Is There a Santa Claus?

An editorial in The New York Sun, September 21, 1897, written by Francis Pharcellus Church

We take pleasure in answering at once and thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun: 

"Dear Editor, I am 8 years old.

"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. 

"Papa says 'If you see it in The Sun it's so.'

"Please tell me the truth. Is there a Santa Claus?"

        Virginia O'Hanlon

        115 West Ninety-fifth Street

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, not even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. 

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.


Jackson Park: Rebirth or boondoggle?

A Grill Room Special by Tim Cronin

Monday, December 19, 2016

On the surface, turning the two municipal golf courses at Jackson Park and South Shore into one grand public facility that could host big-time golf while still catering to the citizenry at the current price is a wonderful idea.

So, at first blush, is Christmas every day.

The question in each scenario is who pays for it, and how realistic is the concept?

The short answers regarding golf are the public, and not very. (We leave Christmas every day to the 6-year-old in you.)

The neighborhoods of Chicago adjacent to Jackson Park and South Shore, just east of the University of Chicago from 63rd to 71st Streets, need help in every way. They’re adjacent to the some of highest-crime areas of the city, need reinvestment in schools, infrastructure, and most everything else you can think of.

With 27 holes of golf already on the ground and, in season, available to all, is a rebuilt golf course one of those needs?

Nobody except Mark Rolfing, the NBC golf analyst who grew up in DeKalb, seemed to think so for the longest time. His vision is of a redesigned combined course capable of hosting the Western Golf Association’s BMW Championship – the Western Open under its original name – plus a short course and assorted other amenities.

In 2015, he called the idea “the future of urban golf in America.”

Since then, Rolfing, having beaten cancer, has done much work behind the scenes, so much that on Sunday, the office of Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Park District, which owns both Jackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center, announced the birth of the non-profit Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, which Rolfing will head, to push the idea forward.

Rolfing said in recent days that TGR Design, the golf architecture firm of Tiger Woods, lead what is termed a “restoration” of the two courses. Woods has toured the property with Rolfing, and his involvement could add some architectural gravitas to the operation. Golf Digest named Woods’ Bluejack National in Houston the best new private course of 2016.

“We want to design a course that everyone will enjoy,” Woods said in the release making Rolfing’s group the project leader.

There’s nothing about a price tag in the announcement, but $30 million is the cost being bandied about – and the Chicago Tribune reports that doesn’t include a critical part of the project, a pair of tunnels linking Jackson Park and South Shore, which are cater-corner at the intersection of 67th Street and South Shore Drive. In Chicago, the cost of that could be astronomical. (If there’s any alteration to the footprint of the lakefront – a.k.a. landfill – the Army Corps of Engineers and the other member states of the Great Lakes Compact would have to approve.)

There’s also nothing about the potential closure of streets within Jackson Park – Jeffrey, Richard, Marquette, and the beginning of Lake Shore Drive itself – all of which are used by the public every hour of every day and currently split up the course into three parts. Without those, 67th and Stony Island, the latter running along the west boundary of Jackson Park, becomes clogged with even more traffic than currently courses through the Woodlawn neighborhood. Marquette, in particular, leads to LaRabida Children’s Hospital, located on the lakefront. (Conversely, the streets could stay, and players could continue to toddle through intersections with golf bags in tow; Harbor Shores, the course built largely on reclaimed industrial land in Benton Harbor, Mich., is designed in similar fashion, albeit with at least one tunnel.)

The Rolfing-led group has also been tasked to promote caddie programs in association with the WGA – there’s been at least one Evans Scholar who looped at Jackson Park.

Everyone quoted in Sunday’s release said the right thing. Emanuel called it “a unique opportunity to drive resources and investments on the South Side.” WGA president John Kaczkowski said the renovation “could provide a compelling site for future PGA Tour events, including the BMW Championship, as early as 2021, when the event is expected to return to Chicago.” First Tee of Greater Chicago executive director Lisa Quinn said the project would “enable us to increase our programs which have been active at South Shore and Lincoln Park for more than 15 years.”

So where does the money come from? Park superintendent Michael Kelly told the Tribune the goal is for 80 percent of the money – $24 million, if the cost estimate holds – to come from the private sector. That leaves $6 million for Chicago taxpayers to fund.

Raising that $24 million won’t be easy. It might be easier for a completely new property, but given that there are already two golf courses on the property, plus a driving range at Jackson Park, and one can tee it up for 18 holes for just $25 in the summer, and even less for the nine at South Shore, which is, more or less, a Tom Bendelow design from a century ago, the cost-benefit ratio isn’t visible from this outpost.

