Before it announced a year-long renovation scheduled to start this coming June, Evanston’s Canal Shores Golf Course, largely located in and around the Seventh Ward, looked like it was digging its own grave.

Facing severe problems with irrigation, drainage, shade and other fundamental structures of any course, Canal Shores Board of Trustees President Matt Rooney decided to have a U.S. Golf Association expert take a look at the facility.

Canal Shores board President Matt Rooney presents course renovation plans to Seventh Ward residents on Wednesday, March 15.
Canal Shores board President Matt Rooney presents course renovation plans to Seventh Ward residents on Wednesday, March 15. Credit: Duncan Agnew

What they found were 14 unsustainable greens out of 18 total. The USGA deemed Canal Shores to be in an “end of life” situation.

Rooney and the team running the course simply did not have the kind of funds necessary, at least $5 million, to launch the required redesign of the course. So he went to the drawing board.

The plan that Canal Shores came up with will likely save its life as Evanston’s local course. In a major pivot from its traditional “pay to play” model, where anyone interested in playing a round could book a tee time and any rental equipment for a fee, the course is now partnering with several charitable organizations to teach youth in Evanston to play golf for free.

Of course, the average adult in Evanston will still have the chance to pay for a membership or for single rounds of golf at Canal Shores, but young kids growing up in the area will have more of an opportunity to learn the sport without any financial barriers, thanks to a partnership between the course and First Tee – Greater Chicago.

First Tee has committed half a million dollars to the renovation project, which will redesign the first two holes to feature a youth training area, where kids participating in summer programs will practice on weekdays. About 90% of kids in First Tee camps get to join for free, according to Rooney.

On top of that, Canal Shores is also joining forces with the Western Golf Association to launch a local caddy academy as part of the Evans Scholar Foundation, which sends low-income high school students who work as caddies on golf courses to college for free.

That foundation has roots here in Evanston, as well. Local native Charles “Chick” Evans Jr. played golf at Northwestern University and set up the scholar program all the way back in 1930. As of today, nearly 12,000 people have received a free college education thanks to Evans, including more than 1,000 students attending 22 colleges across the country right now.

And now, there will be a pipeline in Evanston to train elementary, middle and high school students how to play golf and how to caddy, in exchange for a free trip to college.

“They’ll work at Canal Shores for a year, where the Western Golf Association will train them to be caddies,” Rooney said to a crowd of about 40 people gathered for a Seventh Ward meeting on Wednesday, March 15. “And if they do the program successfully at Canal Shores, if they keep their grades up, they’ll work for two years at one of the country clubs around the area. They will then qualify to go to college for free at any school they can get into.”

As of now, Canal Shores has already raised $4.4 million of the estimated $5.9 million needed for the renovation, in large part thanks to organizations like First Tee and the Western Golf Association.

Builders are expected to break ground on June 5, 2023, with a four-day pause scheduled for the Out of Space concert series between July 27 and July 30, according to Doug Myslinski, the golf course designer. The remainder of the construction is set to be done by mid-September, he said, with the course “mature” enough to open by June or July of 2024.

  • Seventh Ward Council Member Eleanor Revelle (right) looks on as Canal Shores renovation designer Doug Myslinski discusses plans for the next phase of the course's life.

When all is said and done, the total yardage of the course will drop by somewhere between 300 and 500 yards, according to Rooney, with every single green being expanded. The drainage, irrigation and grass will drastically improve, Myslinski said.

Developers are also working to remove around 60 “poor quality” trees to provide more space and less shade on the course. Rooney said he’s working with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to find neighboring land to use for replacing those trees.

Rooney also added that he and the board of trustees are firmly committed to the community mission of Canal Shores, where the course is a gathering spot and a place to go on runs, walks or even catch a live concert. But tailgate parking for Northwestern football games will not be available during construction in the fall of 2023.

“I get to deal with golf courses all over the country. I’ve even done international design and built golf courses internationally,” Myslinski said. “And I’ve never seen a golf course that has the community impact that Canal Shores has.”

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Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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  1. For $100K, Canal Shores could become a world class disc golf course that hosts national events. Disc golf is one of the fasted growing sports in the world, costs for installation and maintenance are a fraction of traditional golf, and they are centerpieces of their community. What if we started looking to the future rather than continuing to throw away money trying to hold onto a piece of the past?

  2. One thing I don’t understand from looking on canal shores website is if these caddy jobs will be paid for the teenagers? They state that the caddies will be available for free to golfers. Looking forward to hearing more details in this regard.

    Also – how short is Evanston’s memory? Didn’t our tax money just bail out the golf course? Did they pay it back? One thing I would love to know and haven’t been able to find is what is the amount of rent that Canal shores pays? The article below states that the lease is to come up for renewal 2023. Has it already been renewed?