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Public Golf, Private Interests

A photo essay and opinion on Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course.

By News, Photo, Photo Essay

Photos by Aidan Bryant.

 In a city where outdoor space is a privilege, and only accessible for a few months of the year, Chicago takes one of the nicest spots and keeps most people out, to reserve it for a game the majority of the people who live here have no idea how to play, and will never even be able to afford. 

A large tree looming over the Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary.

Golf is a sport of leisure. Unlike soccer or basketball, which can be played freely at most parks in America with just a ball, golf requires clubs, shoes, balls, “proper” clothing, and an entrance fee just to be able to play. America contains 43 percent of the world’s golf courses and has 13,000 more than second place Japan. A golf course is a fantasy, a manicured space that exists outside of the place it occupies. How you view one depends on which side of the fence you stand on. 

Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course opened in 1932 and is located in Waveland Park in Lakeview, overlooking Lake Michigan. The course is named after Sydney R. Marovitz, a former commissioner who served on the Park District Board from 1974 to 1986. 

A view from outside the fence of a weeping willow.

Examining the course name reveals the Chicago political machine. Sydney’s brother Abraham Lincoln Marovitz was a senior federal judge (Appointed by JFK) who swore in both Daleys as mayor.  Sydney’s son, William A. Marovitz, was a state senator, notable for beating an extortion charge while senator, and settling out of court on an insider trading charge in 2011. And finally, Sydney’s other brother, Harold Marovitz, was a boxing judge for the state athletic commission, who judged the title fight between Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson. Sydney Marovitz also served under Ed Kelly at the Parks Department, which was sued in 1982, claiming Kelly ignored Black and hispanic neighborhoods in favor of increasing funding to white neighborhoods. The department later promised to increase funding to those neighborhoods, while never admitting harm to those neighborhoods.. 

An early morning view of golfers getting ready to play, with a stone wall in the foreground.

Sydney R.Marovitz Golf Course is now managed by Troon Golf, a golf course management company that turns a profit for the city. Troon’s corporate statement says they are “Consciously Kind” and “Attentively Inclusive.” Troon manages over 645 courses worldwide and is owned by Leonard Green & Partners, a private equity firm. Earlier this year, Leonard Green & Partners were found to be taking 100s of millions of dollars out of a for profit hospital chain of which they owned a majority. Meanwhile, the ambulances of the hospital chain, couldn’t even fill up with gas. 

However, in December, TPG Capital, an American private equity firm, closed a transaction and make a significant investment in the company. TPG was co-founded by David Bonderman, James Coulter, and William S. Price III. Bonderman is a former board member at Burger King, Uber, and co owner of the Seattle Kraken. Coulter serves on the board of CAA, Stanford, and Dartmouth Price gave US Senator Kyrsten Sinema a paid internship at his winery during the summer of 2020.

A screenshot of a Google review for Sydney Marovitz

A screenshot of a Google review for Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course.

The lowest price for a full set of golf clubs at Dick’s Sporting Goods is 300 dollars. To put that into perspective, the most expensive driver, a single club, Dick’s sells is 899 dollars. So for the worst possible equipment, you’re 300 dollars in the hole before tax. 

On the other hand, you can get a pair of basketball shoes and a ball for under 100 dollars easily, and on the higher end, with the most expensive equipment possible, you run around 450 before tax. Furthermore, basketball  is taught to almost every child in America in school, whereas golf lessons start at 75 dollars for a half hour, through the Chicago Parks Department. 

To play at Sydney Marovitz, one round of 9 holes costs $26.61, $29.36 on weekends, not including cart and potential rental fees. That’s cheap for golf standards, but almost double the hourly minimum wage in Chicago. And while as a “public” course, you would expect it to be free, free golf courses are very uncommon. 

The fairway of the course.

A bird and butterfly sanctuary sits at the North end of the course. The fence is no longer visible, as it is obscured by the overgrowth of the sanctuary. The plants are gnarled and dying. In the distance you see golfers on the putting green. After the park closes due to a thunderstorm, I see a woman and her dogs walking through the course. There are no tee times, the course is empty. Nobody stops her. What is the value of the course when you can’t make money off of it anymore? 

Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the US. We are constantly battling, condemning, and yet continuously funding a police department that has brutalized those who live here, and ran a Black site to torture people, much like the ones the US military has set up all around the world. Many people are without access to steady supplies of food, or decent healthcare. Yet, we manage to fund a public golf course.

A fence covered in overgrowth and ivy.

The public can access Sydney Marovitz Golf Course, but it is not controlled by us. It’s run by corporations with tentacles spanning every part of life, down to the jeans I’m wearing. It’s controlled by a city and a government that has failed time and time again to help the people it governs. The idea of anything being owned by the people has faded away. We have very little say to who and what comes into our backyards and dominates the landscape we live in. A golf course is just the ground floor. 

As winter comes near, it’s a bit funny to see such a manicured landscape become obsolete for a few months. The leaves will all fall, and the grass will turn dead. Snow will cover the course. The premium location along the lakeshore will turn heel and blow bitter winds across the fairway. The course is so flat you can’t even go sledding there, like I used to see people doing where I grew up. It will turn into nothing until the snow melts. This is all out of our hands.

 Logs and trees next to a dirt path outside the course.

As spring arrives in Chicago, everyone will emerge from hibernation, and re- enter the city. For some, they will be able to spend their mornings, afternoons, and nights golfing in front of scenic Lake Michigan. The rest of us will be working away to make sure they can still golf for cheap. 

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