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OPENING BANKS

Part 28 of the Journey Along the Shores series takes a look at our work to stabilize the canal banks and create vistas throughout the course

“What are you doing down there?” That is a frequently asked question that floats down from the ridges and bridges as we undertake work on the canal banks. The short and pithy answer is “weeding”. As is the case with many aspects of the journey along the shores, the full answer is a bit more involved, touching on golf, ecology, community and aesthetics. Retrovation work on the banks provides and instructive example of the broader effort to maximize the potential of our community golf course.

What is Retrovation?

Land is constantly evolving, subject to the forces of nature and the hand of man. During the process of creating the Ecological Component of the Canal Shores Master Plan, we were informed by the experts of the simple fact that a true restoration of our site was not possible because the canal is man-made. Restoring our property to its natural state would require filling in the canal. This is the same problem faced by many golf club green committees. It is often impossible to go back to square one, leaving it up to the leaders of a renovation project to decide how to proceed. Similar to many golf courses and clubs, we decided to move steadily forward with renovating Canal Shores while honoring its roots. We’re undertaking a “retrovation”.

What that means is that we have studied the ecological history of the area, and the design history of the course. Insofar as we can given contemporary constraints, we are basing enhancement projects on that historical perspective. For example, the photo above shows an early view of the canal, with the El bridge between the 12th and 3rd holes. The slopes are grassy, with dotted shrubs and trees. This hardwood savanna habitat is one of several native options recommended to us by the ecologists, with prairie and wet meadow being the others. This original intent for the land has been lost under invasive overgrowth, but we can retrovate it over time.

Restoring Scale

A priority for our clearing efforts has been in areas where issues of playability and safety exist on the golf holes. As the recap video below indicates, improving scale and visibility were the goals of the work performed on the 16th hole this fall.

The thrill of taking on the challenge of clearing the canal on this par-3 can only be fully experienced if players are able to see both the water and the land on the far side. Knowing the punishment for a poorly struck tee shot heightens the excitement and quickens the pulse. Pulling off the carry and seeing the ball land safely on the other side is the satisfying payoff that keeps players coming back. An added benefit of our work is that visibility improves safety in this section of the course that is highly trafficked by walkers.

Beyond the 16th, our ridge and bank clearing has focused on areas adjacent to tees and greens. The more buckthorn and invasive vines we cut back, the more sunlight gets to the ground and air flows over it. Those are the conditions necessary to keep our turf healthy and happy.

Bank Stabilization

One of the many problems created by the invasive species that have overrun Canal Shores is erosion. This seems counterintuitive for those who are used to looking at the course from eye level. They see green and assume that all is well. Taking a closer look beneath those green leaves reveals bare ground caused by the thick canopy of buckthorn and vines. That exposed dirt slowly washes off, destabilizing the roots of the trees. The trees begin to lean and ultimately fall, ripping up the bank as they go. The cycle of erosion continues. In some places on the property, the issue is quite evident and will need to be addressed with machinery in a larger renovation. For now though, we can help to stabilize the banks through clearing.

Photo Credit: The Nature Conservancy

A seed bank of grasses, flowers and other forms of ground cover exists throughout the course. When we clear brush, vines and dead trees, the sun hits the ground allowing the seeds to grow. Plant coverage is what holds the banks together best, and although some of the plants that grow are undesirable, we are also seeing stands of goldenrod, phlox, milkweed and other pollinator-friendly natives. After clearing, we can enhance the areas over time according to the guidelines of the Master Plan.

Compression & Release

In addition to being a fun and playable golf course, we also want Canal Shores to be visually interesting and beautiful for the broader community. Diverse, healthy habitat is one factor in achieving that goal. Employing the design principle of compression and release is another. This concept was advocated by Frank Lloyd Wright and his landscape architecture contemporaries, and basically refers to complementing confined spaces with more expansive ones.

As players and walkers make their way around Canal Shores, they will find alternating sections—some with dense vegetation and trees, and others with open vistas containing specimen trees or small copses that have been tagged by the ecologists for preservation. These complementary spaces create a rhythm to the journey of compression and release. The map below indicates (in purple) where we have begun to create the vistas.

At the north end of the property an opening is planned right of the 6th green, allowing players to see Wilmette Harbor and Lake Michigan from the upper tee on the 7th.

Restoring playability and visibility to the 9th is well underway. A vista between the 3rd and 11th greens has also been started.

Clearing to increase light and air for the 13th green and 2nd has begun to improve turf health, while also creating a vista. The areas between 14 green / 15 tee and 17 green / 18 tee are also being opened up.

In keeping with our theme of community, these vistas also allow visitors to catch glimpses of other people enjoying outdoor recreation. There is a pleasurable camaraderie that is fostered by seeing our friends and neighbors at play that extends beyond the course out into the community.