The release reiterates what had been said earlier, that Chicagoans – Emanuel called them “neighborhood golfers” – would get “a reduced rate” compared to the rest of the customers. But don’t expect that reduced rate to be what players paid in the summer.

The timing of the announcement was unusual, but may provide a clue to the enthusiasm of the municipalities. Why would Chicago and the Chicago Park District announce an initiative leading to a major change in what Emanuel calls “a historic public golf course” at noon on a Sunday during the football season – and when Soldier Field, perhaps the most-visited Park District facility, is hosting a football game between the Bears and their old pals, the Green Bay Packers?

That smells of the sports version of the Friday news dump. Announce something that sounds good and has no money behind it, as much as a favor to the organizers as anything, at a time when few would question the specifics – not that there was a news conference where questions might be proffered, anyway.

In other words, Emanuel and Kelly have wedged the ball onto Rolfing’s green. Now it’s up to him to find the money to make it happen.

Daniel Burnham, the most forward-thinking Chicagoan of them all, is famously said to have said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and our grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.”

This is no little plan. Nor does it stir the blood. Wouldn’t it be better to spend $1 million on refurbishing Jackson Park’s current course and the other $29 million for a school that could somehow be affiliated with the coming Obama Presidential Library in the neighborhood?

That would be better for kids who might want to caddie or take part in the existing First Tee program than a tournament-tough golf course that would beat up those regulars who have supported their neighborhood munis for years.


Edited at 3 p.m. to add Jackson Park's 2016 summer rate ($25).


Balmoral Woods sold

Writing from Chicago

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Mortell family has sold Balmoral Woods, the Crete golf course it developed and nurtured for 41 years, to HITS, Inc., the hunter/show jumping company which bought nearby Balmoral Park Race Track earlier in the year.

The purchase price was not disclosed, but Links Capital Advisors had Balmoral Woods listed at $1.35 million earlier this year.

David Mortell, the longtime general manager of Balmoral Woods, said his family will still be involved “an a small capacity.”

Balmoral Woods opened under the name of Fairwinds, and as a nine-hole operation, designed by Arthur Davis and Ron Kirby in 1975. The Mortells increased their stake from minority to complete owners in 1977, expanding the course to 18 holes with noted architect George Fazio, designer of Butler National Golf Club, joining owner Don Mortell in the expansion plan. In 1980, the present clubhouse was built. Previously, the current seventh hole was the first hole, and the pro shop was in the basement of what had been a Holiday Inn and now is a senior center.

In the last 15 years, the Mortells converted the fairways from bluegrass to bentgrass, bringing a country club feel to play. But, as rounds fell in the Great Recession, David Mortell took the phrase “country club” out of the name, saying he wanted everyone to feel welcome.

HITS bought Balmoral Park on May 27, with the intention of reopening as a show jumping and equestrian venue for spectator events and training in 2017. The track, originally named Lincoln Fields, hosted racing beginning in 1926.

Tim Cronin


Arnold Palmer's undying legacy

Writing from Chicago

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Grill Room Special by Tim Cronin

What Arnold Palmer did better than any athlete before or since, better perhaps than anyone before or since, is make you feel that you and Arnie were the only two people in the room, even if the room was Augusta National and 45,000 people were hanging around to see him.

That personality, that one-on-one sensibility, is what nobody has even been able to match.

Jack Nicklaus won more majors and more tournaments. Tiger Woods won more money than anybody. Ben Hogan hit better shots more often.

Nobody came close to Arnold Daniel Palmer on a golf course when it came to eye contact. Memories flooded back, carried by a river of tears, when word came early Sunday night that Palmer, 87, had died at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the result of complications of heart problems the day before he was to undergo heart surgery.

For instance, 1989 at Kemper Lakes Golf Course, hosting the PGA Championship, the one major that Arnold, a proud professional and the son of a professional, never won. Astoundingly, he birdies the first five holes on Thursday afternoon, which nearly topples the press tent. Now, scribes mused that they wouldn’t have to build a story around Leonard Thompson, a fine fellow but no Arnold Palmer.

His Army reappears, throngs following him. Inspired, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson start making birdies, and it’s not 1989, it’s 1975. Palmer finishes the round with a 4-under-par 68, two off the leaders, Thompson and Mike Reid. Nicklaus shoots 68 as well. Watson shoots 67.

Asked how he old he felt after the round, Arnie said, “Twenty-nine!”

Friday’s play begins, and Palmer is off early. The world greets him on the first tee. Happily, this was not a one day wonder. He continues to play well. (He makes the cut and birdies the last on Sunday, as does Nicklaus.)

