WOODLAWN — Former President Barack Obama’s foundation distanced itself this week from plans to combine two South Side golf courses into a professional-level course near his eponymous center.
Legendary golfer Tiger Woods’ design firm, TGR Design, signed on in 2016 to combine the 18-hole Jackson Park and nine-hole South Shore golf courses into a single, PGA Tour-caliber course. Obama called Woods to take up the project, the Tribune reported in 2018.
The project, estimated to cost at least $70 million, has divided neighbors. Some South Siders have raised concerns with the project’s environmental impacts and its potential to price out neighborhood golfers who have used the courses for decades.
Obama Foundation officials stepped back from the long-stagnant plans Thursday. CEO Valerie Jarrett told Crain’s Chicago Business she’s only heard “rumors” that a golf course overhaul is even still in play. The foundation is not pursuing the project, Jarrett said.
Obama Foundation spokesperson Courtney Williams did not directly answer questions about whether the organization has pulled its support for the golf course.
The Obama Foundation is “singularly focused” on opening the presidential center in Jackson Park in 2025, Williams told Block Club on Friday. Foundation leaders remain supportive — as they “always have been” — of investment projects “in our community and in Jackson Park,” Williams said in a statement.
“The Foundation has a catalytic role to play in the neighborhood, and we’re excited when we see other community organizations come together to lead these projects,” she said.
Block Club has reached out to Woods’ design firm for comment.
The golf course overhaul has stalled in the seven years since former Mayor Rahm Emanuel enthusiastically announced Woods’ firm would oversee the project.
Fundraising challenges and a tepid response to the plans from local leaders, including former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, have been some of the holdups.
Project backers hoped the plan would “be more front and center” in local officials’ minds once the Obama Presidential Center broke ground in 2021, the Sun-Times reported, but there’s been little movement since.
“It’s clear the community doesn’t know what’s going on” with the golf course plans, Ald. Desmon Yancy (5th) told Block Club in May. If Woods and his supporters were ready to build the course today, he’d tell them to “pause” and begin a “difficult” community engagement process with neighbors, Yancy said.
In 2022, three 5th Ward precincts overwhelmingly supported an advisory referendum calling on preserving trees in Jackson Park and South Shore Cultural Center Park that could have been cleared to make way for the golf course.
The proposed course called for replacing the South Shore Nature Sanctuary with portions of the new course’s 14th and 15th holes.
Ald. Leslie Hairston, Yancy’s predecessor, drew outrage from locals in 2019 after falsely claiming the South Shore Nature Sanctuary was “dead.” Hairston made the comments at the suburban Medinah Country Club as Woods geared up for a tournament there.
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