At present, these clearing and enhancement efforts carry on in “pilot project” mode, but with an eye to bigger retrovation steps in the future. We welcome volunteers willing to come pitch in labor, as well as donors who would like to sponsor improvements. As we make progress, we hope that you come out to visit and enjoy our open banks.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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COMPLICATED, BUT PERFECT

Part 27 of the Journey Along the Shores series tells the story of the launch of a new youth golf program at Canal Shores

An idea about inclusiveness and enjoyment of the game of golf was born in our community this summer. That idea was transformed into a reality at Canal Shores by an unlikely team of high school students, a former social worker, a blogger, a community leader, golf instructors, parents and 18 brave kids who had never set foot on a golf course before. Their story embodies elements—inspiration, serendipity, perseverance, caring, courage—that when mixed together among people pursuing a common cause, tends to produce meaningful success. This story is about the inaugural Evanston Cradle to Career golf program at Canal Shores and the kids who went through it, but it begins in the mind of one kid.

It’s fitting that I would catch Thomas Haller for a conversation about his experience while he was driving with a buddy up to Sand Valley. He is my kind of geek—a teammate of my son Jack on the ETHS golf team, a member of YouthOnCourse and the NewClub golf society, a caddie, and a budding architecture connoisseur. Even better than all that, he believes that the game should be readily accessible to all. Coincidentally, his idea for a youth golf program came from another car ride. The Hallers were discussing diversity (or lack thereof) in the game while on the way home from the course one day. It was an issue that had been on Thomas’s mind. “Evanston is a diverse community, and all the sports teams at our school reflect that diversity, except golf,” he said. “So my friends on the team and I were aware of it, but the question is, what are you going to do about it?”

Thomas’s mom is a HeadStart teacher in Evanston and she originally suggested that he take her students out to play golf. That suggestion morphed into his idea for a youth program. He had seen how popular the kids camps and clinics at Canal Shores were and thought that he might be able to piggyback on those. “We are so fortunate to have a perfect place like Canal Shores in our town where kids can get introduced to the game,” he pointed out. “I probably couldn’t have done this in many communities in the area.”

Through a series of connections, Thomas found himself applying for a community building grant through Evanston Cradle to Career’s Advocates for Action council, an organization that advocates for systemic equity while pursuing life-enhancing opportunities for Evanston families. As he made his grant presentation with robust support from his parents, the Canal Shores Association Board and other members of the community, he realized that he was onto something big. “It was certainly overwhelming at first,” he recounted, “but I had lots of people helping me. When I saw how excited the parents and kids were for the opportunity to try golf, I didn’t want to let them down.”

The Buddy System

The kitchen table of Kelly Marcele’s home is a wedge away from the 15th green at Canal Shores, and yet she has never played the game. There was something about Thomas Haller’s idea that struck a chord with her though, and so the former social worker turned Advocates for Action volunteer stepped up to be his “grant buddy”. She recalled the lively internal conversation about race, recreation, outreach and inclusiveness prompted by Thomas’s application. The fact is that most people in Evanston’s African-American community have never been to Canal Shores, or any other golf course, and many have no familiarity with the game. Was a white teenager’s youth golf program really the best use of their resources? A fair question, but in the end, the answer came back affirmative. Thomas had his money, and the support of Kelly and others within Advocates for Action.

That support would prove to be crucial in bringing the idea to life. The first problem that needed solving was finding interested kids. After an initial outreach attempt failed, Kelly contacted blogger and community activist Nina Kavin who runs DearEvanston.org for help. With less than a week to go before the start of the program, Thomas had no kids signed up. Nina generously posted the opportunity on her Facebook page, and twenty-four hours later, the team had more inquiries than available spots. “My biggest takeaway was that minority kids weren’t playing not because they were disinterested,” shared Thomas. “They just didn’t have exposure and opportunity.”

The next challenge was one of logistics. The kids were signed up, but would they show up? Any parent of teenagers knows that little things like transportation and snacks aren’t top of mind. Once again, the community stepped up, led by Kimberly Holmes-Ross, Engagement Coordinator for Advocates for Action. Like Kelly, Kimberly was a believer in Thomas’s idea. The two ladies also shared a determination to do whatever it took to help see the program through, whether it was giving rides, gathering forms or welcoming parents and kids. Their efforts paid off as the group of participant families came together, and the players took to the game.

Producing Golfers

Peter Donahue is a beloved figure at Canal Shores. As head of The Golf Practice, his camps and clinics have been growing steadily since 2013, with this year’s class totaling 450 youth golfers. He is calm, caring, indefatigable and in charge—exactly the way he needs to be to marshal such a horde. A community golf course in Evanston is not where he planned to end up when his PGA Professional career began in the early ‘80s. “I thought I would be the next Hubby Habjan at a club like Onwentsia,” he reminisced. “As I went through my apprenticeship, I was encouraged to explore opportunities in the public space as well.” Peter found himself in Winnetka where he tapped into his love of instruction. “People who are enthusiastic students are a pleasure to be around, especially kids,” he said with enthusiasm of his own. Years later, that calling to teach would give rise to a robust program now known as The Golf Practice.

