf Association.

Matt Rooney leads a bird-watching excursion at Canal Shores in May 2022. Credit: Richard Cahan

“We’re working with the regulatory agencies to have the permitting done in time for us to meet that schedule,” Rooney said.

The project, however, does not stop at golf. Rooney said the renovation is focused around three key areas – youth development, community and ecology. Canal Shores is partnering with First Tee, a Chicago-area nonprofit, and the Western Golf Association to get young people involved in the game.

First Tee is an organization that aims to teach life skills such as honesty, integrity and sportsmanship to children and teens through golf. The WGA, meanwhile, offers Evans scholarships in the form of college tuition grants to caddies and young golfers.

“I think the project is a real opportunity to make an impact on a historically significant golf course that means so much to such a diverse group of people. I really think if done properly, [the renovation] could be a model for other local, municipal-style golf courses around the country,” said John Kaczkowski, president and CEO of the WGA. 

But a large-scale project like the renovation has impacts both on golfers and the community.

The golf course features nearly 40 acres of non-golf green space, serves as a venue for the Out of Space concerts, hosts tailgating during Northwestern’s football season and offers bird walks twice a year.

Elvis Costello plays Aug. 5 at the Out of Space concert at Canal Shores Golf Course. Credit: Tom Bonnel

“There will not be tailgating on the golf course this year,” Rooney said. 

Per the current timeline, the four days of Out of Space concerts are set to return in July, he said. Jake Samuels, executive director for Evanston SPACE, confirmed that the concerts are on.

“I just think it’s such a community resource, and to see them invest in the future of that course is amazing,” said Samuels, who said he grew up playing the course from the age of 13, and now plans the concerts.

As for the bird walks, which Rooney runs, the September events are canceled this year, while the May walks are expected to be back. Rooney said that while the bird walks will be missed in the fall, Canal Shores hopes to keep the green spaces and pathways open to the public.

“It’s a wonderful resource for the community, whether they play golf or not,” said Council Member Eleanor Revelle, in whose Seventh Ward the course is located.

Unlike the recent discussions on Ryan Field, conversations on Canal Shores have not been as visible, though the group held a public meeting with immediate neighbors last November. Revelle said she plans to bring up the Canal Shores redevelopment in her ward meetings this month.

Manan Bhavnani

Prior to joining the RoundTable, Manan Bhavnani covered business and technology for the International Business Times, with a focus on mergers, earnings and governance. He is a double Medill graduate, with...

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  1. How will this impact parking for the football season and for the future plans of parking and tailgating for the proposed Ryan Field? It would be great if a journalist asked both NU and Canal Shores that question.

  2. Glad Canal Shores is tackling the irrigation issue.

    Not sure about losing current holes 1 & 2.

    The current layout is very interesting even for better golfers because it demands accuracy to score. Canal Shores should be careful about dumbing down the course by shortening it too much. A few well placed sand traps would be helpful for developing golfers–for instance in front of hole 3, 5 and 14 where a mishit trap shot doesn’t mean a broken window!

  3. What ever happened to the give away of park land to a developer who wanted to put a road access in for his property slated for million$ mcMansions on the 10th hole (I believe?) ?
    Will this renovation include the lease, sale or give away of land from this beautiful resource? Jack

  4. Is the American Legion Post #42 in Evanston adjacent to the course receiving attention and improvements from this plan too? They have some basic needs right now in their building (ie, a working elevator) that are critical to their support of our veterans. Those needs and their continued success for veterans seems at least as important a need as golf…right??

  5. One point of clarification: by village ordinance, parking and tailgating is never allowed on the portions of Canal Shores located in Wilmette.

  6. While this is ultimately great news, I am surprised that the project managers did not undertake this project in tranches of 9 holes allowing parts of the course and it’s amenities to remain open. Closed for 10 months is long time for this multi-faceted community resource.

    Respectfully submitted, Brian G. Becharas