Introducing: Your New Fort Sheridan Golf Course

At their meeting, June 9, the Fort Sheridan Master Plan Advisory Committee unveiled three options to consider for building the proposed Fort Sheridan Golf Course.  You can view the options at the bottom of this post.

The meeting was filled with hope.  The golf course ideas are exciting and creative.  The options make an attempt to accommodate the riff raff who don’t play golf but might want to just hang by the lake or walk around.  The 800 pound gorilla in the room, however, was the financial picture.  The Lake County golf course consultant has figured that the golf course might be able to make an operating profit of about $20,000 (on revenue of $680,000)  in its first year.  But the bad news was that the course could not contribute anything to the debt service associated with building the course.

Golf course advocates turned their hearing aids down after learning that the operating revenue might exceed costs.  But the rest of us heard that the cost of building the course, whatever it might be, could not be covered by its revenue. In the end, the golf course initiative was a net loss.

And then more bad news. The golf consultant also indicated that the new course would probably cannibalize from 5% to 10% of the business from the surrounding municipal courses that are already struggling with insufficient rounds.  Here’s the slide he showed:

The next meeting of this crowd is (tentatively) September 15, 2010. The purpose of this meeting is to have approximations of build costs for the three golf course alternatives.  This will give the County a clearer idea of exactly how deep a hole they want to dig for themselves.

I thought that the golf operated by the Forest Preserve was supposed to be a revenue opportunity to offset other costs.  Now it looks like every time somebody plays golf at the Lake County Forest Preserve golf courses, Lake County residents will be chipping in for green fees.

Here are the golf course options Lake County will be sponsoring if this plan is approved:

Fort Sheridan Golf Course Concept 1
Golf and other active uses are physically separated with Concept 1

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Golfers and other active users intermingle

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Golfers and active users intermingle. 18th hole finishes over dune

10 thoughts on “Introducing: Your New Fort Sheridan Golf Course

  1. Max,

    Your response is well considered and cogent. You present a great vision and sensitivity to alternative development strategies in the area. Frankly, it is one of the first comprehensive visions I’ve seen enunciated. Thank you.

    Here’s where we differ which I offer up respectful to your concepts.

    What you have described assumes a bare slate.

    LCFP received this land by an act of Congress without any golf course commitment. With golf being a revenue source in 1995, there was no effective opposition to the decision by the Joint Planning Commission to include the existing golf course into the Master Plan which then by a twist of fate was included in the deed.

    Today, the County owns this land and has a Federal commitment to congress to keep it as open space and to manage the cemetery. Again, the law passed by Congress does not include a golf course. All this is old news.

    The new news is that golf is a risky venture. This is not to challenge your love of golf or whether Lake County Commissioner’s are golfers are not. It comes down to the role of a government and what businesses they should be in and what risks it takes. Golf is specifically carved out as an enterprise. It has to be self-sustaining. About this there seem to be many questions. Lots of risk.

    And that’s just fine with the private sector. The National Golf Course Owners Association says, “It is our preference that no federal, state, municipal or other public authority should be involved in direct competition with private enterprise in the development or operation of golf facilities.”

    So, consistent with your vision, maybe there is a private developer interested in purchasing the land, re-developing Barat College as a resort, etc. It’s a valid concept. But not one that Lake County will participate in.

    Given that golf doesn’t crank economically, the LCFP will make fine use of this jewel of a property by developing it as a first rate lakefront open preserve. You just have to think of it as a different kind of opportunity.


  2. During the land transfers, both Glenview and Fort Sheridan were placed into a mixture of public and private ownership, with the Fort Sheridan community eventually becoming a full-fledged residential development. However, while the Glen prospered under a majority-private ownership that developed a successful PUD with residential components, 2 golf courses, a middle school, a recreation center, and 3 major commercial centers, Fort Sheridan lagged behind, housing only a fledged golf course and an old military cemetery. With the loss of the golf course under the regime of LCFPD, homeowners in Fort Sheridan were now left with a lot of open land and not much else.

    However, the golf course was a vital part of the land transfer and is in fact a legal requirement under the deed handed to LCFPD. In the grant of the lakeside land that formerly housed the bustling army complex, “the land herein conveyed shall be a golf course and recreational open space in perpetuity and not devoted to another use”. Thus, the golf course cannot be ignored. If LCPFD were to have chosen to abandon the golf course concept, they would have been in violation of their agreement with the US Army, a fact that probably kept the golf course alive during the past few years in which the majority of county leaders seemed satisfied with ignoring the opportunity at hand.

    That is what Fort Sheridan is. An Opportunity. Whereas the county and many critics of the renovation plan seem to view the concept of a golf facility as a financial burden, many of us who know the business of golf see the land as an opportunity to create something truly special. Golf is a game designed to be played along the water. From its early years in St. Andrews through to the great courses of today in Pebble Beach, Whistling Straits, Bandon Dunes, and countless others, golf and the sea have gone hand in hand. Unfortunately, urban sprawl has forced many of these great seaside links to be located in areas not easily accessible from major metropolitan areas. Whistling Straits is 90 minutes from Milwaukee. Pebble Beach is 2 hours from San Francisco (on a good day). Torrey Pines is about as close as it gets to seaside golf in the city, but even that can be an hour drive from downtown during the seemingly endless Southern California rush hour. Bandon is, well, its a schlep. St. Andrews, same story. But Fort Sheridan is just 25 or so miles from the center of Chicago, the nation’s 3rd largest city and arguably its most golf crazy metropolis. With Chicagoans willing to make the drive to Kohler and very willingly pay the $400+ to play the Straits, how can the LCFPD argue that a similar seaside links just 40 minutes from downtown couldnt be a world-class (and highly profitable) attraction?

    Then there is the impact on the local golf market, a market that critics have called saturated and unable to bear the additional supply. What these people are ignoring is the potential attraction a world-class seaside course could create on Chicago’s north shore. LCFPD seemed worried about the impact a championship layout at Fort Sheridan would have on their crown jewel up north, ThunderHawk. What they fail to realize is that Spyglass Hills is nothing without Pebble Beach. The Bull couldnt survive without Whistling Straits. Kingsbarns in Scotland thrives off its proximity to St. Andrews. And ThunderHawk would benefit in much the same way from a championship layout at Fort Sheridan. What the county supervisors (obviously not avid golfers themselves) are failing to see is that golf is an industry in which quality supply does indeed create its own demand. Creating a destination golf course so close to a city as enticing as Chicago would make the north suburbs as sleek a golf destination as our nation has to offer. Accessibility, culture, restaurants, and a variety of quality layouts leave the North Side just that top notch golf resort short of truly being able to compete with the likes of Kohler, Traverse City, and Galena in the Midwest, and even Pebble, Bandon, and Myrtle Beach nationally.

