Block Club Chicago

‘Every Kid Will Have Better Experiences’

LAKEVIEW — Brianna Rostescu tried many sports when she was younger, but golf was the one that stuck, her mother said.

Nine years later, the 16-year-old — along with a cadre of donors and dignitaries — took the first putt Thursday on a state-of-the-art short game facility behind the old Waveland Clock Tower. The facility adds to the nine-hole Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course, 3701 N. Recreation Drive, where Rostescu learned the game.

“It looks awesome,” Rostescu said. “And I remember when I was younger, I would play on Marovitz. To see this now is just very amazing. It’s surreal.”

The $2 million, 60,000-square-foot facility was built and funded by First Tee, a Chicago-based nonprofit that provides programs, coaching and camps for children such as Rostescu to learn golf at courses throughout Chicago and its suburbs.

Credit: Noah Asimow/Block Club Chicago
PJ Croke, age 2 ½, lines up a shot at First Tee’s newly unveiled putt and chip center outside the old Waveland Clock Tower.

First Tee opened the first phase of the project in June 2021, transforming the Waveland clock tower into a clubhouse with an indoor golfing simulator and lounge.

Nestled behind the first tee at Marovitz, the new outdoor facility was designed by the Lamar Johnson firm in coordination with former No. 1 golfer Luke Donald. It includes chipping and bunker practice areas, two putting greens, an indoor golf simulator and outdoor practice booths.

The facility was built as part of a partnership with the Park District, which allows First Tee to use the space. It was privately funded by First Tee donors.

Marovitz also received a new putting green as part of the makeover, as well as a slightly reoriented first tee of its own, designed to angle shots away from the Lakefront Trail.

Credit: Noah Asimow/Block Club Chicago
Putting greens at First Tee’s putt and chip outdoor center near the Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course.
Credit: Noah Asimow/Block Club Chicago
Elected officials, donors and First Tee leaders take a first putt to open the nonprofit’s putt and chip outdoor center near the Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course.

First Tee CEO Lea Jesse called the facility a “watershed moment” for the organization. She said she hoped it could be a model for future First Tee facilities at courses throughout Chicago.

“The idea is that this serves as a blueprint for future First Tee facilities,” Jesse said. “We want to do this elsewhere.”

The organization has programs from the Harborside International Golf Center in Pullman to the Robert A. Black golf course in West Ridge and serves about 2,000 kids.

But this is the first facility that was built exclusively for First Tee, meaning the organization doesn’t have to share it with other golfers. And it is designed to have separate stations in which kids can work on different aspects of their game, rotating from putting to chipping and swing practice, providing an all-in-one experience, company leaders said.

“We wanted to be able to work with kids for longer periods of time and to have scheduling flexibility to bring in schools and other youth organizations, like the Boys And Girls Club,” Jesse said. “It gives us a lot more flexibility when we control the space.”

Ald. James Cappleman (46th), Chicago first lady Amy Eschelman, Cubs all-star Ian Happ and donors were on hand Thursday for speeches and a ceremonial first putt to launch the facility. Happ has been a longtime supporter of First Tee, he said.

“We sat down at a coffee shop in 2018 when Lea first took over, and just the effort since them has been absolutely incredible,” Happ said in a speech. “It’s been a pleasure to be involved.”

Credit: Noah Asimow/Block Club Chicago
Brianna Rostescu, 16, speaks at the opening of the First Tee outdoor putt and chip center at 3701 N. Recreation Drive on Sept. 15, 2022.

Rostescu started golfing with First Tee when she was 7 and has since become a junior coach. In a speech, she said the sport has taught her everything from respecting her peers to learning how to laugh when she misses a 2-foot putt. She hopes to play in college.

“First Tee has given me so many opportunities,” Rostescu told Block Club. “I feel like every kid will have an even better experience with this facility. And not only that, they’ll learn to love the game more.”

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