NORTH LAWNDALE — The bird-themed mini-golf course at Douglass Park will soon reopen for the season, along with a concession stand and dining area for visitors.
The mini-golf course was in shambles for more than a decade until community members, artists and local youth banded together to resurrect the attraction, which relaunched last year as the Douglass 18.
Building off last year’s successful launch, the Douglass 18 mini-golf course will expand with a casual al fresco dining experience and music in Douglass Park, said Sheila McNary, chair of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council’s arts and culture committee, a partner behind the golf course.
“Once we have a concession stand, it will be more of a venue where people can stop and get some food for their kids … and have a picnic and play golf,” McNary said.
The Douglass 18 mini-golf course reopens June 4. The concession stand will be completed by summer.
The development of the concession stand was funded by a $100,000 grant from the Mars Wrigley Foundation and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation.
The concession stand is being designed and built by artists Omar Magana of the Open Center for the Arts and Haman Cross.
“I’m excited that the project so far has been really good, really fruitful with a good response,” Cross said. “It continues to be a highlight and a guide to what’s possible in our community. I think it’s really cool that this continues to vibrate forward.”
It was Cross who had the idea in 2018 to work with others in the community to restore the dilapidated and unusable mini-golf course behind the Douglass Park Cultural Center, 1401 S. Sacramento Drive.
Cross worked with Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) to bring together a group of young people to work on the project as a way to use art to bring opportunities to the neighborhood. The team partnered with the Lincoln Park Zoo, LL Bean, the Trust for Public Land and the Firehouse Community Arts Center and Site Design.
The teens designed and prototyped obstacles for the course based around a wildlife conservation theme inspired by the birds that live in Douglass Park. The park is a destination for birdwatchers who come to see more than 200 bird species that migrate through the park, including barn swallows, blue herons and indigo buntings.
Each hole in the course is based on a Douglass Park bird. The hole’s design, the obstacles on the course and the decorations all relate to a bird’s appearance, diet, habitat or behavior. Each hole has an educational placard about the relevant bird.
After years of work planning out the course, building partnerships, collecting feedback from the community and creating life-size models to prototype the obstacles, the mini-golf course was fabricated and installed on colorful turf putting greens last year.
“We have people from all over coming to play this course, and they’re really impressed. And the bird watchers especially are impressed because every hole is accurate to the birds,” McNary said.
Keeping with the tradition of the Douglass 18 being a youth-driven project, the concession stand will be staffed by West Side youth so they can learn job skills and have a productive activity throughout the summer, McNary said.
For young people working at the course and concession stand, and for youth who come to enjoy playing mini golf, the Douglass 18 project has been a powerful way to get youth involved in shaping the future of their community, McNary said.
“We don’t want our children to be idle. We want them to have things to do and things to look forward to. And with all the violence in our communities, we want to have safe spaces for them,” she said.
The golf course is also serving as a venue for several events for neighborhood groups, colleges and local schools like KIPP Academy, which hosted an end-of-year celebration there.
“The goal is to bring the investment back into the park and make it a destination spot for the community and for other people, as well,” McNary said.
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