(Photo by Yong Kim, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
The 104-year-old, Hugh Wilson-designed course in Philadelphia, Pa. was once one of the country’s most well-regarded public layouts and has been known for its racial inclusion, with Charlie Sifford, the first Black to win a PGA Tour event, calling it his home course. Donald Trump also learned to play at Cobbs Creek while a University of Pennsylvania student. But the course has fallen into disrepair in recent years and the city will end its contract with Billy Casper Golf at the end of October so the renovation funded by a private foundation can begin.
Philadelphia, Pa.’s historic Cobbs Creek Golf Course will close to the public on October 31st to undergo a $20 million renovation aimed at restoring it to its former glory as one of the country’s most well-regarded public courses, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The timing coincides with when the city’s contract with its management company, Billy Casper Golf, ends, The Inquirer reported. The renovations will start in the spring of 2021, and the course is expected to reopen in June 2023, according to a representative from Philadelphia Parks and Recreation.
Cobbs Creek opened in 1916 and was designed by the legendary architect Hugh Wilson, The Inquirer reported. Many golf legends have played at the championship course, including Arnold Palmer, Charlie Sifford, and Howard Wheeler. Cobbs Creek is also known for its racial inclusion, and Sifford, the first Black person to win a Professional Golfers Association Tour event, cites it as his home course.
President Donald Trump has also said he learned to play golf at Cobbs Creek while studying at the University of Pennsylvania, The Inquirer reported.
“[It was] a public course, a rough course, no grass on the tees, no nothing, but it was good, and great people,” Trump told Golf Digest in 2014. “All hustlers out there. I mean, more hustlers than any place I’ve seen to this day.”
The course had fallen into disrepair over the years, The Inquirer reported. Dying trees litter the greens, and the creek that runs through the course floods often, causing erosion, damaging holes, and spreading debris after rainstorms. In 2016, the course’s clubhouse burned down and was replaced with two double-wide trailers.
The renovations, which will be funded by the nonprofit Cobbs Creek Restoration & Community Foundation, aim to replace the clubhouse, fix the floodplains, and create wetlands around the creek to prevent flooding, according to Chris Maguire, who chairs the Foundation’s Board of Directors. The revamp will also add an educational program for young golfers, The Inquirer reported.
To date, the foundation has raised $12 million of the $20 million it needs to finish the renovations, The Inquirer reported. Maguire said the coronavirus has made applying for federal, state, and local grants more difficult, but the foundation is continuing its fundraising efforts.
Maguire stressed that the renovations are not just about fixing the course, but preserving history, The Inquirer reported.
“It’s a restoration of the golf course, but it’s also about restoring a landmark,” he said. “It’s part of what we’re trying to do as citizens of Philadelphia — trying to take something that could be turning into a liability and turning it back into an asset.”
But for Philadelphians who love the public course’s tight-knit community, affordability, and convenient location, the renovation is a double-edged sword, The Inquirer reported.
Ron Bond, who has been playing at Cobbs Creek for 16 years, is concerned that the course may become less affordable after the renovations.
“This is about coming out, putting in 2½ hours playing golf, and at a fee you can afford,” he said.
Cobbs Creek costs around $1,300 for a yearlong membership, which pales in comparison with the fees of private golf courses in the area, The Inquirer reported. Rates at other public courses in Philadelphia are similar, but those courses are smaller and not the championship size or level of Cobbs Creek.
Maguire said that the renovations will not drastically raise the course’s price, The Inquirerreported.
“We have no intention of pricing ourselves out of the people that utilize the golf course now,” he said. “We’re not looking to change the dynamic of who plays at this golf course.” But Maquire added that it’s too early to say what post-renovation prices for players might be.
The club currently has about 150 members, and sees 400 to 500 players per week, said Jen Carmichael, who has worked at the course for 11 years, The Inquirer reported.
“It is kind of a rarity to have a challenging public golf course like [Cobbs Creek] that is close enough to the city to be able to be used by people in Philadelphia,” said Paul Nowyj, who has been playing there for five years and made friends with many of the older players.
Longtime players worry that the community—especially retirees who visit the course daily—will have trouble playing together in the close groups to which they are accustomed if the course closes for three years, The Inquirer reported.
“What’s going to happen is the people that are playing golf there are not going to be able to play golf there anymore, and they’re going to scatter like the wind to other places,” said Paul Cornely, who’s been playing at the course for 49 years. “And once the place reopens, they’re not going to come back, because they’re going to become set in their ways at a new location.”