    But the forest preserve simply isnt able to make that happen. While LCFPD has done a tremendous job with Countryside, Brae Loch, and especially Thunderhawk, they simply dont have the finances nor the know how to take that next step up to golf travel destination. However, the land Fort Sheridan sits on is ripe for just such a development. The location, high above a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan is about as good as it gets. Even Whistling Straits (also sitting on a former military establishment) lacks the pristine ravine setting that would provide for a layout that majestically opens up to the grandeur of the water much like Spyglass Hills and Pebble Beach on the Monterrey Peninsula or Harbor Town in South Carolina. The availability of land for a potential resort property is certainly there and could perhaps even utilize the embattled grounds of the former Barat College just up the road. But while State Parks systems have been successful in similar destination endeavors such as Torrey Pines (The Lodge at Torrey Pines) and Saratoga Spa (New York), the county isnt capable. But there are many entities, locally and nationally, fully capable of bringing the site into its own. First of all, the property could be turned over for operation by the Jemseks. Known for their wildly successful operations at Cog Hill, Pine Meadow, and St. Andrews (West Chicago, not Scotland), the Jemseks have the knowledge of the golf industry and of the local market necessary to make a potential course profitable while at the same time providing public good through the extension of junior programs the Jemseks have made a key part of their current operation. Then there is Kemper Sports. Although no longer involved in their flagship course in Kemper Lakes, Kemper still maintains a heavy local presence through operations such as the Glen Club (now a full-fledged destination course with the partnership with Summit Hotels in creating a 21-room operation within the clubhouse) and Hawthorn Woods Country Club, as well as municipal operations such as Vernon Hills Golf Course and the Chicago Park District courses (including Sydney R., oh its Waveland for god’s sake, an operation whose history can certainly tell us something about missed opportunities along the shores of Lake Michigan). In addition, Kemper has the expertise to develop a world-class destination facility, backed by their experience in the operation of Bandon Dunes, now considered by most to have topped the Monterrey as the nation’s top golf destination. Outside of the locals in Kemper and Jemsek, there is always the option of turning to the big names, the likes of Kohler, Trump, and others. In fact, Trump himself has led a similar project in Los Angeles, taking an environmentally sensitive area that was mandated for public use and creating a public-private enterprise that has led to the establishment of the next great west coast golf destination (as well as a damned good PUBLIC beach, if I may say so myself). I dont need to go any further, its pretty clear that while LCPFD may not see themselves able to successfully operate a world-class facility at Fort Sheridan, there are plenty of people out there who can and are more than willing to look into doing so.
    That said, perhaps the best course of action for LCPFD would be to sell off the land designated for the golf course. Drawing upon the concepts laid out in similar public-private projects such as Trump National in LA, LCFPD could allow for the maintenance of a wonderful open-use area and public beach while at the same time allowing the lakeside plot to be used to its greatest capabilities as a championship golf course. The details of ownership vs. operation, of what land to sell and what to maintain, those are details I will admit I cannot handle until I finish up that degree in 3 years time. But even now I can tell you that what the county is proposing for Fort Sheridan is simply a wasted opportunity. Its time for the LCFPD to cut their losses and hand over Fort Sheridan to someone who appreciates the value in such a pristine plot of land in such close proximity to the golf-loving metropolis that is Chicago. Sell Fort Sheridan and lets get started making Chicago’s North Shore the next great American golf destination.


  3. I am adamantly opposed to the golf course. My opposition is based purely on finances. If you throw the emotions out, this golf course is not needed. This area is already well over capacity as evidenced by their poor performance.

    Nationwide, gold courses are failing at an alarming rate. We don’t need to try to prove that the statistics are wrong just so that the homeowners in Ft. Sheridan who were duped by the developer can claw back some of their losses on the backs of the rest of Lake County taxpayers.


  4. The 3 proposed standard golf course routing plans show a definite lack of understand “reduced distance” Hybrid golf course design/build technology and how to create sustainable golf for the next generation. Suggest you consider design firms with a more progressive, less invasive & environmental friendly approach.


  5. Do not…I repeat…do not build this traditional style golf course! This course design is old technology and subject to failure.
    New Hybrid golf courses now being developed, have been designed for sustainable play, are much more economical to build and maintain, require less land and actually produce profit.

    There are hundreds of large golf courses going out of business, due to the lack of play and a changing golf culture…don’t be one of them.


  6. So why can’t this land be sold for redevelopment?

    The preservation of the land as open space was mandated by an Act of Congress known as the Military Construction Appropriations Act of 1996. It would similarly take an Act of Congress to overturn it. Technically possible but highly unlikely.

    On the other hand, the deed restriction is merely an agreement with the Secretary of the Army and can be re-negotiated. The Army has no stake in the matter and will accommodate community interest. Moreover, as legal scholars we have consulted have advised us, the deed restriction has no provision for amendment which can be a fundamental flaw in its construction resulting in its vacation.

    It is regrettable you have to resort to spewing fear, uncertainty and doubt to scare people about unlikely outcomes.


  7. A golf course is absolutely a legal requirement of the deed restriction. If you argue that the LCFPD could get out of that, what is to say that the whole provision of requiring this to be open space and not sold for redevelopment couldn’t be overturned as well?


    1. I’m not sure of your question, so I’ll take it two ways.

      First, the land cannot be developed. The Federal law that transferred the property dictated that the land had to be maintained as open space. A golf course was not a requirement. But developing the land for homes or other purpose was specifically excluded by the Federal law.

      Second, if you mean a golf course developer, the county probably isn’t inclined to sell the land. But they could enter into a long term contract with someone to build and manage a golf course. However, the golf course market is so poor and prospects for success are so unattractive that no private golf course developer has stepped forward with such a proposal.


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