A new era for Canal Shores

  • Canal Shores
    Canal Shores

    The revived Canal Shores public course near Chicago is now growing in ahead of a summer 2024 opening

  • Canal Shores
    Canal Shores

    The sixth, the 65-yard putting hole seventh and the eighth (foreground) occupy the northern tip of the site, directly across the canal from the Baha’i House of Worship

  • Canal Shores
    Canal Shores

    The area beside the clubhouse, which was previously occupied by the two opening holes, is now home to a large putting green and new first hole, and can also be configured into a four-hole junior loop

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

When the Canal Shores Golf Course in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, reopens this summer, it will mark the end of a long journey and the beginning of a new era for the public facility. 

Originally opened in 1919, Canal Shores has for some time been in dire need of repair. A USGA Green Section evaluation several years ago noted that the course’s turf and infrastructure were in an “end of life” state. 

“The course had aged to a point where turfgrasses were compromised, greens were failing, the irrigation system was no longer providing the necessary coverage and the lack of drainage was becoming a major issue,” says Doug Myslinski, from Wadsworth. The golf construction firm had, over the years, provided “band-aid” repairs while Wadsworth Golf Charities Foundation had 
made annual contributions to assist Canal Shores in youth golf development programmes. 

“The Wadsworth Company was first introduced to Canal Shores Golf Course nearly 15 years ago when a similarly planned project was being discussed. Although that plan never materialised, a relationship between Wadsworth and board members representing Canal Shores developed.” 

“Assembling the right team and defining the future programming of the facility was essential to raising the required funds to enhance the property,” says Chris Charnas, vice president of the Evanston Wilmette Golf Course Association (EWGCA). “The commitment of the Western Golf Association (WGA) to have Canal Shores as the home to its youth caddy programme, combined with this being a flagship facility for the First Tee of Greater Chicago, meant that youth golf development was key. KemperSports, Wadsworth Golf Charities Foundation and the Chicago District Golf Association embraced this vision by providing the required resources and significant financial backing.” 

Other donors, individuals and groups that were key, especially for community engagement related to fundraising and support, included a core group led by Charnas, Matt Rooney, Rick Bald, David McPherson, Steve Neumann and Pat Hughes. Mario Salas was the on-site project manager for Wadsworth, with Myslinski and Matt Lohmann providing assistance. 

“The pieces were assembled, and the execution was a matter of having the owner trust the team to deliver a golf course that will achieve the defined goals,” says Myslinski. “Another piece of the puzzle was having a golf course architect willing to embrace the vision for both the golf and environmental aspects, while developing a sustainable approach.” 

That architect was Todd Quitno, with KemperSports’s Josh Lesnik contributing design input. Quitno set about developing a masterplan and by March 2023 work to revitalise the facility was ready to begin. 

A fundamental change to the routing was the conversion of the former first hole to a large putting green, with the second becoming the new opening hole. To compensate for the loss of the old first, Quitno created a unique hole at the north end of the property, close to the Wilmette Harbor. “We’ve added a 65-yard putting hole that will be a great source of fun,” says Quitno. “This will play as the seventh, with the nearby Baha’i temple serving as a backdrop.” 

The former seventeenth has also been reconfigured to include an 85-yard par-three bonus hole, designated as 17B. The green has been doubled in size with a small but pinnable central plateau dividing the surface into sections. 

The eighteen-hole course will play to a par of 60 and now also features several new template greens, with Quitno paying homage to nearby Chicago Golf Club and Shoreacres. The remaining greens have been restored to their original pads, which date back to the 1920s when Tom Bendelow redesigned the course. 

“Our decisions on greens came from a historic angle,” says Quitno. “Several of Bendelow’s green pads still existed on the course but the actual putting surfaces had shrunk down to little circles. Where it made sense, we tried to recapture the original corners and then add some fun to the interior contouring. In areas where the greens were unremarkable or where we rerouted, we incorporated some templates, as an ode to Macdonald and Raynor’s influence in the area. Our goal was to give ‘Joe Public’ the chance to experience the fun of the templates, since almost all those greens can only be found on private courses. 

“We worked hard to make greens visually interesting with a variety of pinnable areas, but still manageable for the novice golfer. The greens really are the centrepiece of Canal Shores and the highlight of the course.” 

The new putting green in particular is expected to draw a crowd. At 27,500 square feet, it can serve as a putting course, and will also become part of a four-hole junior loop. “We are excited about the potential for this space to be a community gathering spot,” says Quitno. “Besides its value as a place for kids to learn and have fun, there is hope that the green might also be a revenue source and attraction that draws people to the outdoor patio for food and drinks.” 

While youth development has been a major focus of the Canal Shores project, preserving the course’s history and environment have also been key. “This course has been a part of the community fabric for over 100 years,” says Quitno. “It has always served as a public concert venue, as well as for walking paths, commuter access and a sanctuary of nature in a pretty dense urban area. 

“All our work has sought to preserve these functions, and where possible improve them. We’ve accounted for safer walking paths – the routing adjustments on the north and south holes considered this aspect. And we have intensely removed invasive buckthorn species and general tree overgrowth. By creating better growing conditions, we will have healthier turf, which will provide more runoff filtering, atmosphere cooling and erosion control.” 

Myslinski adds: “Our work at Canal Shores has helped create a facility that is environmentally sustainable and enhances the lives of the community around it. Canal Shore will be a blueprint for more facilities like this to be built across the country.”  

This article first appeared in the April 2024 issue of Golf Course Architecture. For a printed subscription or free digital edition, please visit our subscriptions page