Sunday, February 19, 2017

February 2017 Meetings - Grounds & Board

We had a productive Grounds Committee meeting this month, led by Steve Neumann (click here to download the full meeting minutes).  We were joined by new members of the Committee Brad Drake and Joan Schneider, both of whom brought great new ideas, energy, and an action orientation.  All things that we appreciate.

All are welcome to attend our meetings, the second Thursday of each month.  If you come, be prepared to be put to work.

Among the many topics discussed, we are particularly excited about two pilot projects.  First, our Committee Member and neighbor, Frank Candioto, is spearheading the enhancement of a native area on the 5th hole.  This area holds water and is a breeding ground for mosquitos.  The fine folks at Ecology+Vision were kind enough to do a pro-bono design.

Next steps will be to gather the neighbors near that hole for an info and fundraising session.  As soon as the funds for the project are raised, we will execute.  Stay tuned for updates.

Many thanks to Ecology+Vision, and to Frank and his neighbors.  This is exactly the kind of proactive engagement that we welcome and encourage as we work to improve Canal Shores for our players, and the community at large.

The second pilot project we covered was the Metra Corner Makeover outlined in our previous post here.  Funds for the fence have been raised by the Honourable Company of Reverse Jans golf outing, and members of our Committee.

Details of the project were discussed at the January and February Board Meetings, and the project has been approved, including use of the modest additional funds needed to complete the work this Spring.  An information session with the neighbors in the area of the 15th and 16th holes will be held soon, as will volunteer work sessions.  Stay tuned for updates.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Metra Corner Makeover - Spring 2017

Our generous volunteers and donors helped us complete pilot projects along Sheridan Road at our north end (6th hole) and on Central Ave in our middle (12th hole).  We are grateful for their support and dedication.
The Canal Shores Grounds Committee has now shifted its attention to the south end of the property, or what we call the “Metra Corner”.  This is the area that includes the 15th and 16th holes, which interact with the canal and the commuter train tracks.  It is also a point of major foot traffic, with commuters and school kids passing through the course in the morning, afternoon, and evening.
Like most of Canal Shores, the Metra Corner suffers from several major issues:
  1. The golf on these holes is a combination of hard and boring due to a lack of interesting features and inherent strategy.
  2. Turf health and quality, and the general ecology of the area, has been degraded as invasive species like buckthorn have taken over.
  3. Safety issues exist because of the layout of the holes, and disorganization of space for golf vs. non-golf activities.
Our makeover of the Metra Corner has the overarching goal of the addressing the issues above, while improving the aesthetics of the property and fun of the golf holes.  A visualization of the makeover is below, with a descriptions of the steps.  As the makeover progresses, updates will be provided in additional posts.

(click on images to enlarge)
STEP 1 – The Principal’s Nose
The 15th hole is a short par-4 that is tight off the tee and plays straight, with little strategic interest.  Although the hole has great potential, it currently suffers from being boring and hard.
We are borrowing a simple strategy of positioning fairway and greenside bunkers to create options and angles for our golfers.  Aggressive players can challenge hazards to gain advantage on the hole and make an eagle or birdie.  Conservative players can navigate safely navigate around hazards while still having a chance at par.

To add quirk and interest to the hole, we are creating a Principal’s Nose bunker complex, inspired by the original at St. Andrews and others around America.  There is an existing set of grass bunkers in the left center of the fairway that will be shifted and rebuilt.

STEP 2 – Greenside Bunkers
The bunkers front left and right of the green are out of position and in a state of serious disrepair.  The left bunker will be removed and turned into fairway creating an alley for players to play running approaches.  The right bunker will be shifted and rebuilt closer to the green in a rugged, “gash” style.

The existing layout of the 15th hole provides only one good option for play – straight down the middle.  The new bunker configuration will introduce strategic options and risk-reward considerations for our players. Golf is more fun and interesting when it is a test of both the mind and execution.
STEP 3 – Replacing the Spruce
There is a large spruce tree on the right side of the fairway on #15 that has was likely planted as a yardage reference marker.  It is a non-native tree in an inappropriate position.  We are exploring options for moving it, and will do so if it is cost-effective.  Otherwise, we have obtained permission from the City of Evanston Forestry Division to remove the tree and replace it with natives that are more appropriately positioned.  If funds allow, the new plantings will be incorporated into the establishment of a new native area.

