EVANSTON, IL – For the first time since its inception over a century ago, the Canal Shores golf course will be operated by a professional management company.
The Evanston Wilmette Golf Course Association, the volunteer-run nonprofit that runs the course, last week signed a contract with Northbrook-based KemperSports to begin operating the course, according to representatives from both organizations, which declined to disclose the terms or duration of the agreement.
Located on 82 acres of mostly public land in Evanston and Wilmette along the banks of the North Shore Canal, the course opened in 1919. According to the association, founder and former mayor of Evanston, Peter Jans, wanted to make golf accessible to all. .
The land is owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. The MWRD leases it to the two municipalities, which then lease it to the association. The course receives no taxpayer funding.
KemperSports President Josh Lesnik said the course needed reinvestment and repairs.
“The golf course was not in great shape in 2021,” Lesnik said. “While we obviously intend to keep it accessible and affordable, you have to have better golf course conditions.”
Improving the condition of the course, including its irrigation system, will be one of KemperSports’ top priorities, Lesnik said.
“Even a $15-$30 golf course still needs grass on the greens, and you need water to have grass on the green, so we’re going to improve that as best we can,” did he declare.
Karl Leinberger, president of the Evanston Wilmette Golf Course Association, told Patch his organization looks forward to working with the KemperSports management team.
“We had known Kemper for a while, and Kemper had reached out to us, and we just started talking and we just realized that their missions and our missions fit very well together,” Leinberger said.
KemperSports operates over 130 golf facilities, including the Glen Club in Glenview and the Deerpath Golf Course in Lake Forest. According to its president, it owns about ten of them, while the others are rented or managed on behalf of their owners.
Lesnik said KemperSports aims to implement some of its best practices from other courses to bring Canal Shores’ revenues above its expenses so it can cover the cost of necessary reinvestments.
“The golf course is surviving a lot on donations right now. What we want to do is get to a point where we can balance the budget, really help them out,” Lesnik said.
“With the resources that have been given to us, we really want to improve reception,” he added. “From a service perspective: being able to get a sandwich or a hot dog on a regular basis.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 20% of Canal Shores’ revenue came from donations, while 60% came from golf fees and 20% from other sources, such as the Out of Space concert series or revenue from parking lot during Northwestern University football games. , according to Leinberger.
Canal Shores has seen increased usage since the pandemic, its chairman of the board said. According to the National Golf Foundation, the number of new golfers in 2020 has reached a 17-year high, and even more rounds were played in 2021 than in the first year of the pandemic.
“People were looking to get out, get some fresh air, we have 82 acres of open green space and so our use was both golfers and people walking their dogs, jogging, bird watching, things like that,” says Leinberger. “It was on every level for us.”
The existing association has been very successful in involving young people in the game of golf, Lesnik said, and the new management team hopes to create more opportunities for young people to get involved in golf, including through more possible partnerships with the Western Golf Association, which offers Evans scholarships to caddies and the First Tee youth golf organization.
Canal Shores has received wildlife habitat certification from the National Wildlife Federation and has been recertified through the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary for Golf program. In 2020, course leaders and community members released a action plan for implementation of its 2017 Ecological Restoration Master Plan. The new management company hopes to help, its chairman said.
“Our company has a proprietary environmental program that all of our golf courses participate in, and it fits really well with what they’re trying to do with their green mission,” Lesnik said. “There are all sorts of different things golf courses can do now with butterflies, bees, certain plants, managing what comes in and out of the golf course and that sort of thing.”
Leinberger said KemperSports understands the unique charm of the course while bringing proven expertise in golf course management.
“We’re incredibly excited to have Kemper on board because it’s family owned and locally based,” Leinberger said. “We have four pillars in our mission, which are golf, youth development, ecology and community, and these are four things that they also emphasize in their golf course management centers across the country.”