Peter had taken in disadvantaged students through the Canal Shores Association Board’s scholarship program before, with some successes. He saw in “the Haller project” (as he calls it) a different opportunity that got him excited. “What would it be like to take a kid with no exposure to the game, but who was interested in it, and see if we could produce a golfer?”, he wondered. Answering that question motivated Peter to sign on as a partner, helping Thomas to develop an introductory program that both welcomed players and taught them the basics.

“It was a revelation,” concluded Peter. He had always believed in the potential of a community course like Canal Shores to play an important and powerful role in the game, and during the weeks teaching Thomas’s recruits, he witnessed that potential being fulfilled. He wasn’t the only one making note of the profoundly positive vibe. “I’ve always been around kids who grew up with golf,” explained Thomas. “It’s a given in our lives, and we tend to get caught up in scoring and competition. These kids are in it for the love of the game, which puts it into perspective for me.”

More Than a Game

Golf’s just a game. What difference could it possibly make? I’m seeking answers to that question as I sit in the office of Canal Shores’ General Manager Tony Frandria. We’re discussing his impressions of the program, while the chaos of preparation for the first Northwestern University football home game swirls around us. The EC2C camp has ended, but Tony is clearly still affected by what he witnessed. “I don’t know what you were doing when you were in high school, but I sure wasn’t putting together youth golf programs,” he said with a laugh. “Thomas is a great kid with a great idea, and the result was all these other kids having a chance to learn the game. It was so cool to see the diversity of this place continue to grow.”

Amidst tight budgets, logistics of football parking, neighbor relations, course maintenance and challenging weather, the energy of the youth programs recharges Tony’s batteries, helping him continue to fight to make Canal Shores thrive. He noted the impact on families as well. “I heard through the grapevine that one father and son are ditching video games and buying clubs,” he gushed. “I have seen a mom and her son who was in the program continuing to come over on Fridays to hit balls in the nets together. Hearing stories like that and seeing the connections for myself…it’s just awesome.”

One particularly profound success is that of a camper named Judah. He went from never having played golf to making the boys team at Niles West High School in one summer. Clearly he was a natural, waiting to be found. But Judah’s experience is deeper and more important than what happened on the course, as his mother Abigail shared in a note to Kelly. “An African Proverb says ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ My son and I went through some really tough times since (his father) died, and I felt so alone and overwhelmed” she wrote. “Judah was making me exasperated by hanging around with some bad influences…I remember crying myself to sleep one night and saying, ‘My God, I don’t have anybody!’…I had no idea that golf would bring brighter days and friendships and a village that would help take my son to the next level. He has connected with some really great young men and adults…I feel truly blessed by this experience with each and every one of you.” Thomas, Kelly, Peter and Tony all spoke of Judah, and as they did, their emotions were palpable. Can a game make a difference? Community golf can.

Reflecting back on this pilot program, all parties have ideas for how it can be improved going forward, and they are unanimous in their desire to see it do so in 2020 and beyond. “This was a good beginning,” said Peter. “Now we see what’s needed to keep it going, to make access happen.” Given that almost half of the first class of kids intend to stick with the game, there is good reason to press on. “We want to expand and include girls next time, and I will be recruiting my friends and teammates to pitch in,” Thomas strategized. “Perhaps we can turn it into something that gets passed down.”

Like many forms of sport or recreation, golf has the inherent ability to bring people together who wouldn’t normally mix. The club, ball and hole ahead don’t care if you are young or old, male or female, black or white. The challenge is the same for all. Get that little ball in that little hole and you are automatically bound to all the other players who have experienced the same joy of accomplishment. Unfortunately, barriers to entry to the game do exist, and that is what makes this story so impactful. Ultimately, it is about more than the game. It is about what it really takes to break down barriers. It is true that without Thomas Haller, this camp wouldn’t have happened. It is also true that with only Thomas Haller, this camp, and the greater good it produced, wouldn’t have happened. To create change and make a positive impact, the community must come together and act, as they did with Thomas’s idea. Not easy, but possible. Kelly summed it up best, “It’s way more complicated than people think, but it ended up perfect.”

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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A WEE CHANGE AT CANAL SHORES

Part 26 of the Journey Along the Shores series takes a look at the creation of the Wee Burn

When Cypress Point opened, it received universal praise. One would assume that a categorically positive reaction would please the architect. Instead, Dr. Alister MacKenzie famously expressed concern—in his experience, any golf course that didn’t turn off at least a few players wasn’t well designed. As we continue to tinker with Canal Shores, we understand the Good Doctor’s conditioned expectations. Each change we make to improve the course yields mostly praise, but also the predictable batch of complaints. The creation of the Wee Burn short of the 17th green is no exception, providing an interesting look into player perceptions and reactions to change.

