Part 29 of the Journey Along the Shores series explores the organic expansion of our volunteer efforts, and the community connections that have been created
Building on our successful bank clearing on the 16th, we continued the work of creating vistas into the off-season. Over the winter, we made progress between 14 green and 18 tee, left of 2 green, between 3 green and 11 tee, and left of 4 tee. As always, uncovering specimen trees while revealing the character and scale of the land is tremendously rewarding. Hearty souls like Matt, Dan, Mike, Andy and Jantzen who brave the snow and chilly temps are greatly appreciated.
A confession must be made, however. Most years, come February, a profound level of fatigue sets in and I begin to dread heading out for yet another day of battling overgrowth. This off-season was entirely different, as two new groups—a golf society and a merry band of neighbors—showed up to not only recharge my batteries with their enthusiasm, but to give our players incredible new views of Lake Michigan and the historic El train bridge.
Of course, the progress is fantastic to witness, especially given the speed of transformation when the groups are large and committed. Observing the volunteers, one quickly realizes that the impact of this work goes beyond revitalization of the land. There was a positive and powerful vibe that was palpable, and when I spoke with two of our ring leaders, it came more into focus.
The first portion of the path that Matt Considine walked in the game was well-worn. He grew up in a golfing family, playing with his dad, older brother and mom, who was arguably the best of their bunch. The competitive bug bit, and his junior career was strong enough to earn a scholarship to play for the University of Akron. An accomplishment that he thought would bring satisfaction instead felt hollow. Burnt out, he quit the team.
Standing at the crossroads, no longer possessing a clear sense of direction, he decided to take a fork that would lead him far away, and then back again. Considine left for Ireland, without his golf clubs, to travel and study abroad for ten months. He thought connecting with his family’s roots might do him good, but it was a reconnection to the game he loved that had a more profound impact.
Cork Golf Club, designed by Dr. Alister MacKenzie, is a place that American tourists pass on their way to Old Head. It is also the home of the University golf team, which Considine made while using a set of borrowed clubs. Playing matches against other schools and golf societies at Cork, and other courses in Ireland and Northern Ireland, had two effects on him—match play filled his heart with joy, and links golf stimulated his curiosity about architecture. This game was different from the one he left behind in Akron, but the result was the same as when he first picked up a club with his family years ago. He was hooked.
There was one more discovery to be made in Cork before returning home. Considine noticed that some club members had a special attitude toward the care of their courses. In The States, players play and the maintenance staff maintains, but that line was blurred not just by the culture of Irish golf, but also by artisans societies. These were groups of members who volunteered to fill divots, repair pitch marks and perform other regular maintenance in exchange for perks, but no pay. Watching the artisans happily keep the green resonated with Considine and stood in stark contrast to the dynamics he knew. “We have a crisis in golf in America,” he said, “due to a lack of appreciation for what we have.”
In the Considine family, service was an ever-present value. “My dad ran Akron Children’s Hospital and his motto was ‘service above self’,” Matt recalled. “We heard him say that so often that we got sick of it.” Having graduated and relocated to Chicago, Considine was more interested in self. He was working hard, enjoying recreation and dating—everything a twentysomething in the city is supposed to do. The result, however, was that familiar, empty feeling. “It was a lonely time,” he shared. “I was making money and friends, but something was missing.” A mixture of his newfound Irish spirit and an entrepreneurial impulse would lead to another twist in his winding road.
NewClub Golf Society is Matt Considine’s effort to transplant the ethos of golf in Great Britain and Ireland to America. He and his co-founder Mark Colwell have clearly caught lightning in a bottle by providing kindred spirits in Chicago an opportunity to find a game and create lasting friendships. Ambassadors from around the country have begun organizing their own local NewClub chapters. Not surprisingly, Considine and his compatriots have become artisans in their own right, making Canal Shores a focus of their service efforts. They have maintained bunkers, dug the wee burn, expanded greens and battled buckthorn.
Considine chuckles as he describes the transformation that newbies go through when he encourages them to come out for a work session. “To understand what NewClub is all about, I tell them to go volunteer at Canal Shores and hang with the guys, and then go play after,” he explained. “The looks on their faces as they work are priceless. Playing Shoreacres or Chicago Golf is incredible, but you will never feel as connected as you do to a course where you dug a bunker or mowed a green.”
‘Play and pollinate’ is the motto at NewClub as they spread their vibe from one golfer to another. This offseason, as they worked on their pet project to open up the view to Lake Michigan on the 6th hole at Canal Shores, they made another important connection. Patrick Hughes, a life-long Evanston resident and friends of the course, joined the group to help and was taken by the camaraderie and accomplishment he experienced. He made a video to celebrate the day, and then he made a decision to carry it forward even further.
I’m sitting in a booth at the Shermain Grill with my friend and fellow volunteer Steve Neumann, listening to Patrick Hughes try and express his desire to do something to contribute at Canal Shores. His thoughts were not initially clear that day, but his intention and the intensity of his energy were. Rather than attempting a quantum leap, we left our lunch date with a plan for an initial step forward.
E-Town in is Hughes’s blood. His parents met in 7th grade at the local Catholic school, and they raised a family of eight in town. There is also a Hughes tradition with Canal Shores. Back in the day when it was named for its founder Peter N. Jans, they lived near, worked at and played together on the course. Patrick was on the ETHS team under legendary Coach Dobbie Burton. The course was often in sketchy condition and none of the kids appreciated it, except for the competitive psychological advantage it provided over rival north shore high schools.
It was in college, where Hughes was drifting along somewhat aimlessly, that he discovered an affinity for volunteerism. He started spending time with an autistic man and instead of engaging solely in structured field trips, invited his new friend into his everyday life. Two powerful insights emerged: first, it is inclusion rather than arm’s-length charity that really makes a difference in the lives of those with special needs; and second, helping someone else get connected made him feel a greater connection himself. A local newspaper ran a story about the duo, and before he knew it, Hughes was a volunteer service organizer.
He had been following the buzz about Canal Shores on social media, but hadn’t found his way firmly into the volunteer mix. The work on the 6th hole, and witnessing the ownership the NewClubbers took of their section of the property gave him the idea of neighborhood stewardship. With his Shermain plan in hand, Hughes started doing what he does best—connecting with his neighbors and organizing work sessions on the 12th hole, which is nearest his house. He was surprised by how quickly his group grew, and gratified to see that others were experiencing the same level of connection through their stewardship that he had.
The COVID crisis forced the crew to change their approach to the work, but did not hamper their progress. They took on the monumental task of cleaning invasive overgrowth away from the few remaining specimen trees and the beautiful, old train bridge. The results are stunning.
Ask Hughes what excited him most about his neighborhood movement and you best be prepared for a long answer. One story stands out. “My neighbor’s daughter was going through a funk with the stay-at-home situation, and with life,” he recounted. “We wanted to send messages to the El conductors and she got the assignment of updating our big sign. It was so fun to see her own it and fill up with energy.” Connection and inclusion, powerful as always.
The advent of the internet, the knowledge economy, and other aspects of modern life promised us a direct path to a new age of happiness. Instead, we seem to have wandered off course to a place where feelings of loneliness, dissatisfaction and disconnection are too often the norm. Considine, Hughes and the others they have brought into the Canal Shores volunteer fold have had a common awakening. Working with one’s hands to care for a community asset, side-by-side with friends and neighbors, sets us back on track to a priceless connection to the Earth and each other.
Copyright 2020 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf