It’s not often a person can make a significant impact on golf in two areas of the U.S., particularly two areas as opposite as Maui and Chicago. It’s also not often that a person successfully fights Stage 4 cancer.
Mark Rolfing is such a person.
Best known as a long-time golf analyst for NBC, Rolfing is leading (as President and Founder) the recently-formed Chicago Parks Golf Alliance. In partnership with the City of Chicago and the City’s Park District, the CPGA aims to restore and improve the existing golf courses at Jackson Park and South Shore Golf Courses to create an economic and recreational asset for the South Side of Chicago.
Rolfing is a native of the Chicago area, but he’s spent the past 30-plus years as a golf ambassador for the state of Hawaii, most notably the Kapalua resort on Maui where he began his career in the cart barn in 1976 and nine years later became the resort’s head professional.
In August 2015, Rolfing found himself back in Chicago fighting for his life after being diagnosed with Stage 4 salivary gland cancer. The surgery (more than seven hours long) to remove the tumor was performed at the
University of Chicago Medical Center is next to Jackson Park – one of six courses operated by the Chicago Park District.
Do you believe in fate? Mark Rolfing does.
“I also believe there are incidents that occur in people’s lives that cause them to realize they should live every day as if it’s their last and take advantage of every great opportunity and good break they get,’’ Rolfing told me. “I was extremely fortunate to beat the cancer. And it was so obvious to me there was an opportunity (in Chicago) and the timing was perfect.’’
The idea to restore the historic golf courses – Jackson Park opened in 1899 and South Shore Golf Course opened in 1907 – began in 2000 as a framework plan created by the Park District. The plan contained various recommendations for the South Lakefront area, one of which proposed upgrading the two golf courses.
The not-for-profit CPGA will oversee fundraising and development of a combined and upgraded golf facilities, which would be situated within the confines of the existing two golf courses. The golf course restorations are tentatively scheduled to begin in 2017, financed primarily through private funds generated through the CPGA. The restorations will be designed by Tiger Woods’ TGR Design.
Completion of the courses, which would allow players to start and finish their rounds at South Shore or Jackson Park, as well as the completion of a short course, is targeted for late 2020.
The CPGA will work with the Chicago-based Western Golf Association to promote caddie programs that will help young men and women from nearby neighborhoods earn the prestigious Evans Scholarship and create a venue worthy of hosting its flagship PGA Tour event – the BMW Championship.
“I really got re-introduced (to golf in Chicago) in 2012 at the Ryder Cup at Medinah, ’Rolfing said. “After that I started doing some work for Chicago tourism and did a couple of network specials in golf in Chicago. As I was doing it, I became more interested in the Downtown golf aspect and began to realize that all the attention was being paid to the suburbs and all those great golf courses, but there was nothing about the course in Downtown Chicago.
‘I started snooping around and learned that the product Downtown was a pretty old and hadn’t been restored or renovated in a long time. But nobody was really leading the charge to rejuvenate golf in Downtown Chicago.’’
Now Rolfing – and fate – are leading that charge.