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?