This is the fourth of a multi-part post on various golf courses that I have played over my 50 years of playing golf.
Follow the links to Google Maps to see what these courses look like now. Be sure to look at them in Satellite view.
South Shore Golf Course is a very old course tucked up against Lake Michigan in the predominately Black community called South Shore. The golf course is run by the Chicago Park District. It is short: 3 par-3s and one par-5. The greens are small and generally round with some tilt but not too much roll. The course is very tight. Large mature trees line most holes. South Shore Drive runs along side four holes and Lake Michigan runs along a longish hole whose green is stuck between the Drive and the lake.
I lived very close to this golf course. I could walk it in about 80 minutes and would occasionally play 9 holes before work. I’d get there around 6 AM. (Because Chicago sits at the far eastern end of it’s time zone, the sun comes up around 5 AM in the summer.) After I finished, I would drive to Hyde Park to pick up the Metra Electric and get to the Randolph Street station around 8:15. I’d be in the office by 8:30.
The course was cheap–$3.50/9. The Chicago Park District has a number of courses in the city and this was the step-sister. The course didn’t get a lot of play, in part because it was in a Black neighborhood.
I took some colleagues from work over to play it one Saturday afternoon. The place was deserted. We were starting to tee off and Ernie Banks shows up. He commented on the White Sox cap worn by Stevie (a die-hard Sox’s fan). We invited him to go ahead of us. He had a great and very flexible swing. He hit the ball down the center of the fairway with a nice draw matching it’s gentle curve. As he walked off carrying his bag (the course didn’t have any carts), he called back to us with his signature line–“Let’s play two”.
The course was barely maintained–fairway mowers were used on the greens, traps sprouted weeds, and didn’t have any rakes. Eventually, the Park District turned over the management of all its courses to Kemper Golf Management. The courses really improved but the green fees immediately increased to $10/9.
History of the Club
The history of the SSCC is a lesson in race relations within Chicago in the 20th century. The club was established as a suburban retreat for the uber-wealthy of Chicago at the turn of the century. They built a truly impressive country club. It included the course, stables, a lawn bowling green, beautiful beach, tennis courts, and yacht harbor. The south end of the lake is very shallow so they had to dredge it out to create the harbor.
As the uber-wealthy moved out of the city to the posh northern suburbs of Glencoe and Kenilworth, the membership of the course changed to the not so uber-wealthy Irish of the South Side. Club membership remained highly restricted and excluded Jews and Blacks. Jews happened to be the predominant group in South Shore at the time the course became Irish.
Starting in the 60s’, South Shore, itself, started turning Black and by the mid-70s’ was 99% Black. The Club’s whites-only membership fled and largely abandoned the club. They first tried to sell it to the Park District which expressed no interest in the purchase. To be fair to the district, it already owned Jackson Park golf course which is just across the street from South Shore Golf Course. (Jackson Park had been the site of the 1893 World’s Fair.) When the Black Muslims expressed an interest in purchasing the property to be used for a new hospital, the Park District was strongly encouraged by the Daley administration and others to purchase the property, which it did in 1974. The golf course reopened and the mounted police moved into the old stables.
The Park District then announced plans to raze all the buildings. A coalition of White liberals from Hyde Park and Black community activists from South Shore organized to save the country club. Historic preservationists managed to get a large grant from the Feds to restore the gate as a proof of concept that the buildings could be saved. Although the club was crumbling on the inside, it was sufficiently impressive to be used for exterior night shots in the Blues Brother film. I walked over there to watch the filming.
Ultimately the coalition was successful and the Park District gave up it’s demolition plans. Funds were found and the club house converted in the South Shore Cultural Center. It was well worth the cost to do it. The interior is glorious and the Center is the place to have a wedding reception–you have to plan ahead because there’s a two-year wait to get a room there. Barack and Michelle held their reception there.
For more information on the history of the club, read the official history from the park district and the unofficial history from the Hyde Park organization.