Risky Business When Facts Ignored at Fort Sheridan

In reading comments of others and talking to people about Fort Sheridan, I am struck by the mis-information possessed by many.  These misunderstandings persist regardless of one’s position on the golf course.  For example, there are those who oppose the golf course that believe co-existence between rustic “nature preserve” habitat and golf is impossible. But they are wrong. And (again, only for example) some among those who are pro-golf believe that Lake County  “bulldozed” the existing Fort Sheridan golf course out of existence. They, too are wrong.

The Prairie at Fort Sheridan
Looking East from Sheridan Road at the emerging Fort Sheridan Prairie

Facts & Opinions

In this environment of mud-slinging targeted at the Lake County Board by golf course supporters and general disinformation, I am reminded of the quote from former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.” On the matter of the Fort Sheridan Golf Course, there are many issues, lots of opinions, but there are really only two salient facts:

  1. The number of rounds of golf being played is insufficient to support a new Fort Sheridan Golf Course and existing municipal golf courses in the region. This makes the proposed course a financial risk to Lake County and a threat to nearby municipal courses.
  2. Regardless of development costs of a new golf course, the revenue cannot support its operating costs. Unabated, this will deplete the enterprise fund which supports this operation.

Let’s Stick to the Facts

The recent return of Bobolink and Meadowlark to the Fort Sheridan prairie is wonderful  news– and irrelevant. The potential drainage of fertilizer from the golf course into Lake Michigan is tragic and irresponsible – and irrelevant.  Even the theoretical incremental business Highwood perceives golf will provide over other uses is important – and irrelevant. Yes, all other things being equal, it might come down to a duel between tree huggers and golfers. But this is a false dichotomy. Those who stir things up along those lines are doing just that – stirring things up and obfuscating the real issues.  And in doing so, they are playing with facts.

How Factual are the Facts

Are the facts fungible? Indeed. The estimates of potential rounds of golf, predictions of the future of the golf game, estimates of development costs, assumptions about incremental maintenance costs and more are all subject to speculation. Yet these are the basis, the facts, upon which conclusions are drawn and policy is made. The County golf course consultant summed it up simply by saying “it all comes down to risk.”

Risky Business

The Lake County three existing golf courses and the proposed Fort Sheridan course are run from an enterprise fund and operate like a business.  The County has the facts and they’ll hear them again soon. They understand the variables in the underlying assumptions about the facts they will hear. And they know it is a risk going forward with the Fort Sheridan Golf Course. Acting on our behalf as business people, one hopes they recognize it is a risk not worth taking.

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2 thoughts on “Risky Business When Facts Ignored at Fort Sheridan

  1. Ed,

    1. The county never “bulldozed” the Fort Sheridan golf course. The course was closed when it was in disrepair, had high maintenance costs and low patronage. The washrooms were pit toilets.Some greens were removed and re-purposed to other county golf courses. Bulldozed means something else altogether. And, by the way, it was only meant as an example of different perspectives

    You would position the County as being oppositional when it was the original Fort Sheridan developer, who was ultimately found, by the courts, to be responsible for removing the mounds of contaminated dirt. They created additional three years of delay in moving forward on this project. Don’t blame the County for that. That is a fact.

    2. Based on the consultant’s reports, there are insufficient rounds of golf being played to support the existing courses let alone a new one. I know the pro-golf group wants to fire this consultant because they don’t agree with his conclusions. In fact, you are insensitive to hard data available from each of the communities involved including the Lake County regarding their year over year reduction in rounds of golf being played. This is a phenomena that dates to almost the beginning of this century and does not seem to be attributable to economic conditions.

    Please stop ranting about the cost of building the course. Now THERE is a strawman. Assume any reasonable number you want for building the course. It is not the factor. Study the financials of the communities and you will see they are struggling to increase rounds and struggling to reduce costs without much success. Add almost any debt service for course development capital costs and the financials, if not already under water, will only be more so. That, Ed, is another fact.

    If a course is built and it is bad enough, no one will come and that’s a failure for the County. If the course is good enough, it will take golfers from existing municipal courses and those courses will fail worse than they already are. In the end, there is not enough golfer inventory to go around to support the municipal golf courses even without Fort Sheridan.

    Maybe by some miracle, the number of golfers will, indeed, increase. For my part, I don’t want my elected officials making their decisions based on miracle and prayer. Along with many others I believe the risk is too great to incur this expense.

    Give me the good ending to this story, Ed. Just stick to facts.

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  2. Nice strawman, Sonny. Why do you assert that Lake County didn’t “bulldoze” the existing course out of existence? Is there some other magical explanation for how it ceased operating and the greens were removed?

    At any rate, the number of rounds would support a Fort Sheridan Golf Course if the County stopped distorting the cost of construction. Nowhere in the entire United States has a stand-alone golf course cost anywhere near $24-32 million to construct in the last three years. An Audubon-certified course seems to run in the $10-$12 million range, but that often includes everything (clubhouse, trails, etc.). So everything else about the current county consultant’s projections is distorted by the base $24-32 million false assertion. Even Justin Timberlake managed to only spend $16 million on his golf course, but he had seven new lakes dug as part of it.

    So yes, Sonny, it comes down to facts. The fact is, the LCFPD has based the entire argument on false data on the cost of golf course construction. Yes, they have built other courses but they have never bid this one out on RFP. So they don’t know. An RFP conference in Texas in March for a course there drew 130 people. The final cost of that course — $6.6 million. The construction industry is hungry for work — therefore the cost basis being used by LCFPD is entirely theoretical, and distorted based on theory rather than fact.

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