Mike Keiser knows about long odds, having built one of the world's finest golf resorts, Bandon Dunes, in a remote town in Oregon.
Two years ago, Keiser told NBC/Golf Channel commentator Mark Rolfing that his dream project -- combining Jackson Park and South Shore courses to create a South Side mecca -- had a 1 in 100 chance to succeed.
"Now," Keiser predicted, "it's two in three."
And if that isn't enough, Keiser said he believes that Tiger Woods is "on board" to be the architect and might be willing to waive his design fee, given that the course would benefit The First Tee of Greater Chicago.
Rolfing cautioned that Woods' hiring is "not a done deal" but told the Tribune that the 14-time major winner visited Chicago in the last month to tour the property. An announcement could come later this month at the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club, outside Minneapolis. Woods is an assistant captain for the U.S. team.
"There are so many tentacles to the project," Rolfing said. "There may be room for more than one person."
Woods' spokesman, Glenn Greenspan, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Woods is fairly new to the design business, having drawn up fewer than a half-dozen courses. But his projects, especially in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, have been well received.
And he is, you know, Tiger Woods.
Having him attached to this project -- along with the nation's golf-loving president -- could help it clear remaining hurdles. Rolfing said that celebrated architect and two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw also has visited the site.
The project calls for an 18-hole layout that would be difficult enough to challenge the world's best at an event such as the PGA Tour's BMW Championship, while playable enough for Chicago residents and tourists who travel 10 miles south of the Loop.
The course would be steps from the Obama Library. It would likely host PGA Tour events. Some holes would be built along the lakefront with the potential for an "island" green.
Organizers also want it to be affordable. Jackson Park, a Chicago Park District course that was built in the 1890s and operates in the red, has a current green fee under $30.
Keiser, an adviser on the project, hopes it will be walking-only, in part so players will be encouraged to take caddies, thus creating jobs and the potential to tie in college scholarships.
In addition, Rolfing wants to create a "short course" that would appeal to area youth and would allow adults to play mini-rounds early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
"The three things that concern me about golf: It's too hard, it takes too long and it costs too much," said Rolfing, a DeKalb, Ill., native and Northern Illinois alum. "The goal is to work on all of these areas, and the vision is to create a model for the future of sustainable, urban golf."
And what of the remaining challenges?
The cost of the project and its financing remain unclear, though Rolfing predicted that "most will end up being private money."
The courses are not currently connected, so organizers anticipate a need for construction under South Shore Drive at 67th Street. The design would need to preserve wetlands and address public access to the beach and nearby South Shore Cultural Center. Community leaders will be asked for input.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is not a golfer, but Chicago Park District CEO Michael Kelly is enthusiastic about the project, according to Keiser. They have a date to play golf next week.
And a source who has attended meetings for the project said that top Chicago officials are still stinging from losing the 2016 Olympics and the Lucas Museum, a lakefront plan abandoned in June. The goal would be to open the course in 2021, in concert with the unveiling of the Obama library and museum.
"Rahm wants a winner," the source said.
This article was written by Teddy Greenstein from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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