The Problem

We are often asked why we don’t address issues of standing water by installing drainage that flows into the canal. The short answer is that we are not permitted to do so by our landlord. That prohibition makes sense in the context of the purpose of the land. Canal Shores exists fundamentally to provide a green space buffer for stormwater management from the surrounding neighborhoods. The course is there to hold water, not pour it into the canal. Unfortunately, that function is not well balanced with playability for golfers, and it will take a well-conceived renovation to reconfigure the course to achieve both objectives. Until that time, we are forced to do triage.

Standing water across the front of the 17th green

The 17th hole is one of many problematic spots on the course with regard to water retention, particularly across the front of the green. Spring rains caused the entire approach to flood. It would stay wet and muddy long after the rest of the course had dried out, and any subsequent rainfall would put us right back to square one. Plugged or disappeared balls were common, and growing healthy turf was impossible. The area was essentially unplayable for most of the season.

The Wee Burn

After lengthy consideration, we decided to stop trying to fight Mother Nature, and instead provide a better place to store this water. A wee burn wanted to exist, if we would do the digging. The idea was to dig down front-right of the green where the water was collecting so that a greater volume could be held in a smaller footprint. The removed soil was used to raise and slope the front left to help it remain dry by surface draining into the burn.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

Our friends Matt, Mark and Matt from NewClub put on their artisans hats and came out to do the digging and shaping. We didn’t want the feature to look like a boring ditch, but rather a burn that might be found on a course in the British Isles. Aesthetics were enhanced with wetland plants and stone chunks donated by a neighbor. We were excited about how the burn looked upon completion, but the real test would have to wait for the next rain. Sure enough, the rains came and the burn worked as intended, holding water while allowing the front-left approach to the green to dry out quickly. Players’ balls will no longer plug and their shoes will remain mud-free.

Player Perceptions

Although we were happy with how the burn looked and functioned, some players were not enthused. Change creates complaints, presumably because it makes us uncomfortable. Those complaints open a window into the quirky manner in which our minds work. When asked why a player doesn’t like a feature, they will produce an answer even if it is poorly founded. For example, in the case of the burn, we heard that it makes the hole harder. The burn is not marked as a hazard—it is essentially a depression in the fairway where casual water collects. If there is water in it, players are entitled to a free drop. Looking at the before and after photos above, it is readily apparent that we took a large problem and made it smaller, thereby rendering the hole more playable. That’s not harder, it’s easier (and more interesting).

If we are honest with ourselves, we can all admit to having reactionary moments like this when faced with change, which is why we don’t sweat the feedback. Dr. MacKenzie accepted that it was part of the deal, and he knew much more about golf architecture than we ever will. When the complaints come, we comfort ourselves by imagining that he would have approved of our Wee Burn, as well as our ongoing efforts to push Canal Shores forward.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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THE WRAP-AROUND AT CANAL SHORES

Part 25 of the Journey Along the Shores series recaps our off-season projects

Much like the modern PGA Tour, the work season at Canal Shores never ends. Long after players have hung up their clubs in Chicagoland, our staff and volunteers keep plugging away on course improvements, deterred only by blizzards, bitter cold or torrential rains. Progress continues all the way through to spring cleanup. Over the past six months, much was accomplished and more projects were added to the never-ending list. Let’s take a spin around the course to see what the crew has been up to.

The theme of recent work has been eradicating neglect. What that means is we are finding places on the course—exposed mud, standing water, overgrowth, fallen trees—and doing whatever it takes to tune them up such that the course is more enjoyable for visitors and so that it visually reflects the level of care that we feel.

Brush Clearing

Clearing of invasives on the greenside bank of the 9th was a major focus. Overgrowth of buckthorn and honey locusts resulted in both playability and safety issues. Another large section of the bank was cleared so that the green and fairway are now visible from the tee. On the 8th, several dead ash trees that were overgrown with invasive vines fell, creating a terrible tangle. The right side was cleared of that mess and buckthorn, opening up a wider and more appealing corridor for play. Buckthorn had also heavily encroached along the left side of the 11th. It was peeled back to make the par-3 more forgiving, as well as to reveal views of the canal. The bank left of the 13th green was cleared, exposing its rugged shape, along with a backdrop view of the Lincoln Street bridge. And finally, two large dead ash trees fell in a heap short of the horseshoe bunker on the 17th. That area was cleared up to the back of the 18th tee and new rough grown in from seed.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

Improvement Projects

Volunteer groups including the Northwestern Men’s Golf Team, the Northwestern Athletic Department, Friends of the Chicago River and Clean-up Evanston came out again this spring to tackle a series of projects. We built a mulch bridge between the 9th and 10th holes to help walkers and carts get through the wet area between wetlands. Fences were cleaned of debris on the 1st, 7th, 13th and 18th holes. Invasives were cleaned out of the tall grass area in front of the 3rd tee.

For the fourth straight year, students from North Shore Country Day School came out to do their senior service project. We shifted gears from golf this year and our volunteers Andrew and Will created a nature loop behind the 11th green. The long-term vision is to build an elevated platform at the far point of their path for bird watching over the canal.