STEP 4 – Buckthorn Removal on #15
As is the case in many areas of Canal Shores, buckthorn and other invasive species have encroached on the canal side of the 15th hole, narrowing it considerably.  Previous efforts by our staff and volunteers on the 3rd and 12th holes have widened playing corridors, improved turf quality, highlighted specimen trees, and enhanced aesthetics.
We intend to remove the buckthorn and other invasives along the left side of the 15th fairway up to the canal ridgeline.  Going down to clear and restore the canal bank is a much larger project for which we are not yet prepared.  Our Ecology firm, Planning Resources Inc., has provided us with an advisory statement on the intended work on the 15th and 16th holes (click here to read the PRI letter).
STEP 5 – Revealing the Stone Wall
With the help of our neighbors, we have discovered an old limestone wall along the right side of the 16th hole.  It is currently overgrown by buckthorn and other invasive shrubs.  This is exactly the kind of unique feature that makes Canal Shores so special, and we intend to uncover and restore it to the best of our ability.
Volunteer days for this work are currently being organized.  Email me, or sign up on the Canal Shores website if you would like to donate or volunteer.
STEP 6 – Round Rail Fence 
The wood round rail fence that we installed as a part of our 12th Green Project has been very well received by the community.  That fence style will be the standard for the boundaries of the property.  It defines a boundary but leaves an open feel, while drastically improving aesthetics.
The chain link fence behind the 16th green will be replaced, increasing visibility into the course for people driving and walking down Noyes Street.  A new section of fence right of the 15th green will be installed, which will help direct foot traffic away from the 15th green and the private neighbor property that borders that corner of the course.
STEP 7 – Reconfigure #16 Tees
The current tee configuration on #16 is suboptimal.  The back tee position is dangerous – it is too close to the back of #15 green.  Shots that go long put players at risk.  The tee shot from the back tee is also too difficult for almost all of our players.  Further, there is no tee box on the near side of the canal.  The forced carry over the canal is mandatory, which is beyond the strength and ability of many of our players.
The back tee will be shut down, making room to reroute the walking path behind 15 green.  The right and left tees will be expanded, to create more day-to-day variety, and a new forward tee on the near side of the canal will be added.
STEP 8 – Reroute Walking Path
Although Canal Shores is welcoming to walkers of all kinds, we want to keep them safe and minimize potential damage to greens. The path that many school kids and commuters currently take through this section of the property has two main problems that we intend to address.
On the 15th, walkers tend to walk too close to the green, or on it.  The new fence and removal of the back tee on #16 allows us to route walkers away from the green and out of potential harm’s way from golfers.
The area between the 16th hole and 17th tee holds water, and so we will be creating a drainage feature and establishing a formal path for walkers to keep them out of conflict with golfers on #16 and the 17th tee.
STEP 9 – Expand #15 Fairway and Green
As a rule of thumb, more short grass equates to more fun for golfers.  Therefore, we will be working hard to improve turf health, and expanding the fairway and green on #15.  We will give our players a larger target, and more options for how to approach it through the air or along the ground.
Although this “bootstrap” work is nowhere near what could be accomplished with a larger scale renovation of Canal Shores, we do believe that we can significantly improve the experience that our visitors have in this section of the property and course.  While the Master Planning process unfolds, we look forward to pushing forward with improvements in every way that the commitment of our volunteers and donors allows.

12th Green Makeover Pilot Project - October 2016

Led by students from North Shore Country Day School, dozens of our volunteers contributed hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to the successful completion of our makeover of the 12th green complex.

Before getting to the project recap, a little background on "The Boys", as they came to be known. NSCDS has a senior service requirement. CJ, Sam, Dillon, and AJ came to us and asked if they could do their service hours at Canal Shores. It just so happened that we were hoping to add a native plant and habitat area behind the 12th green. The adjacent sidewalk is heavily trafficked, and we thought the community would appreciate the natural beauty. We asked them if they wanted to see our idea through – planning to fundraising to implementation – and they agreed.

They put together a video and started an IndieGogo fundraising campaign.

Canal Shores 12th Hole Pilot Project from CJ Charnas on Vimeo.

Their campaign was successful, and we supplemented the money they raised with donations from the Honourable Company of Reverse Jans Golfers outing.

The Grounds Committee’s intention for this pilot project was to holistically apply the principles we have been exploring in the development of our Master Plan – community golf, outdoor recreation, and ecological stewardship working together in harmony. We hope that in seeing the transformation of this small piece of the property, our players and community can get a sense of what might be accomplished with more robust resources and expertise.

The 12th green complex makeover included several components:
  • Clearing and cleanup of the invasive species overgrowth around the perimeter. 
  • Bunker reduction and reconfiguration. 
  • Replacement of the dilapidated boundary fence. 
  • Preservation of a large “specimen” tree. 
  • Installation of a new native plant area. 
Following is a recap of the work, which took place over the course of one year. We received so much volunteer assistance, that it is impossible to thank everyone enough.


