The historic course in West Philadelphia, Pa., will receive major improvements thanks to the Cobbs Creek Foundation, which signed a 30-year lease with the city for $1 a year. Under the terms of that lease, the foundation must restore the golf course and create a three-tiered rate structure, local, regional and national, that cannot price local golfers out of the market. The foundation also plans a permanent exhibition to honor the heritage of Black golfers, such as Charlie L. Sifford Jr., who played there.
In the 1950s, Charlie L. Sifford Jr., an African-American golfer known as the “Jackie Robinson of Golf,” honed his game at the Cobbs Creek Golf Course in West Philadelphia, which also hosted players such as Arnold Palmer and Billy Casper.
Today, the Cobbs Creek Golf Course is poised to undergo a $60 million-plus redevelopment, thanks to the Cobbs Creek Foundation, The Philadelphia Tribune reported. In January, the foundation signed a 30-year lease with the city for $1 a year.
“I’m excited. I can’t wait. I’m not a golfer, but I plan to hit some balls. It is an historic site for the city and Black golfers,” said Councilmember Curtis W. Jones Jr., whose 4th District includes the golf course. “They are going to teach students how to run a golf course.”
According to Jones, there are also plans to build a restaurant on the grounds, which would create jobs for the neighborhood, The Philadelphia Tribune reported. The foundation made a few missteps when it cut down several trees, Jones said, but it has agreed to plant more to replace them.
Under the terms of the lease, the foundation must restore the golf course and create a three-tiered rate structure, local, regional and national, that cannot price local golfers out of the market, The Philadelphia Tribune reported. The Cobbs Creek Foundation also plans a permanent exhibition to honor the heritage of Black golfers who played there.
Built in 1916, the golf course had been neglected for years, The Philadelphia Tribune reported. The nearby creek that it’s named for routinely floods and the clubhouse was destroyed in a fire in 2016. During the Cold War, the U.S. Army used part of the course for barracks and anti-aircraft guns.
The Cobbs Creek Golf Course was originally open to all golfers: women and Black golfers like Sifford, who left the segregated South and came to Philadelphia to live, The Philadelphia Tribune reported. Sifford later became the first Black man to win a PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association) tour event.
In the 1940s, the Cobbs Creek Golf Course was a site for the United Golfers Association (UGA), The Philadelphia Tribune reported. PGA events were segregated until 1961, so the UGA provided tournaments for professional Black golfers.
The UGA boasted big-name players such as the legendary heavyweight champion Joe Louis and Lee Elder, who was the first African-American to win the Masters Tournament, The Philadelphia Tribune reported. Other noted Black golfers who frequented the course were Theodore Rhodes and Howard Wheeler.
Sifford faced harassment, death threats, was called the n-word, was barred from golf courses even though he had a PGA card and was an approved entrant, according to the book, “Just Let me Play: The Story of Charlie Sifford.” Sifford was 92 when he died in 2015.
Enrique Hervada, Cobbs Creek Foundation’s chief operating officer, said plans for the golf course are starting to fall into place, The Philadelphia Tribune reported. Hervada added the foundation met with the city Art Commission on July 27.
City spokesman Bruce Bohri said the commission gave conditional approval for the driving range and related site work, but it must address commission concerns before final approval is given, The Philadelphia Tribune reported.
“The next step is the (state) Department of Environmental Protection has our creek restoration plan and they sent us a letter saying that they loved the plan,” Hervada said. “It’s going to be a model for urban creek restoration and they think it’s state of the art and exactly what’s needed, but we don’t have the final approval for that plan.”
Hervada estimated that the restoration on the 3-mile creek will take between 12 and 15 months — depending on the weather — and cost about $15 million, The Philadelphia Tribune reported. The foundation has narrowed down the number of companies to work on the restoration to two providers.
“If everything goes to plan we will put up the driving lanes and the education center, starting next spring,” Hervada said. “Hopefully we can have that completed in about a year and the driving lanes as well. Then following the building, we start on the golf course.”
The mission of the foundation is to provide an affordable golfing experience for the community, give a huge educational component for neighborhood children and offer a state-of-the-art golf course suitable for national tournaments, The Philadelphia Tribune reported.
Morgan M. Moore, Cobbs Creek Foundation’s director of education and community engagement, said: “Now we have the big umbrella-type programming we want to offer for example academic achievement, specifically related to reading, writing and math, social emotional programming and financial education, career mentoring, science technology, engineering and math.”
The foundation offers programs at two neighborhood schools, Moore said. All of the programming will be free of charge, including golf lessons, The Philadelphia Tribune reported. The group intends to hire a third party to teach courses, she said.
The Cobbs Creek Foundation expects to serve about 500 young people — probably kindegarteners through eighth-graders — at the Community Education Center, which will have about 30,000 square feet of space, The Philadelphia Tribune reported. This will include classroom space to accommodate about 140 students at one time, Moore said. And doors are expected to be open six days a week. She said the center could be expanded to accomodate up to 12th-graders.
“I’m very excited about the project and what it will bring to the community,” said Moore, a former teacher who lived in the city’s Wynnefield section.
The new course will be designed by Hanse Design, which is described by Golf Digest as the “hottest golf architecture firm in the game.”