Spring Tune-up

Beyond the clearing and project work, we have gotten into an annual routine to prep the course for peak season play. Paths are freshly mulched. Bunker edges on all eighteen of our bunkers are restored and new sand added. Rough grass on mounds and bunker faces is chopped and thinned, a task which can be a real challenge in wet springs when the grass gets lush. Fairway and puttable area lines on the greens are slowly but surely reestablished and repairs to putting surfaces addressed. The weather hasn’t been remotely cooperative this year, but the course will be in prime shape by the beginning of July thanks to the hustle of Tony and Matt’s team.

Takeaways from the Wrap-Around

Every year, as we progress through the wrap-around season in our efforts to revitalize Canal Shores, I learn lessons and appreciate the opportunity to be involved more. Layers of neglect that are stripped away continue to reveal interesting features and beautiful views. The property is teeming with wildlife that keep me company during moments of solitude. I am struck by how big a difference a group of workers of any size can make. It is nice to have an army of volunteers, but a small, motivated squad is equally impactful. Levels of support and appreciation for our work continue to increase, and every person who stops to say hello or thanks makes a difference—it’s humbling and motivating to be a part of this community.

We aren’t finished yet. Plenty more clearing to do, and projects have been added to the list. Stay tuned for updates on summer and fall improvements, and we hope to see you out along the shores real soon.

For the entire Journey Along the Shores, click here.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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EVENT-FULL SEASONS AT CANAL SHORES

Part 24 of the Journey Along the Shores series dives into our growing volume of activity and events

With each passing year, Canal Shores gets busier. The course is seeing more play and it would seem that the Evanston-Wilmette community has gotten markedly golfier. That is terrific progress from my geeky perspective. However, the activity at Canal Shores does not begin and end with golf, which is one of the many ways that our community course delivers value. The more people attending our growing roster of events or simply getting outdoors and using the space, the better.

Of course, the multi-use nature of the facility necessitates that different user groups have to figure out how to coexist. This process is not without moments of discord. Dog walkers, runners, picnickers and golfers use Canal Shores in different ways and have to learn how to respect the course, and each other. Casual golfers, players from the junior programs and the high school teams that call the course home sometimes step on each other’s toes. And we all have to make way for the steady stream of golf and non-golf events that are filling up the calendar. As an individual, it is easy to get caught up in the painful part of these growing pains. I choose to try and stay flexible so that I can enjoy the growth of the Canal Shores community.

In addition to our thriving junior camps and ladies league, 2018 saw many of our customary events return, which were also joined by newcomers. The year kicked off with the annual Garage Party fundraiser and was followed in the summer with the Murray Brothers Invitational benefiting first-responders. Fall brought Northwestern football tailgating and ETHS golf matches. Once again, we concluded the season with yet another rousing gathering of the Honourable Company of Reverse Jans Golfers. The chilly temps were happily faced and members of the company generously donated enough to fund a significant portion of the lease for our Superintendent Tony’s new utility vehicle. Many thanks to Seamus Golf, Imperial Headwear and Ballpark Blueprints for their support.

Other gatherings and meet-ups kept the season interesting, with the highlight being a visit from The Fried Egg’s Andy Johnson and Erik Anders Lang for a recording of his Random Golf Club series. The outdoor music scene at Canal Shores also went next level when the 1st and 2nd holes served as the venue for Out of Space, a festival headlined by Mavis Staples and The Indigo Girls. Last but not least and just under the weather wire, the Evanston Running Club held their Cross-Country Invitational. The diversity of these events is a testament to the movement within the community to take a fresh and open-minded look at this public asset we own and find new ways to make use of it—club in hand, or not.

On the heels of a successful 2018, this season is already off to a strong start (in spite of the Chicago weather) in this, our 100th anniversary year. The New Club golf society held their first spring tune-up and the Garage Party was once again a mob scene. The calendar is filling up quickly with events and outings, big and small. On June 4th, the ladies come out for Women’s Golf Day quickly followed on the 7th by the first annual Canal Shores Open, in which teams will battle for the inaugural title. On June 14th, we’re taking a page out of the Winter Park 9 playbook by starting up a weekly Friday Skins Game. Out of Space is coming back with four nights of shows featuring Cake, Mandolin Orange, I’m With Her, Jeff Tweedy and Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers. All exciting events that are sure to be good fun for all.

As we continue onward, it is my hope that more folks look at Canal Shores for what it is—a fun golf course in a beautiful green space that is welcoming and infinitely flexible for events and activities of all kinds. 18 hole golf outings are dandy, but they are just one of the many ways to enjoy Canal Shores. Our staff, including fabulous new Events Coordinator Melissa (melissa@canalshores.org) is willing to help with conceiving or executing any manner of gathering under the sun. Want to have a 5-hole one club tournament and then drink beer and eat pizza by the fire pit? No problem. Want to start a weekly disc golf league? She’s got you. Want to host a business networking meeting with cocktails and casual putting contests? Melissa and Tony will figure it out. Want to have a bring-your-dog-to-golf gathering? How has that not already happened? You get my point here.