As is the case with every area of Canal Shores, years of neglect on the perimeter of the property and along the canal banks has led to invasive species such as buckthorn and riverbank grape vine taking over and choking out more desirable native plants and trees.

We started in the fall, worked through the winter, and finished in the spring with reclaiming the area inside of the canal bank ridgeline.

Cleared material was stacked and topped with mulch to create hugelkultur mounds that can be planted. Uncovered ground was seeded to provide golfers with more playable width.

We did not continue down the entirety of the ridgeline on #12. The picture below shows the line of demarcation. Notice that in the cleared areas, large trees are now visible.

The perimeter of the property presented additional challenges beyond invasives – challenges created by people.

We did remove the invasives and dead trees. That material was combined with debris left behind by landscapers who were using the course as a dumping ground. We also filled numerous bags with trash left behind by people who confused the course for a garbage can.

We found several paths that had been created by neighbors entering the property in the spot most convenient to them. This is an ongoing challenge for us. We want Canal Shores to be open and integrated with its neighborhood. However, it is dangerous for people to wander onto the course in blind spots where they cannot see players and players cannot see them. On #12, we built hugelkultur mounds that will be planted to close off some of these paths. Over time, we will be working to direct our non-golfing visitors to enter and exit the property in places that are designed to minimize danger and conflicts with our players.

In cleaning up the perimeter treeline, we were able to uncover one of the historic lampposts designed by Evanston architect Thomas Eddy Tallmadge. Making reminders of Canal Shores’s unique setting visible from the course is one of our goals.

On this side of the green, it was also necessary to address the damage done to the green pad over the years by cart traffic. We repaired the cart path, installed posts to direct carts onto the path in front of the green, and added railroad ties to keep players from driving up on to the side of the green. The green side was built up, shaped to encourage drainage, and planted with fescue and other grasses for a more rugged look.


Our general perspective on bunkers is that they are expensive to maintain and they slow down play. Therefore, if we are going to have a bunker, it is needs to be cool looking, playable, and strategically relevant. This perspective has led us to remove several bunkers throughout the course, including a fairway bunker on #12.

Our original plan with the bunkering on the 12th green (pictured below before work began) was to a) rework the front-left bunker to give it more character and make it easier to play from, and b) remove the other three large “saucer” bunkers which we felt were ugly and did not add to the strategic interest of the hole.

Once we started, it got a little more interesting and involved than that…

The first order of business was to remove the left bunker by filling it in with sand, shaping the slope, and laying sod. Given that we had just the smallest of clues about how to do that, we lucked out when Brian Palmer (Superintendent at Shoreacres) showed up to help, with his sod cutter.

Fortunately for us, the winter was mild enough to give the grass a chance to take root and a year later new players might not even know that a bunker had once been there.

While we were standing around admiring our handiwork, Brian mentioned that the area that we had stripped behind the green resembled the eden bunker on the famous Eden hole at Shoreacres. He ambitiously suggested that we turn this green complex into an homage to C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor’s Eden template, which is in turn an homage to the 11th hole at the Old Course at St. Andrews. Sounded like fun to us, so we went for it.

The first step was to rework the front-left Hill bunker to reduce the footprint, give it a gentler upslope for easier escape, and add character.

By late spring, the grass had grown in nicely and had the rugged, aged look we’re after.

Next up was the front right Strath bunker. This pot bunker needed to be created from scratch, and Axel Ochoa stepped up to the challenge. Working from a photo of a bunker at Garden City Golf Club, Axel added his own spin and made a beauty.

We let the grass grow up on the top and right to tie the Strath into the tall grass that runs down the entire right side of the hole. By late spring, Axel’s pot bunker looked like it had always been there.

Tom Tully expanded the mowing of the green out to the edge of the pad, including the creation of a false front that gives the green a sense of tilt that didn’t previously exist. The improved visual and bunker placement makes the approach both more strategic, and much more interesting.

While this work was happening on the front bunkers, creation of the Eden bunker behind the green was ongoing. The original plan was to excavate the bunker and do root trimming all in one day. We made arrangements to borrow an excavator, had 10 volunteers ready to work, and…it snowed more than a foot. Plan B – dig it out by hand.

The mild weather over the winter allowed us to chip away at excavating the bunker. During the course of that process, we decided to give the back edge more of a natural look to contrast with the straight front edge. As soil was removed, it was dumped behind, shaped and planted with fescue that we removed from the berm.

