Chicago course a training ground for Black golfers

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It’s nothing exotic, just a shaggy, meandering sliver of green at the eastern edge of a Black neighborhood. But to the kids who first glimpsed Jackson Park Golf Course through a chain-link fence, it might as well have been the surface of the moon.

It’s nothing exotic, just a shaggy, meandering sliver of green at the eastern edge of a Black neighborhood. But to the kids who first glimpsed Jackson Park Golf Course through a chain-link fence, it might as well have been the surface of the moon.

“I’d walk past on my way to see a girlfriend who lived nearby. Back then,” Tyrone Banks recalled the other day, “I’d just stand there for a while watching and wonder what the point of it all was.”

Nearly five decades later that kid has grown up, served in the military, climbed the corporate ladder, retired and returned to Jackson Park, this time as general manager. This 5,463-yard, par-70 muni on the city’s South Side is ground zero in the landscape of Chicago public golf but perhaps even moreso for Black public golf across America. If there was ever a place to rebuild the foundation and revitalize the game before handing it over to the next generation, this is it.

Jackson Park was built in 1899 and first played by Blacks at the turn of the last century, though another 50 years passed before they were really welcome, especially at tournament time. One of the first to take advantage and show up for the City Amateur was Joe Louis, who became an icon with his fists but loved few things more than wrapping them around a golf club.

A day after he finished birdie-birdie-par to lock up a three-peat in the 1993 U.S. Junior Amateur, 17-year-old phenom Tiger Woods flew halfway across the country to put on a clinic at the threadbare driving range. Then he came back on his way to the Western Open four years later, already a global phenomenon, and did another.

A half-dozen years ago, nobody thought to make a fuss whenever state senator and University of Chicago law professor Barack Obama showed up at the starter’s shed with a set of left-handed clubs in tow, looking to fill out a foursome. The next time he does, somebody probably will.

“I played with Barack ‘round about 2004,” Banks said. “I’m one of those people who believes just one round of golf allows you to know somebody well. You could see that he had class just by the way he played.”

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