What was most striking was his interaction with fans. “Go Arnie” was heard many times more often than “Quiet, please” over the course of the front nine. And unlike the ultra-focused Nicklaus, or later, Woods, he didn’t look through people. He looked at you, right at you, as you were looking at him. And he smiled. He knew you were out there at the fourth tee to see him and knew you wanted to see him at his best. A look, a smile, and then a look down the fairway to see what adventure awaited.

That is how Arnie’s Army was built, one look, one smile at a time, for more than 50 years. That is how golf grew, for the galleries at Augusta National – and Palmer as much as Bob Jones and Cliff Roberts put the Masters on the map – followed him religiously.

Palmer and the image orthicon camera – television’s eye – found each other at Augusta and fell in love with each other, transmitting that ardor to more fans. The sight of Palmer coming over the rise on the 15th hole, where TV coverage of the Masters first began, was golf’s equivalent of Patton leading a charge over an African sand dune. From 1958 on, Palmer became the star of television golf, the engine that got more tournaments on the air. And long after his star had waned as a player, he took the idea of businessman Joe Gibbs – the non-football coach – and backed Golf Channel. Twenty-four hours a day of golf from the man who came to the fore when there wasn’t 24 hours of golf on television in a year.

Along the way, Palmer’s influence – his mere presence – brought the sleepy British Open back to the forefront. He sold anything and everything thanks to agent Mark McCormack, the Chicago-bred marketing genius whose handshake deal with Arnold was the foundation of an empire. When he turned 50, the Senior Tour, as it was first known, began to walk, having crawled waiting for the magic birthday. When the 50-year-old Palmer missed the first United States Senior Open, held at Winged Foot Golf Club, because the USGA imposed its 55-and-up rule from the amateur side, the competition drew galleries in the high dozens.

The rule was changed the next year. Palmer, 51, won the 2nd U.S. Senior Open at Oakland Hills Country Club. Decades later, asked if the rule was changed to get Palmer in the field, Frank Hannigan, the USGA’s executive director in 1981, said, “Isn’t every rule changed for Arnold Palmer?”

Think about it. Palmer’s presence grew one tour to heights unimagined and effectively created another. Anyone in the last 50-plus years who ever played on any American golf tour, including the ladies, owes Arnold Palmer. He put money in everyone’s pocket.

We digress. Fast-forward to 1993, when Palmer is 63 and a ceremonial player at Augusta. But not on Thursday morning, when he birdies the first three holes, his name goes up on the big scoreboards and he stands on the fourth tee as the undisputed leader of the Masters Tournament. Those of us who were fortunate enough to be there, to see the King back on the throne in Camelot, if but for one brief shining moment, will recall it forever.

Now fast-forward to 1997, and Olympia Fields Country Club. Palmer is playing a practice round a couple weeks in advance of the U.S. Senior Open. Olympia member Larry Spalla called a local reporter – your obedient servant – so an exclusive interview could be gotten with Palmer to crown the Daily Southtown’s pre-tournament coverage.

Palmer comes off the 18th, sits down in the lobby for a TV interview, and then I get my turn.

There are a dozen people hanging around, including Sam DiGiovanni, Arnold’s pal for decades, but suddenly, there’s nobody else in the room but us. He gives lively answers, there are some laughs and some serious moments, and some combined. This was not long after his prostate cancer surgery, and a question about his mortality was in order.

Quipped Palmer, “I leave all those questions to Sam.”

It was pitch-perfect Palmer.

Fast-forward once more, to 2013, and the par-3 course at Augusta National. There are more people than Cliff Roberts could count swarming the layout, especially around the first tee, just before 3 p.m. That’s when the Big Three, Palmer, Nicklaus and Gary Player, will tee off, coinciding with ESPN’s coverage of the biggest little show in golf. Already, those of us in the mob – to quote Jack Whitaker, c. 1965 – have seen Jack Fleck tee off. It was just good to know that at the time he was still with us.

Player is on the tee first, then Nicklaus. Each gets an enormous hand from the gallery. Then up comes Palmer. An ovation, long and heartfelt. And, as it quiets, a women, probably in her 50s, wearing a yellow dress and possessed of a voice as southern as a Waffle House, exclaimed, “My God, it’s Arnold Palmer.” As they say down south, we thought she was going to have an attack of the vapors.

All three hit it toward the green, and nobody particularly cared where the balls landed except the players. As someone else said to his wife a few holes later, turning to make for the exit, “We can go now. I’ve seen who I came to see.”

At the time, Palmer was 83.

What other athlete would have been a draw at 83? Or any year beyond his 50s?

My absent friend Tim Sassone said it perfectly in 1988, when Medinah Country Club hosted the U.S. Senior Open. Arnie entered the interview room for a chat, and someone outside said, “Palmer just walked in.” Sassone said, “Golf just walked in.”

Golf has a void today, matching our broken hearts. There was and will be nobody else like him. Hail and farewell.


