Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Growing grass, growing golf: Canal Shores rebuilds, hopes to become center for next generation

Golfers+on+Canal+Shores.+The+course+is+midway+through+its+almost+%246+million+renovations.
Cole Reynolds/The Daily Northwestern
Golfers on Canal Shores. The course is midway through its almost $6 million renovations.

Early on a July morning this past summer, hundreds of kids spilled out onto the first two holes of Canal Shores Golf Course. The view from the clubhouse was chaotic. Some kids smashed plastic golf balls with miniature clubs, landing just a few yards from another group wrestling over an inflatable blue football.

This small scene, in many ways, is emblematic of the next chapter in the story of the over century-old municipal golf course. Canal Shores is now midway through a nearly $6 million renovation, providing a facelift to the once-dreary course. 

And, local kids are bringing major donors to what otherwise might just be another municipal course.

“So many people jumped on(to) the course as kids and never paid,” said Chris Charnas, a Canal Shores’ Board of Trustees member. “This is a great place for kids. (And we were) like ‘hey, we can raise some money for that.”

Charnas, a North Shore native, said he was once one of those kids, sneaking onto Canal Shores for a round with friends. So was Josh Lesnik, the executive vice president of KemperSports, the company now managing the Canal Shores rebuild. 

When Charnas and Lesnik met for lunch in the summer of 2021, the view from the clubhouse was largely the same as it was in July — hundreds of kids playing golf together on a beautiful morning, as Lesnik described.

By then the century-old course was starting to show its age. Trees had grown large enough to cast the course in a shadow. 

Still, people came; the amount of rounds played doubled during COVID-19, Charnas said. But the irrigation system couldn’t meet increased demand, leaving the aging course wrinkled and brown. Canal Shores needed new pipes and less trees — but underground irrigation systems don’t typically pique the interest of donors, Charnas said.

Plus, renovation has been controversial. In August, Canal Shores neighbors started circulating a petition to prevent the removal of several cottonwood trees near the 13th hole. While the trees have inconvenienced golfers, the petition argues that they’re also a historic part of the neighborhood and the ecosystem along the North Shore Channel.  

“These 40 foot trees were planted 100 years ago when this area of Evanston was a farm. They are our heritage, or history, and our responsibility to protect,” the petition reads. Tree clearing was in progress on the 13th hole as of Sept. 9., according to releases sent by Canal Shores. 

Canal Shores designed their pitch to portray the course as a place for Chicago area children to grow up playing the game of golf. 

It’s a story major players have been buying.

Lesnik returned to Canal Shores after his lunch with Charnas, toting a $1.5 million pledge from the Western Golf Association to help build a school for young caddies. The WGA will also cover caddie fees for golfers at Canal Shores, maintaining accessibility for golfers and providing opportunities for local caddies to earn academic scholarships through the Evans Scholars Foundation.

“All you have to do if you’re a golfer (at Canal Shores) is be willing to take a kid and kind of help nurture them,” Lesnik said. “Tell them how important school is, encourage them. Maybe buy them a hotdog and a Gatorade, and you’re changing lives through golf.”

First Tee – Greater Chicago chipped in $500,000 to build a training facility for its camps, Charnas said. And with a few other donations, Canal Shores is just $600,000 short of its almost $6 million goal, plenty to cover major portions of the rebuild, he added. 

Charnas and Lesnik describe the refurbished Canal Shores as a place that will be embedded within the community, both in its proximity — Charnas calls the course a “backyard” for the adjacent homes — and its opportunities.

“That first kid we get a scholarship to Northwestern or one of the 24 universities that we’re associated with, it’ll be the best day of your life,” Lesnik said. “You’ll see.”

Todd Quitno, the architect who designed the Canal Shores restoration, didn’t grow up with Canal Shores. But, he described watching his kids learn the game there, hitting golf balls around the towering trees.

His signature contribution is the new 6th hole. No fairways or rough, it’s just one large green that snakes toward a vista where the Bahá’í House of Worship rises in the background. There, the course’s new grass is already growing in.

Charnas hopes that the 6th hole, the final sparkle on the golf course known to some as Evanston’s “gem,” captures the attention of the major golf publications. Or that Northwestern athletics or alumni will rent it for events.

But, as Canal Shores courts the attention of national golf media and Northwestern community members, Charnas still brings the song back to its familiar, if not most poignant note.

The point is someday having a hall of fame full of kids who started at Canal Shores,” he said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @charcole27

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