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THE ARRIVAL OF REINFORCEMENTS

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.

Project Pollinator

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.

Community Connector

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.

The treeline on the 12th before work began
The cleared treeline and bridge reveal

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


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A NEW STANDARD FOR GREATNESS

Musings on the power of kinship, on and off the course

The subject of greatness is one that I have spent years now exploring in my golf travels, conversations, debates and attendant musings. What makes a golf course great? What makes one greater than another? Is it even possible to objectively evaluate a course, or are all such attempts hopelessly entangled with the individual’s experience on any given day?

Previously, I set forth a personal standard for my favorite courses based on their ability to elicit a desire for endless loops, my 108 in 48ers, which has been updated to include new entries from this past season. This angle on the questions above speaks to the enjoyment provided by these courses over multiple plays. It also points to the perspective one gains by playing and studying worthy designs at depth. Certainly, there is great value in expanding the breadth of one’s horizons through seeing new courses of all kinds. Profound gains in perspective are also available to those who explore every strategy, feature, contour and condition of their favorites, giving thought to the most impactful qualities. Equal parts breadth and depth yield the most profound enlightenment.

Subsequent to the creation of the 108 in 48 standard, I also made an exploration of the far ends of the spectrum. At one end are the courses that are universally considered exceptional. At the other end are those that possess qualities—architectural interest, fun, quirkiness, setting, community vibe—that when coupled with a reasonable green fee, place them among my favorites. Aiken GC, Rock Hollow, Pleasant Run and others were all welcome additions to this group for me last season.

Lawsonia Links – The gold standard for value

The bottom line for any golf geek is that, regardless of how many rounds we get to play on various courses, we would all like to play more. There are, sadly, constraints of resources and time. That makes maximizing the value of the time and money I spend on golf a high priority, worthy of attention and effort. Politeness and enthusiasm still go a long way toward gaining access to private clubs. Golfers are a generous lot, and they enjoy sharing their courses with kindred spirits. Lacking such access, resources like the GeekedOnGolf Global Guide and Sugarloaf Social Club’s Hidden Gem Project make finding the value plays easier than ever for the curious and adventurous.

A new criterion has been added to my list that is increasing in weight as the years go on—camaraderie. In any walk of life, if one looks for the goodness in people, it can be found. In my experience,  the game of golf seems to attract people and bring out that goodness in a way that I find particularly enriching. Perhaps it is the choice of a pursuit that can never be exhausted or mastered, one that provides at least as much of the agony of defeat as it does the thrill of victory, which creates the conditions for bonding and kinship.

It has also been my good fortune to find a tribe of geeks for whom the score on the card, while not meaningless, is secondary to a $1 Nassau, and lively discussion of course architecture and history. It was our common interest in the game that connected me to these great people, but our friendships have gone far deeper. I find myself enjoying getting to know them more just as much as the courses we’re playing together, with modern connectivity allowing us to extend our 19th hole conversations indefinitely.

Therefore, where I choose to spend my time and resources playing is now strictly on courses that are likely to meet my standards for greatness—some new, but an increasing percentage tried-and-true. And further, it is a rarity that I find myself legging out a solo round on some new (to me) course just because it’s on a list. There are obvious exceptions. Your number gets called for Cypress, Pine Valley, Augusta, etc., you find a way to go, no matter what. Beyond those “once in a lifetime” experiences though, I will take course+camaraderie over just the course, every day.

Scenes from an emergency nine at Cal Club

Let’s take this year’s CA Swing as an example of these standards in practice. A quick trip to the Bay Area afforded me the privilege of a return visit to one of my favorite courses. A stone’s throw away is another top club, which I have not yet played, but could likely be accessed with enough effort. It would be nice to play that course, and it is possible that I might like it marginally more than the one I was visiting. Some people do. But on a trip like this with limited time, playing there would not only have meant foregoing a round at one of my all-time favorites. It would have meant losing time with my buddies. It might have also cost me the opportunity to make a new friend, who as a long-time sports reporter, regaled us with terrific stories from years on the NFL and PGA Tour beats. For me, the value of that kinship far outweighs another check on my list.

Had it been possible, I most certainly would have made time to see the San Geronimo Golf Course in Marin. Unfortunately, as detailed in my previous article, the battle over the course has left it in an unmaintained state. I did, however, have the honor of attending the Save San Geronimo fundraiser at Terrapin Crossroads in San Raphael. An inspiring spirit was alive and well among this group of warriors who are fighting to bring their community course back to life. As confirmation that I was in the right place, a conversation with the winner of the auction of a trip to Sand Valley revealed that he bought it for his buddies, with whom he has been taking golf trips for 35 years. My hope for every golf geek is the ability to some day claim such a track record.

My exploration of great golf courses started with a focus on the playing fields. After years of adventure, I have finally realized that key ingredient for me is the players. Great courses can be found and accessed by the open-minded and motivated, regardless of means. Upon identifying the venue, sharing the experience with good friends is what makes one’s favorites transcend any rating, ranking or list.