The bottom line at Canal Shores is that it is our space. The more we use it and contribute to it, the more it will thrive. We certainly love seeing more people playing golf—it is the greatest game, after all—but there has always been more to Canal Shores than golf, and there always will be.

For the entire Journey Along the Shores, click here.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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MORE MUSINGS ON GREATNESS

While listening to a podcast with Ron Whitten, long-time architecture editor with Golf Digest, I was struck by how similar his early experience of falling in love with the game’s playing fields was to my own. In his youth, Whitten visited both Canal Shores (then known by another name) and Chicago Golf Club. Each course delighted him in a different way, and caused in him a revelation that would launch his career – there exists a wondrous variety of golf courses to explore.

Ron Whitten’s experience resonates with me because it mirrors my own, and that of my two sons. I learned the game playing with my dad and grandfather at the course on the old Fort Sheridan Army base in Highland Park, IL. Soon after, I began a ten year stretch of caddying at the Old Elm Club, a Harry Colt design built by a young Donald Ross – a true architectural gem. I played many other courses during my younger days, but Fort Sheridan and Old Elm were my favorites. For me, although they resided at completely different ends of the spectrum in terms of pedigree and conditioning, they were both intensely interesting in their own way. With the minds and hands of both Harry Colt and Donald Ross involved, the greatness of Old Elm is inherently obvious. Fort Sheridan wound through a military base past tanks and cannons, on the parade grounds and over ravines – what could be cooler for a little boy? Fast forward and I now split time with my sons between Canal Shores and Kingsley Club, each interesting in its own unique way.

The subject of what defines greatness in golf course architecture is one that I covered previously in my 108 in 48 post. There is a broader category of “good” into which great courses like those fall, with a much simpler definition informed by my experience. A good course is one that is interesting enough to make me want to play it again. This definition is inclusive of both ends of the spectrum, and tends to be exclusive of courses in the middle. Life is too short to spend precious golf time (and dollars) on the bland, the boring, or the just plain bad. I would rather hold out for those courses that get my gears turning with quirk, interesting details, or unique surroundings.

Exploring the ends of the spectrum and sharing those stories will be the focus of Geeked On Golf going forward. Chime in and share your experiences. It is always a pleasure to connect with kindred spirits.

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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THE YEAR THAT CANAL SHORES BECAME A GOLF COURSE

Part 23 of the Journey Along the Shores series takes a look at improvements to course presentation

Prior to this year, Canal Shores was a place where it was great fun to play golf, but it wasn’t much of a golf course.  It was a novelty that captured our hearts.  This year, Canal Shores became a golf course.

There were three big steps made by our Superintendent Tony Frandria (@tonyturf) and his crew during the spring, building upon the solid progress of previous years:

  1. Expansion of the puttable areas on the green pads.
  2. Expansion of teeing areas and fairways, and definition of grass lines.
  3. Rehab of bunkers.

Previous pilot projects touched on these three aspects of course presentation.  This season, all holes were further upgraded, creating a unified aesthetic and better playing conditions.  The result was that playing golf at Canal Shores felt like playing proper golf, rather than whacking it around in a park with target greens.


PUTTABLE AREA EXPANSION

Progressive green shrinkage is a common problem on any course, and it is particularly bad at Canal Shores.  With our extremely limited resources and poor irrigation, there is no easy way to push the greens out toward their original edges.  We made a decision to scalp the green pads anyway, working under the assumption that a patchy collar is better than rough height grass.  Players can chip or putt from the puttable area, making our holes more interesting.  Lines were painted and the grass was cut.


TEEING AREAS, FAIRWAYS & GRASS LINES

Next, we took a look at the tee-to-green presentation.  In the spirit of teasing the most interest and fun out of our little course, we again got creative with grass.  We ditched defined tee boxes wherever possible for teeing areas, allowing us to spread wear and tear over a larger area, while also giving our players greater variety day to day.

Teeing areas were connected to the fairway, and the fairways expanded.  Although we have our fair share of good players at Canal Shores, we also have many beginners, juniors, and seniors.  For these groups, short grass makes the game more fun, and fun comes first. Again, lines were painted and the mowing began.  With our new mowing pattern, a player who struggles to get the ball airborne will still be able to move forward and enjoy the hole.

We didn’t want the course to become a homogenous stretch of fairway, however.  That’s not golf.  Golf involves navigating obstacles (hazards) using your mind and your skill.  We don’t have many hazards, and we don’t have the resources or desire to create more, so we again sought to make the most of the course features we have.  There are grass bunkers and quirky mounds scattered around Canal Shores, and we decided to accentuate them by letting the grass grow.  The contrast of fairway height grass surrounding a scruffy hump, bump, or hillock is far more interesting than a single height of cut.  These hazards also create real challenge who fail to avoid them.

