Artist Haman Cross III said the former miniature golf course in Chicago’s Douglass Park looked like it needed some love.
“The green turf was kind of peeling up and not attached. There were pools of water and sand hazards around the holes that were filled with trash and dirt,” said Cross. “It just wasn’t very inviting.”
So Cross had the idea to restore the West Side course, with help from the community. The Chicago Park District, Lincoln Park Zoo and other partners joined in.
Three years later, the new “Douglass 18” is a bird-themed mini golf course with colorful turf, creative obstacles and educational signs about the local wildlife. Teens and young adults designed the holes and built prototypes.
Lincoln Park Zoo’s director of community engagement, Lisa Hyatt, said the renovation cost about $900,000, with funding coming from a zoo donor, L.L.Bean, the Trust for Public Land and Ald. Michael Scott Jr., 24th Ward.
Lincoln Park Zoo says more than 200 bird species fly through Douglass Park, and several get shout-outs on the golf course. One hole, dedicated to the American goldfinch, features models of office buildings and the bean-shaped Cloud Gate sculpture. Twenty-year-old artist Terreon Collins, who worked on the design, said his inspiration was the birds’ proclivity for flying into windows downtown.
“The metaphorical sense of this hole was the ball being the bird, and then you have these tall buildings … as obstacles,” he said.
Collins also designed a hole that pays homage to the ring-billed gull and how it can be found “everywhere.” The obstacles are a parking lot and a tipped-over trash can.
Eric Hotchkiss with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago helped guide the group of young artists through the multi-stage process.
“This project wasn’t just an art project,” Hotchkiss said. “It involved art, design, architecture, construction. So they were actually the project managers.”
On opening day, the course attracted mini golfers from around the city, including CJ Greco from the Logan Square neighborhood, a birder who was drawn in by the avian theme.
“I haven’t come here to bird before, but just walking around before stepping on the course, I think I’ve seen, what? Like 12 or 13 different species so far?” Greco said.
Another golfer, Raishon Lewis, lives in North Lawndale and rode her bike over to support the community. Her son JB was on the project’s social media team.
“I think he’s enjoyed the planning around it, the social media, the marketing, the development,” Lewis said. “And also meeting some new friends along the way.”
The Douglass 18 project didn’t end with opening day. The course will keep running with the oversight of Sheila McNary with the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council. McNary said the plan is to hire back some of the youth to work there. Collins said he’s considering it.
For Cross III, who’s been there since the beginning, every trip to the mini golf course shows him the power of this kind of work.
“I’m looking out, and I’m seeing a diverse group of people. White, Black, brown. I don’t know their backgrounds. But to see them in a space, sharing the space … everybody’s having a good time,” Cross said.