After the dig out, the root cutting, the shaping and the planting, Tom filled our new Eden bunker in with fresh sand…

…and by Spring, it had grown in beautifully.

Although the work was grueling at times, it was tremendously satisfying to bring this new configuration to the green complex to life. We gave a small taste to our players of what is possible at Canal Shores.


A while back, the Grounds Committee began discussions to address the myriad fence styles that exist around the property. The lack of a unified look is a missed opportunity to tie the segregated sections of the property together. We settled on wood round-rail for the boundaries, split rail for internal directional fences, and wood poles with safety netting for containment.

The chain link fence behind 12 green was collapsing and had several weed trees growing up through it. The City assisted with the tree removal, and our friends at Fenceworks did a great job on the removal and installation.

This new fencing is the perfect complement to the naturalized look we are working to achieve on the course and surrounding native areas.


The mulberry behind the green does not fit the technical definition of a specimen tree. By arborist’s standards, it is a low value tree and its trunk was split. By the current standards of Canal Shores, however, it is a big old tree that looks great in its location. Therefore, in spite of the advice from every expert to cut the tree down, we decided to save it.

The tree was struggling under its own weight, as it had never been properly maintained. Our friends at Nels J. Johnson thinned out the crown, and then rodded and banded the trunk to protect it against further splitting.

The tree looks healthy and happy now and will be with us for years to come. As is the case with many of the non-invasive, lower-value trees on the property, we will let nature take its course and replace them with better species when they die off. For now, we are making the best of what we have.


The first order of business in creating the native area was to cave in the ugly berm that bordered the fence. Unfortunately, we found out that the berm had been built more from construction debris than soil, so it took considerable effort by our volunteers to shape and recondition that large space. Lucky for us, we have committed folks involved in this transformation.

With the shaping complete, Steve Neumann and his designer finalized the layout for planting. Midwest Groundcovers generously supported the project and gave each of our donated dollars 5x its normal spending power on plant materials.

(Click here to see a larger PDF of the design)

The Logic Lawn Care crew and our volunteers then sprang into action, fighting through the rain to get the installation done.

Although the 12th green makeover became a much larger project than originally intended, the finished product was well worth the effort. Beyond the result though, the process was a joy. The community and camaraderie that has developed within this dedicated group of dream chasers is priceless.

Stay tuned for news on our next project. We are far from finished…

Our wonderful volunteers who pitched in and service providers who discounted and donated:
  • The Golf Geeks Crew – Axel Ochoa, John Creighton, Brian Palmer, Peter Korbakes, Scott Vincent, Brad Germany, Brendan McCarthy, David Horowitz, Scott Laffin, Jim Raymond, Craig LaVasseur, Garrett Chaussard, George Michel, Rick Spurgeon, Max Sternberg, Akbar Mustafa, Todd Quitno, Brian Bossert.
  • The Boys from North Shore Country Day School – CJ, Sam, Dillon, and AJ.
  • Pat Goss, Emily Fletcher, David Inglis, Maureen Palchak and the Northwestern University Athletic Department staff.
  • Lisa Quinn and the First Tee of Greater Chicago staff.
  • Steve Neumann and the team from Logic Lawn Care, and our neighbors from Evanston Terrace.
  • Our Board Members Ray Tobin, Tim Pretzsch, Mike O’Connor and our Superintendent Tom Tully.
  • The fine folks at Turf Ventures, Fenceworks, Nels J Johnson, Midwest Groundcovers, and other landscapers who donated soil.
  • MWRD and the City of Evanston Forestry Division.

Ecological Planning Kick-off - August 2016

Having received the IDNR planning grant, Steve Neumann led our team through a comprehensive process to select a Landscape Architecture/Ecology firm to assist us with planning the Ecological Component of our Master Plan.

Steve sent out a formal RFP and received 9 responses.  Four finalists were chosen from that group and interviewed.  We decided to engage Planning Resources, Inc.  
  • Click here to see PRI's proposal, including bios of their team members - Keven Graham, Scott Kuykendahl, Ann Terry, Steve Halberg, and Eleanor Brandt.  
  • Click here to learn more about PRI's other projects.
We then formed an Ecological Planning Subcommittee to collaborate with PRI on their planning comprised of members of the Grounds Committee and several additional residents of Evanston and Wilmette who possess relevant expertise.  The members of the Subcomittee are Steve Neumann, Chris Carey, Matt Rooney, Eleanor Revelle, Karen Glennemeier, Jason Way, Richard Miller, Rudy Van Loon, Tom Tully, and Wendy Pollock.