With a full year’s experience under our belt, we now know the mowing patterns.  In 2019, we will fine tune, including maintaining the scruffy grass at a lower height to give players a better chance at recovery.


BUNKER REHAB

The final piece of this year’s upgrade was our bunkers.  As those who have been following along know, we have chipped away at bunker rehab for years.  The goals have been to decrease the number of bunker and the square footage, while also dramatically increasing the interest.  In 2018, those goals were finally achieved across the entire course.

A donation of high quality bunker sand from a generous Superintendent in the area was the nudge we needed to follow through and bring all remaining bunkers up to snuff.  What follows is a recap with visuals of our work over the years.  Many thanks to all of the volunteers who pitched in on bunker work.

HOLE #2 – The front left bunker was rebuilt and given more character.

HOLE #3 – A fairway bunker left was removed and grassed over.  A small fairway bunker was added in the landing area on the right.

The right forebunker was rebuilt and given more character.

HOLE #8 – The two bunkers right of the green were the best we had, and so were left as is.  Two bunkers left of the green were reshaped smaller and with more character.

HOLE #12 – A left fairway bunker was removed and grassed over.  The bunker front left of the green was reshaped smaller with more character.  A bunker left of the green was filled in and grassed over.

A pot bunker was added front right of the green.

Two large saucer bunkers behind the green were removed and replaced with a more interesting single trench bunker.

HOLE #13 – The bunker front right of the green was reshaped with more character.  The sandy waste bunker behind the green was in good shape and left as is.

HOLE #14 – One long trench bunker left of the green was broken into two smaller bunkers and reshaped with more character.

HOLE #15 – Two fairway bunker were reconfigured into the Principal’s Nose.

A bunker short left of the green was removed and grassed over.  The bunker front right of the green was repositioned and reshaped with more character.

HOLE #17 – The left fairway bunker was reshaped with more character.  The right fairway bunker as allowed to grow over as it is within the delineated wetland buffer.

HOLE #18 – The near right and left fairway bunkers were allowed to grow over.  The far right fairway bunker was transformed into the Church Pews.  The bunker front left of the green was filled in and grassed over.

Puttable areas, grass lines, and bunkers.  Thanks the commitment of our staff and volunteers, we continue to push our little gem forward.  In 2018, Canal Shores became a real golf course.  Who knows what 2019 might bring.  Stay tuned….

 

For the entire Journey Along the Shores, click here.

 

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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REVERSE JANS RECAP

Part 22 of the Journey Along the Shores series looks back at the annual gathering of the Honourable Company of Reverse Jans Golfers

Canal Shores is about coming together, having fun through laid back competition, and caring for a special community asset.  That is the spirit in which the Honourable Company of Reverse Jans Golfers convened for its third annual gathering and golf outing in December of last year.

CanalShores14-AndyDrone.JPGThe day began with solid geekery as HCRJG Member Andy Johnson (@the_fried_egg) brought out his drone to capture photos and video of work that we completed as part of our Metra Corner Makeover.

Andy was kind enough to put together a video montage that illustrates well how integrated with the surrounding community Canal Shores is.  Our clearing efforts along the canal and our work on making bunkers and grass lines more interesting is also evident.

 

 

It was then on to the golf.  We had six teams totaling 24 members of The Company playing our 14 hole reverse routing.  The competition was friendly and intense, and thankfully we managed not to damage any property.  We also got the now customary wide range of curious and bemused reactions from folks out walking wondering a) why is this big group playing golf in December, and b) do you realize that you are going in the wrong direction?

After the round, we convened at the Legion for food, storytelling, and awards.  Many thanks to Company Member John Enright from Bluestone in Evanston for providing the food.  Thanks also to Imperial Headware and Seamus Golf for once again providing us with stellar swag for our contestants.

HCRJG2017-ImperialSeamus.jpg

As always, Team Dingles (Captained by David Inglis) won one of the sets of treasured glassware.  I can honestly not remember which team won the other set, and it doesn’t matter because having fun and giving back is what is more important to us.

We managed to raise several thousand dollars and were ecstatic when the opportunity arose to use our donation to help our Superintendent Tony Frandria (@TonyTurf) repaint his maintenance shop.  HCRJG Member Lisa Quinn connected Tony to a vendor and this spring the shop was transformed.

The fine folks at Dynamic Colors absolutely crushed the job and gave us a cool recap video as a bonus.

 

I can’t thank the members of the HCRJG enough for their ongoing support of our dream chasing at Canal Shores.  That support extends well beyond the afternoon each December when we hold our gathering.  They are there year-round, putting the community in community golf.


More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 21 (Burn Baby Burn)

There’s a new boss at Canal Shores – a Burn Boss, that is – and his name is Steve Neumann.  Steve is the Chair of our Grounds Committee as well as the Eco Committee that recently completed creation of the Ecological Component of our Master Plan (click here to see the Eco plan).  Being a geeky man after my own heart, he fulfilled an ambition of becoming an officially certified Burn Boss by participating in training with the Forest Preserve District.  Perhaps the coolest title I have heard to date.