Copyright 2020 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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A WIN-WIN-WIN SOLUTION AT SAN GERONIMO

This installment of the GeekedOnGolf Community Golf series looks at the fight to save and reinvent San Geronimo Golf Course in Marin County, CA

For centuries, a story has been unfolding in the San Geronimo Valley, highlighting the relationships between people and the land, and each other. Important questions about stewardship, land use, ecology and community have been raised over the years, with complex and ambiguous answers. The fight to save the San Geronimo Golf Course is just the most recent chapter in the history of an area where tensions between competing interests make finding win-win solutions to problems more challenging. The question about the immediate future of this community course will soon be answered, and the next phase of the relationship between the people and this land will begin. What remains to be seen thereafter is what will become of the relationships among the residents of the valley and Marin County at large.

An Evolving Landscape

The San Geronimo Valley is in the heart of Marin County, over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. It is home to several small towns surrounded by open space preserves. Creeks meander down from the hillsides and combine to form the ecologically important Lagunitas Creek Watershed that is habitat for endangered coho salmon and steelhead trout.

Native American tribal territories – Credit: Drake Navigators Guild

The oldest known stewards of this land were the Coast Miwok people. Evidence suggests that going back more than 4,000 years, these indigenous hunter-gatherers used controlled burns to manage vegetation, promoting the growth of oaks that provided them acorns. They also caught fish in the creeks and hunted deer. Among their first contacts with European explorers was Sir Francis Drake, who reached the coast in 1579. Other settlers and fortune hunters followed, reducing the Miwok population from thousands to the low hundreds when their lifestyle and stewardship gave way to ranchers and farmers in the mid-19th century.

By the 1950s, Valley leadership recognized the need for a plan to better organize resources for the growing community. Recreation was a part of that plan, including a golf course.

The San Geronimo Valley in 1952 – Credit: Josh Pettit

A Scot and an Irishman came to America long after the Englishman Drake, each making their own mark on the West Coast. The one that most golfers have heard of is Dr. Alister MacKenzie, designer of Meadow Club, Cypress Point, Sharp Park and Pasatiempo. The other is Arthur Vernon Macan Jr.—a top amateur golfer who spent his days in the company of luminaries such as Bernard Darwin and Charles Alison, competing on and discussing the storied courses of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1908, he emigrated to British Columbia in Canada and earned his first commission as a course designer at Royal Collwood, which opened for play in 1913.

“Royal Collwood set the standard for West Coast architecture before Pebble Beach or Cypress Point,” said Jeff Mingay, golf course architect and student of Macan. “He was brilliant at routing, was a master green builder, and his courses drained really well—he pioneered golf course architecture in the west.” Macan made his way south to the Bay Area, working at high profile clubs like California Golf Club of San Francisco. His decades-long career would end in the San Geronimo Valley, with the opening of the community course in 1965. It would include his trademark, solid routing and challenging green contours, in a lovely natural setting. “Macan made clay models of his greens,” explained Mingay. “The only surviving model, which is now at the British Columbia Golf Museum, is from San Geronimo.” The course, which would be enjoyed by the community for generations to come, was an important piece of the history of golf architecture in America.

The San Geronimo Golf Course in 2017 – Credit: Josh Pettit

Of course, most of the players and other visitors to San Geronimo Golf Course could have cared less about the design pedigree of their local gem. For adults of all ages and skill levels, it was a place to get outside, connect with friends and nature, and have a go at capturing the magic of a few well-struck shots and holed putts. For boys and girls, it was a welcoming spot to learn the game and perhaps graduate to playing on one of the high school teams that used the course for matches. For non-golfers, it was an open space to walk the dog or take a stroll while good-naturedly pondering why on earth a sane person would ever become obsessed with trying to get a little white ball into a hole in the ground. San Geronimo was ground for recreation, and it was beloved by its community.

The facility had notably overcome two of the major issues plaguing courses across the country—financial and ecological sustainability. The Lee family, which owned and operated San Geronimo from 2009 through 2017, turned solid profits, in spite of the ebbs and flows of golf participation during that period. They emanated an inclusive spirit and embraced a multi-use approach to event hosting, activity offerings and tending of a community garden.

The Lees were also sensitive to the ecological impact of their golf operation. In 2014, the comprehensive Coho-Friendly Habitat and Operations Plan for the San Geronimo Golf Course was created in partnership with the community, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN). It set out to provide analysis and actionable recommendations for enhancement of riparian habitat, stormwater management, water use, integrated pest management and invasive species management (click here to see the Coho-Friendly plan). The document is thorough, holistic, well-conceived and a credit to the collaborative process of those involved.

It is worth highlighting that the Lees voluntarily participated in that process, and followed up by taking action on the recommendations for pest management, water use and invasive species management. Community volunteers also began pilot projects to enhance salmon and trout habitat in the creeks. “The previous owners of the golf course did a good job of not modifying the creek,” said Eric Ettinger, aquatic ecologist with the Marin Municipal Water District, in an interview. “I don’t think the golf course was ever the problem for salmon in the watershed.” The Lees and their partners in the community were taking action not because they had caused the problem, but rather because they saw an opportunity to be a part of the solution.

