Mardy Sears says she was “horrified” to see and hear what was going on behind her condominium complex.

“I sit on my couch drinking coffee and listening to the chain saws as they continue to cut” at the Canal Shores Golf Course, Sears says, in a “Save the Trees” petition she started online last week.

Cutting down about 80 trees (out of some 900 on the course) is part of a year-long, $6 million total makeover of the 104-year-old course. But unlike most golf courses, Canal Shores is urban, an 82-acre oasis of recreation and green space, partly in Evanston, partly in Wilmette.

But that oasis is drying up. The greens often turn brown due to too much shade, or become swampy, thanks to an out-of-date drainage system.

Earlier this year, Canal Shores president Matt Rooney told a 7th Ward meeting that the course is basically in an “end of life” state as golf courses go, with “14 of 18 greens deemed unsustainable.”

Hence, the privately funded renovation project, which also includes a youth golf training program, which requires more space, and hence fewer trees. A separate program will also work to increase the number of “Evans Scholars,” students who caddy as kids and then have a shot at caddy-specific college financial aid. The goal is to bring in more students of color.

Canal Shores closed to golfers this past Monday, to allow the work to continue, grading new fairways, installing modern drainage, and, yes, cutting down some trees.

But while the nearly 400 who signed Mardy Sears’ petition likely agree with her that taking down trees and the shade they provide is, in her words, “abhorrent,” Canal Shores officials say they are committed to balancing proper ecological management with keeping the course viable for decades to come.

“We are not just going yeah, we want to get rid of the trees,” says Chris Charnas, a member of the Canal Shores board, and vice-president for the course reconstruction project.

“We try as hard as we can to be ecologically sensitive,” says Charnas.

Canal Shores has a lengthy eco-plan, with the 900 trees voluntarily categorized a few years ago, based on their condition. Trees were rated on a 1-5 scale, with 1 the best and 5 barely hanging on.

Charnas notes that Canal Shores has its own on-site nursery, and the course will plant a new tree for each one taken down. Not in the same place, of course, but still trying to keep the area as green as possible while making the golf course playable.

“There will be plenty of canopy left,” he says.

The Canal Shores eco-plan pays particular attention to saving oak trees, which, the plan states, “are valuable, scarce, and … diminishing,” and “need to be protected and nurtured for future generations.”

“We’re not just paying lip service [to the environment],” Charnas says, “but also putting money and resources towards [protecting] it.”

He notes that all tree removal was approved by the City of Evanston, the Wilmette Park District, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which actually owns the golf course property.

Besides the 900 trees rated for condition, there is also some “unrated” vegetation that is being removed, particularly buckthorn.

Buckthorn is an invasive species, which looks like either a very tall shrub or a rather short tree, and spreads like crazy, with a root system that absorbs water best meant for other trees or grasses.

Taking out buckthorn at Canal Shores is making it possible to see the magnificent B’hai Temple.

“The fact that you couldn’t see the Temple from our golf course was always astonishing,” says Charnas.

When Canal Shores reopens around a year from now, golfers will finally get a very good view.

Petition organizer Sears is not necessarily against weeding out weeds … or invasive shrubs/trees.

But she is especially concerned about four cottonwood trees near her condo, which are now down to two (which will remain).

“Shady and gorgeous,” is how she describes the cottonwoods, helping to keep out both heat and noise.

Unlike invasive buckthorn, Sears says cottonwood trees were included in the 900-tree inventory, and the ones near her were not ranked low enough to justify chopping them down.

“In this day and age” of climate change, Sears says “it’s really ignorant” to cut down trees.

But Charnas says some trees do need to come down if you want to have a golf course long-term.

One of the cottonwoods near Sears’ condo, he pointed out, turned out to be hollow.

But Sears says Canal Shores’ arguments are hollow.

“The golf course,” her petition states, “used to be a good neighbor but now they are not.”

Canal Shores leaders say the course is a good neighbor, which is why it calls itself “the gem in your backyard.”

Golfers getting in last-minute rounds last week before Canal Shores closed for renovation.

“We’ve had to take down some trees that people love, we understand that,” Charnas says.

“But we’re hoping,” he says, “to put up new trees that people will love” as well.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. I have to say that Sears is right about the golf course not being good neighbors. They used to be ok but with the new company managing them they are totally obnoxious and are only interested in keeping neighbors at arms length. They refuse to tell us what chemicals they use or are planning to use on the course. They have multiple dumpsters totally overfilled – during those hot days one was giving off a putrid smell that you could smell from a block away. I called twice to ask them to have it picked up and they totally blew me off and did nothing. It’s very disappointing. We can’t open our windows because the bulldozers create so much exhust and dirt that they completely coat our windows. Our car is covered in dirt as well. The least they could do is pass out some certificates for free car washes and window washing services for the neighbors but they do nothing.

  2. Why don’t we value tree health over grass health for a sport? I’m surprised that no one seems to be concerned for the environment and our need for trees. Canal Shores is removing nearly 10% of their trees at a time when Evanston is creating a tree police to save our tree canopy.

  3. Can’t you design the golf course around the trees? I know that diseased trees need to come down, but I hate to see good ones destroyed. Planting new trees is much better than not, but no-one, except perhaps our grandchildren, will see any shade from them.

  4. Trees can often be pruned to allow for better light penetration beneath without actually harming the tree or removing it from the canopy. Was that option even explored??

  5. Our homes/cars getting covered with dirt w South and West wind. Our air conditioners sucking in the dirt but we need to run them or suffer the heat. With no rain they need to get a water truck to wet their pathways when moving equipment between holes.

    1. This is absolutely true! Our home windows and our cars on our block are covered in dirt from all the construction. We can’t open our windows. The very least the golf course could do is offer us gift cards for home window cleaning and car washes.

  6. Golf seems to be a despicable, elitist sport that destroys the natural environment we all need, and crowds out public parks in urban areas.

    “…some trees do need to come down if you want to have a golf course long-term.”
    So it seems. The obvious thing to do is to let this sport move to abandoned farmland and away from public parks.

    1. Canal Shores is about the most inclusive “golf course” I have ever seen. Camps for kids, allows people to walk dogs, snow shoeing, they have hosted bike races, tailgates for NU, concerts in the summer, I’ve had to play around people sunbathing on the fairway for goodness sake. This is a golf course, not a public park, but since they allow just about anyone to use it I understand your confusion.

  7. I hope that Evanston residents as a whole will get over themselves and allow growth projects to continue. Things that don’t evolve tend to die out and I fear that will happen with Evanston if we continue to focus only on our own short term needs and not what helps the community as a whole.

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