Golf and Race in Chicago

By Lloyd Graff

Jackson Park Golf Course, Chicago, IL.

Golf, race and prejudice have had a long tortured connection in Chicago. Now it looks like we will see a new chapter near my old home on the South side of Chicago.

Golf course developers are eyeing the Chicago Park District’s 27 holes of pleasant, but pedestrian golf for a potential super course with Chicago lakefront views to accommodate a big time pro championship course. It could be a Pebble Beach of the Midwest.

This is also the area where the Barack Obama Library may be built. It is a pebble’s throw from Michelle Obama’s home when she was growing up. On a good day it is a 12 minute drive from downtown.

I lived across from the 6th hole of the 18-hole Jackson Park course. I practiced my 6 iron shot between foursomes and shot in the 80s and 90s as a teenager. Mainly I played softball on the course in an open area between the 6th hole and the highway exit golfers had to cross to continue their rounds.

When I was growing up, the 18-hole Jackson Park course was a comfortable $3 a round public course. White players, but a smattering of African Americans played. The neighborhood course stretched from Stony Island Avenue which had long been the Black-White boundary as I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s.

Further east, away from my house, but contiguous to Jackson Park, was the South Shore Country Club with a cozy 9-hole course bordering Lake Michigan. The Country Club was virtually all Irish Catholics. No Jews or Blacks need apply.

This kind of map was a microcosm of Chicago. Neighborhoods were Irish, Jewish, Black, German, Chinese etc. And many people were desperate to keep it that way. But the Black population was exploding on the South side of Chicago and eventually the white neighborhoods were breeched.

Those who stayed often sent their kids to private or parochial schools, but eventually almost all of the Whites fled the South side.

The restrictive South Shore Country Club engineered a deal to sell their lake front land to the Chicago park District in 1974.

Jackson Park remained a pleasant if not challenging muni course. South Shore remained a short little 9-holer.

And now as the sprawling suburban golf courses are emptying because young people live in the city and are indifferent to the burbs, developers are dreaming of a super course on the lakefront hosting a major tournament year after year – 12 minutes from State and Madison.

Chicago has changed a lot in my lifetime. The people who argue that racism is racism and Black people’s position in America has barely changed in the 50 years since the march on Selma and the Voting Rights Act’s passage are crazy. There is still a significant income disparity between Blacks and Whites, but we have an African American President and the possibility of a Black Republican Presidential candidate in Ben Carson for 2016. That would have been hard to imagine in 1965.

The overt discrimination of the restrictive South Shore Country Club that blatantly rejected Jews and Blacks is gone – happily. I remember as a kid wondering briefly why Jews could not belong there, but then dismissing the thought because – “that’s just the way it is” I realized.

America has changed so much in 50 years in acceptance of minorities. Is there still racism and prejudice? Of course. But neighborhoods are much more mixed today. The South Shore Country Club’s institutionalized hating is gone.

A Super Golf Course with special rates for locals and big money provided for caddie scholarships is in the works for a primarily African American area of Chicago.

Do White cops still terrorize young Black men in Chicago? Do young Black men still scare the hell out of cops? Yes, of course. But today if you go out to Jackson Park Golf Course by yourself you will likely play in an integrated foursome. Golf and life in Chicago have changed immensely for the better in my lifetime. I expect that positive change to continue.

Question: Do you feel better or worse about race relations than you used to?

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14 thoughts on “Golf and Race in Chicago

    1. Jack

      Judging by the comment ‘white cops are terrorists’, I think you’ve opened a can of worms here. Race relations here in Cleveland are pretty tense. In the innercity, guns, gangs and drug violence are rampant. Every day someone is shot and killed on the streets. I don’t understand why the black community isn’t outraged by this. It happens every day like it’s a normal event. People are shooting at the police like it’s some sort of war zone. The police here are between a rock and a hard place. I feel that race relations are pretty strained, at least here in Cleveland.

  1. allen

    Better despite the on-going efforts of race hustlers like President Obama to keep the old wound infected and damaging.

    Hopefully the next president won’t be of that persuasion and rather then tearing open the nation’s racial stitches for political gain will let the would heal.

  2. Lloyd Graff

    Black parents from my experience live in tremendous fear of the pilice, rightly or wrongly. They frequently remind their children, especially male to make no gesture that vould be seen by a police man or woman as provocative for fear of a violent reaction. That is what I was referring to about the fear on both sides.

  3. mike

    In a country where 13% of the population is black yet over 50% of the prison population is too . . . what does that tell us?

    where (some) black males have multiple children with multiple women with no concern for anyone of their welfare . . . what does that tell us?

    and with most “black” murders being committed by blacks killing each other (but their wanting to blame someone else . . . like the police) . . . what does that tell us?

    they are a “lost” society and our welfare state and tolerance towards illegitimacy has created a new defense that “black lives matter” . . . Dan Quayle had it right when he said Murphy Brown should not be glamorizing having children with no father figure and the left shot him down . . . what does that tell us?

    anyway – we reap what we sow – even if we do not like it.

  4. Jack

    I did not vote for President Obama. But in a way felt good when he was elected, thought this country has come along way.
    Now after almost 7 years of his presidency, I feel worse for race relations.
    He personally has done more harm than good for race relations in this country.
    It will take a long time to recover, I pray we do.

  5. Jack

    Will be interesting if Ben Carson is nominated.
    Will all the people that don’t vote for him be called racist?


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