A Shift in Direction

In the midst of community-driven progress, San Geronimo was sold 2017, setting off a regrettable chain of events that has left the course in limbo. Marin County Supervisor Dennis Rodoni led an effort to entice the Trust for Public Land to purchase the golf course at a premium, presumably to ensure that it would not fall prey to developers. Once the TPL ownership had been secured, Marin County would step in, purchase the land and “rewild” it into parkland. From the perspective of a single-minded champion of conservation, this plan likely seemed like a stroke of genius, justifying the lack of public consultation and transparency. The community had a different reaction.

The residents of Marin lean activist, to say the least, and when they got wind of the Rodoni-TPL deal, they got active. When attempts to get their voices heard by County Supervisors and TPL representatives failed, the San Geronimo Advocates group filed a lawsuit to block the resale of the golf course to Marin County, ironically on environmental protection grounds. The Advocates won, causing the county to walk away from the deal. The Trust for Public Land continued operations at the course for a time, but it now lays fallow. The community did not confine its advocacy to the courts, however. They organized and collected more than 12,000 signatures to qualify a ballot measure for March of 2020 that would protect the existing designation of golf as the primary use of the San Geronimo land, unless a future public vote determines otherwise.

The faces of San Geronimo – Credit: SaveSanGeronimo.com

Reading through the letters-to-the-editor and local news stories regarding the fight to save San Geronimo, two things become abundantly clear. First, the battle is over more than a golf course. It is about the right of the people to participate in the process of determining how land in their community will get used. Second, this fight has become emotionally charged, with trust diminished and nerves raw. In violating its publicly stated principle to “work with communities to ensure that development happens for them, and not to them,” the Trust for Public Land has done damage that will take some time and effort to repair.

The Path Ahead

Why should valuable public land be used for the benefit of a few rich, white guys? This hackneyed question that the game of golf’s detractors love to trot out when debating public resource allocation is particularly misplaced at San Geronimo. The broad spectrum of players at the course, and the thousands of local ballot initiative supporters make this point emphatically. Golf provides recreational benefits to its players, and San Geronimo’s value as an open, green space and managed fire break extend well beyond golfers.

Further, the logic inherent in the question is fundamentally flawed. It implies that one kind of outdoor recreation (e.g. hiking, playing on a playground) is better than another (golf), and therefore more worthy of taxpayer support. The goal of any process of public land use planning should be to maximize recreational value to as many stakeholders as possible, ideally touching on aspects of ecology and community as well. It should not be to impose the values of the few on the many.

Josh Pettit has heard the “Why golf?” question while making the rounds to evangelize and pitch a new vision for the course. He grew up in Fairfax and learned to play the game at San Geronimo. Pettit went on to obtain a degree in Landscape Architecture and start his own business, Pacific Golf Design. He has been involved with the effort to save San Geronimo, offering his design services pro-bono. “San Geronimo always had a great reputation,” he recounted. “People from all over the area would come to play it. Given the overwhelming local support, the residents clearly still see the value in this golf course.” Pettit has sketched out a long-range plan that delivers wins to numerous stakeholder groups, and stands ready to jump in if given the chance by TPL, or a future owner.

Like the residents who wrote letters and collected signatures, Josh Pettit is both frustrated and determined. “The people at TPL initially expressed interest in my ideas, but it became clear that the conversation wasn’t going anywhere,” he said. The new owners seem not to have learned their lesson regarding connecting with the community as well. They have one website set up to gather public comments, with an air of open-mindedness. Another is dedicated to defeating the Advocates’ ballot measure. Given that the Trust for Public Land already has golf course properties in Colorado and New Jersey in their portfolio, their anti-golf stance at San Geronimo is curious. “One of the project managers who was not a golfer told me that he got emotional watching Tiger Woods win The Masters this year,” shared Pettit. Golf can have that effect. There is still hope.

For those in positions of authority and power who are convinced that their way is the right way, there will always be a temptation to bypass the messy democratic process and impose their will. This is a recipe for suboptimal outcomes and backlash. A vastly superior outcome for San Geronimo can be achieved if the various stakeholders work together, as they have in the past. The risk of refusing to do so is that one group gets their way with the land, but the fabric of the community is torn in the process. What point is there in winning the battle, if both sides ultimately lose the war?

The sun has not yet set – Credit: SaveSanGeronimo.com

It has been thousands of years since the San Geronimo Valley was wilderness. In the eras since, people have called the area home, managed the land, and used it for food, commerce and recreation, including golf. At the very least, for fire safety and ecological responsibility, generations to come will need to carry on that stewardship. In spite of missteps and conflict to this point, the opportunity still exists at San Geronimo to evolve the land once again to create an outstanding community asset that delivers immense recreational and ecological value. Here’s hoping that all parties involved take a step back, take a breath, and find that win-win-win.

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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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