The Subcommittee held its Kick-Off Meeting on August 31st and the primary focus of the discussion was how the planning process would unfold.  PRI reviewed the scope of work and the timeline for the first phase which will be the Ecological Inventory.  It includes: 
  • Wetland Delineation
  • Tree Survey
  • Wildlife Habitat Assessment
With this information we can properly plan for Habitat Renovation and Recreational Opportunities.

We will share the results of the Inventory here shortly after they have been reviewed and presented to the Grounds Committee and Board.

IDNR Ecological Planning Grant - January 2016

Although we have taken on pilot projects over the last few years to address the playability of the golf course, and the ecological health of the property, we realize that the proper way to set Canal Shores up for a sustainable future is to create a long-term Master Plan.

Steve Neumann drafted an Executive Summary for the Ecological Component of our future plan that focuses on two primary goals:

  1. Multi-use recreational opportunities and facilities
  2. Ecological and habitat renovation

(Read the full Executive Summary here)

Having a Master Plan better positions Canal Shores to be able to attract the robust resources (grants, donations, expertise, and volunteers) necessary to renovate the property, and to maintain it going forward.  However, creating such a plan is an expensive proposition for an Association like ours that operates on a tight budget.

Fortunately, we were made aware of a program managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) specifically focused on planning to preserve Illinois's Coastal Area, of which Canal Shores is a part.

The priorities for the Coastal Management Program are invasive species control; habitat, ecosystems and natural area restoration; areas of concern; persistent bio-accumulative toxins; sustainable development; non-point source pollution; information and indicator data collection; public access and recreation; and economic development.  Read more about the IDNR program here.

Given that our vision for Canal Shores checks several of the above boxes, and that Evanston and Wilmette are environmentally conscious communities that we felt would be enthusiastic about supporting our plan, we applied for the grant.  Thanks to the hard work of Superintendent Tom Tully, Board Members Steve Neumann, Chris Carey, and Debbie Weixl, and MWRD Commissioner Debra Shore, we made a strong case for Canal Shores and in January of 2016 were awarded a matching grant.

How does the grant work and where do we go from here?

The grant is intended to be used specifically to hire a Landscape Architecture / Ecology firm to assist us with the creation of our Master Plan, and to prepare "shovel ready" pilot projects.  The amount is $20,000 and it is a matching grant.  The mechanics are that we must spend the money first (up to $40,000), submit proof of the expense, and 50 cents on the dollar is returned to us.

Fundraising has commenced but is not completed and there is an urgency to the process as we have a finite amount of time in which we can take full advantage of the grant before it expires.

We have organized our internal financial management to direct donations specifically toward the Ecological Component of our planning and renovation.  If you are a supporter of making Canal Shores a healthy and beautiful green space, and a more sustainable ecological resource for our community, we encourage you to donate to this project.


2nd Hole Bunker Work - November 2015

Sand bunkers are expensive to maintain, and difficult for kids and higher handicap players to handle.  Therefore, as a rule, we have decided to reduce the number and square footage of bunkers at Canal Shores.  Bunkers also periodically need to be rebuilt, and it is unclear if our bunkers have ever received that level of attention.

We felt that the bunker short left of the green on #2 had potential, and decided to rebuild it.

Before work begins

Over time, the bunker had been refilled with sand repeatedly, which caused it to be much more shallow than it should have been relative to the green.  Additionally, the approach to the bunker built up which obstructed the view of it from the tee and made it less interesting to play.  The slope repelled poorly struck shots from the bunker, rather than gathering them into it.

Our volunteers Pat Goss, Peter Korbakes, and Jason Way dug the bunker out, shaved down the approach, and reshaped the top lip to give it a more interesting rugged look.

Pat and Peter stripping the approach

Jason digging out the bunker bottom

After the shaping was complete

After grow-in, with new bunker sand

We let the grass grow up a bit on the top of the bunker to give it even more contrast from the tee.  It looks much nastier than it actually is, which is just the type of deception that makes the tee shot on #2 more thrilling.

The expanded fairway and chipping runoff right

To complement the new bunker, Tom changed the mowing pattern on the right side of the hole.  In expanding the fairway cut, we have given players a place to bail out while simultaneously uncovering interesting ground contours that make chipping up to the green fun and exciting.

After the work had matured, one of our players commented that the rebuilt bunker looked like something you might find at Pine Valley.  Those compliments are music to our ears and a good reminder that we don't have to settle for mediocre conditions at Canal Shores.  

3rd Hole Invasives Pilot Project - June 2015

Full recap coming soon...

6th Hole Native Area Pilot Project - Fall 2014

Full recap coming soon...