Len Ziehm remembers Arnold Palmer

We are pleased to introduce Len Ziehm, a writer who needs no introduction to astute readers, to our website and pages. Len contributes his thoughts on the life and legacy of Arnold Palmer, who died Sunday in Pittsburgh, aged 87.

By Len Ziehm

Arnold Palmer is gone. Where do I begin to tell you how impactful this is to golf – and to me personally?

I’m not sure I would have taken up this sport – one that I love with a passion but don’t play very well – had it not been for Arnold Palmer.

It was back in the mid-1950s when my family lived on Chicago’s Northwest side. I was about 11 years old and my mother wanted me to see an exhibition event at Medinah.

Actually, I think she wanted to mainly see Arnold, the most charismatic athlete of our time.

We went, he didn’t win but the day was enjoyable. My mother took me out to play on a course shortly thereafter, and a life-long love affair with the game began.

Over the years I covered some of his tournaments, the first being the 1968 Western Open at Olympia Fields – my first PGA Tour event as a golf writer working for a major metropolitan newspaper. Palmer didn’t win that one, either, but he was accessible to the dozen or so media that attended. The media crowd and the galleries would, of course, grow considerably from those days.

On the professional level, my best up close and personal experience with Palmer came in Boston. I was sent there to cover something else, but wanted to do a feature on Palmer in advance of the budding Senior PGA Tour (now called the PGA Tour Champions) planning a Chicago visit. A few other writers from around the country had the same idea, and we gathered at a restaurant where Palmer was planning a private dinner with friends.

He knew we’d be there, and we expected a brief, friendly chat. We’d get a story and he’d be back with his friends in a few minutes. Not so. He stayed and talked with about half dozen scribes he barely knew for a good hour as his friends waited (I hope) patiently.

Much more recently we visited Palmer’s Bay Hill Club in Orlando, Fla., as part of golf/travel-writing adventures in 2015. Palmer was there, dining with his guests, getting his picture taken, just being Arnie. I have a treasured piece of golf art from that visit signed by the king himself.

Palmer’s competitive career was winding down when I came on the golf-writing scene.  He won his last PGA Tour event in 1973, but he kept playing – and that’s a big reason the golf kept growing and senior golf became a viable part of the pro sports scene.

In 49 years playing the PGA Tour, Palmer earned $1,784,497 and won 62 tournaments including seven major titles. He earned much more than that in endorsements and other ventures, of course. His income from 2014, for instance, was reported at $42 million by one respected business publication.

Palmer is certainly not about money, though.  He walked with kings and played golf with presidents, but he never lost touch with more common folks.

Rather than dwell on his playing record and business success, I thought you might enjoy some tidbits – provided in no particular order – about Palmer’s life that I feel tell more about this extraordinary man:

Before winning the 1954 U.S. Amateur he served three years in the U.S. Coast Guard, a stint that interrupted his amateur career – he had left Wake Forest after the death of pal Bud Worsham – and stymied his plans to be a touring pro.

He beat prostate cancer himself and created the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, which is ranked among the best such hospitals in the world.

One U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, sent Palmer a picture of his swing in hopes he would critique it. Another president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, flew to Palmer’s home in Latrobe, Pa., to make a surprise appearance at his birthday party. The day after Gerald Ford left the presidency he had a golf game with Palmer.

Perhaps Palmer’s biggest victory came when he rallied from a seven-stroke deficit in the final round to win the 1960 U.S. Open, but he also blew a seven-stroke lead on the back nine of the 1966 Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco before losing to Billy Casper in a playoff. He blew the lead in the playoff, too.

Palmer built the first golf course in China and designed more than 300 courses around the world.

The son of a greens superintendent, Palmer broke 100 for 18 holes when he was just 7 years old. He met his first wife Winnie on a Tuesday and asked her to marry him four days later. They were married 45 years until her death in 1999.

He signed what must be a zillion autographs and – unlike most every other athlete – his name was always provided in a legible manner. He was confident enough to wear pink before that color was fashionable.

He has a drink in his name – an Arnold Palmer is comprised of iced tea and lemonade – that is known world-wide. He also had his own winery.

He played in 50 Masters Tournaments and was a major factor in the creation of Golf Channel.

He became a pilot to overcome his fear of flying.

He was awarded both the Congressional Golf Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the only sports figure to have both.

He attended Wake Forest, where a statue stands in his honor. In 2013 he rode into one of that school’s football games on a motorcycle.

In 2010 Esquire magazine named him one of the 75 best dressed men of all time.

Palmer had his very own Army, and it was always vocal and supportive, but Arnie’s Army isn’t the only segment of society that will sorely miss him now that he’s gone.