In my previous post on trees, I shared about our intention to continue the battle against buckthorn, honeysuckle and other invasives to create space for native trees, shrubs and other plants to flourish at Canal Shores.  The property is currently so terribly overrun with invasives that the by-product of our clearing efforts is a tremendous amount of brush.  Prior to this season, we have experimented with using the material in raised hugelkultur beds, and we have chipped quite a bit of it.  The chipping is faster and tidier, but it is also cost-prohibitive considering the volume of material.

Cue the Burn Boss.

Burning has been a land management practice since before European settlers arrived in America.  Native Americans used prescribed burning of the prairies and woodlands to promote biodiversity, maintain ecological health, and sustain their food sources.  Fast forward several centuries, and ecologists, land managers and Golf Course Superintendents are once again embracing regular prescribed burning as a best practice for maintaining healthy ecosystems.

According to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, “Unburned natural areas can quickly become choked with invasive trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants including buckthorn and honeysuckle.  A periodic fire regime limits these unwanted species while promoting more desirable woody species such as oaks and hickories, as well as numerous grasses and wildflowers.

As an additional benefit to prescribed burns, the black earth left behind after a fire warms more quickly in the spring, which gives native species a jumpstart in growth over unburned areas.  Other benefits include accelerated nutrient cycling in the soil and decreased fuel loads that will reduce the likelihood of wildfire.

Our crew is now committed to the practice of burning to support the ecological enhancements we are working so hard to make.  Steve obtained permits from both the Illinois EPA and the City of Evanston, and organized our first burn.

Although we are starting slowly with burning brush piles, my hope is that we expand the practice to our woodland and “native” areas in the long run because burning is a best practice.


OUR FIRST BURN

After winter clearing projects, we had plenty of brush to burn.  Tony and John moved and compiled it on the 11th hole.  The pile was big to begin with, and during the three hour session, we continued clearing the along the canal.

We were fortunate to have a great turnout of volunteers, young and old.  Our Burn Boss got the fire going, and for more than 2 hours, we fed the fire.

What started as a big pile of brush became a big fire.  24 hours later, all that was left was a small pile of ash.  Spring rain and wind will take care of the ash, and we will do it all again in the next session.

Many thanks to Steve for his efforts to educate and organize, and to our dedicated volunteers who showed up to feed the fire and feel the burn.


More Journey Along the Shores posts:

 

 

Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 20 (Spring Project)

Our Superintendent Tony Frandria and Assistant Superintendent John Lee have worked wonders to continue the improvement of our putting surfaces.  However, there is not much that they can do when those surfaces have shrunk to a size much smaller than originally intended.  Such is the case on our 17th and 18th greens.

It is also the case that the approach in front of the 17th green the area behind the 18th are consistent drainage problems.  Every rainfall above 1 inch results in standing water for extended periods of time.

We realize that the combination of these two issues is leaving a poor impression on visiting players.  The closing stretch is where a course should impress.  In the case of Canal Shores, it disappoints.  Therefore, we have decided to make our spring project for 2018 a Closing Stretch Makeover.

Project elements include:

  • Expansion of the 18th green putting surface out the edges of the green pad.
  • Restoration of the bunker front left of the 18th green.
  • Creation of an artful drainage ditch behind the 18th green, with adjacent native area plantings.
  • Restoration of a sandy waste on the right side of the 18th fairway.
  • Clearing of brush and invasives adjacent to the 18th teeing area.
  • Expansion of the 17th green putting surface out to the edges of the green pad.
  • Creation of a Lion’s Mouth bunker in the front center of the 17th green.
  • Creation of an artful drainage ditch left of the 17th green.
  • Clearing of brush and invasives adjacent to the 17th teeing area.
  • Removal of arborvitae shrubs behind the 17th teeing area.

This sketch illustrates the updated layout of the closing stretch, with added interest for players and beauty for all visitors.

CanalShores17+18-Aerial-JWSketch.jpeg

And this close-up sketch of the 18th green complex provides more detail on the layout that will be enjoyed both by players and passersby on Lincoln.

CanalShores18-GreenDitchMakeover.jpg

Ditches and swales will be key components of our drainage strategy when we move from this pilot project phase to a renovation phase.  Inspirational examples from courses around the world abound, and we intend to draw on those examples in this makeover project.

For those unfamiliar with the Lion’s Mouth design, there is a reason why it has been so often employed by many of the greatest architects in history.  It is perfect for a short par 4 like our 17th.  The central bunker is visually imposing and a thrill to navigate.

Our volunteers began work in the fall with the clearing of invasives around the 17th and 18th tee areas.

Resources and volunteers are currently being organized, and we will begin work in early March when the ground thaws.  The intention is to complete the project by the second week of April so that the new turf can establish and be mown by Memorial Day weekend when the season gets into full swing.

Stay tuned for more updates to come…


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Copyright 2018 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf